We have a number of updates on building and development issues. Quite a lot has happened and come to light since City Council passed the administrative delay on June 26. This is a lot of info, and we’ve tried to make this update as concise as possible. But because we will need neighborhood input on how to proceed with some next steps, we don’t want to gloss over any important details.
Unfortunately, it appears that the administrative delay does not truly afford us the “time out” that we were hoping for when we requested it. The delay affects rezoning requests and lot combinations, but not all of the proposed projects fall into either of those categories. Developers want to move quickly because they have money invested. Here’s where we stand on three of those projects.
Pickwick District proposal
The administrative delay does affect this project. The developer, Say U Can, is under contract to buy the yellow brick “Spanish mission” building and the three lots/houses just west of it. The current proposal, if you will recall, is for a 3- and 4-story, mixed-use building the lots adjacent to the Spanish mission — three stories with retail or restaurant on the bottom facing Cherry, and four stories on the backside facing the alley, with the parking lot in the back. The Spanish mission would be turned into a mixed-use property as well. This plan would need a rezoning because of the business use. And the developer says he would seek a blight designation and tax abatements in order to make the bottom line work, because the mixed-use project brings in less revenue than a building that is only apartments.
And that is the other option, according to the developer. He could build an entirely four-story apartment building without the mixed-use elements (image below). That would not require blight and tax abatements and does not require any rezoning. The RNA board and seemingly most residents find this a much less desirable option. The developer says he, too, would much rather construct a project that better fits with the current limited business environment at Cherry and Pickwick. But to get the rezoning, blight designation, and tax abatements, Say U Can would need the neighborhood’s support.
(There is an additional element to this story: Say U Can also owns the two houses at 1361 and 1365 E. Cherry — approximately where Fremont T’s into the Cherry. The original plan for this area was inward-facing town homes with a driveway off Cherry that we felt was not in character with the neighborhood. A blight request for this project was denied by city. To his credit, the developer has come back with a concept for a “pocket neighborhood” style development on this plot. We feel this could be a progressive project that fits with the Rountree of today.)
The RNA board’s take: We would prefer to see the plan review process play out before ANY development moves forward. But if faced with the choice, we would prefer the mixed-use development over a four-story apartment building. Mixed-use fits the culture, nearby property values, and the feel of the Cherry & Pickwick area. The mixed-use project requires a zoning change and would have to be approved as a planned development (PD) — essentially a specialized zoning project. The positive aspect here is that PDs come with specific guidelines for each project and the neighborhood would likely have some input on that. If we allow an exception to the delay for a PD, we can continue to provide input and hopefully the developer will continue to work with us, while paying attention to the Neighborhood Plan review process, and “skate to where the puck is going” as the PD is written. As for blight and tax abatements, we feel those should be used to gain trade-offs, and mixed-use is better than apartments-only.
Bottom Line: The developer can more or less move forward with an apartments-only building and get around the delay. But If we as a neighborhood give our OK for the PD for a mixed-use project to proceed, then we can work with the developer and the City planning staff, who will write the PD guidelines. The PD and the review process would essentially happen in parallel and this provides the best route to a win-win.
Roza Homes proposal
Roza Homes owns the properties at 1325 and 1329 East Cherry. This is the developer that has rehabbed, expanded, or built new properties with a traditional look on Historic Walnut Street in recent years. They are proposing to build similar two-story structures at this location on Cherry. Roza combined these lots in advance of the administrative delay, and their proposal fits the existing zoning. Therefore, the delay does not apply to this project. Here again, the developer is seeking a blight designation and tax abatements in order to help finance the project and that request will be presented to the Planning & Zoning Commission on Thursday night. Here’s a link to the P&Z bill, which has design mock-ups, one of which is below.
The RNA board’s take: Again, we would love for the developer to wait for the neighborhood plan review to play out, but that is not likely to happen. This project is certainly more palatable than a large apartment building like East Cherry Flats. The more traditional design is a plus, and includes small porches facing Cherry. Parking will be located in the rear. Here again, the tax abatements can be viewed as a trade off, because the size is far below what they could build, given the high-density zoning. There are known issues with homeless folks squatting around these currently empty and run-down houses.
Bottom line: This project could be much worse. A few board members actually like the project. And we don’t have much leverage to oppose it. We can oppose the tax breaks before P&Z and City Council, but we don’t think either of those bodies is very likely to deny the abatements regardless of any opposition.
Boomertown Lofts project
This project in the 800 block of South National was approved by City Council this spring. It’s a four-story, mixed-use building, with retail or a coffee shop on the ground floor, and three stories of micro-efficiency apartments aimed at MSU students above. The proposal came about before the City announced the review of the Neighborhood Plan and before the request for an administrative delay. In an unusual move, the developers are now back a second time asking for tax abatements they said they weren’t seeking the first time around. They went to City Council Monday night for a first hearing on this request.
Officially, the RNA neither supported nor opposed the project, though board members did speak to concerns we had with respect to increased traffic in the interior of the neighborhood (given that you can’t turn south on National), storm water runoff, and greater buffering between our neighbors on McCann and the development. We won some concessions on storm water improvements and buffering, but the city says there isn’t much they can do to keep tenants from accessing surrounding streets. The developers did promise to tell their contractors to use National instead of the neighborhood during construction. Public Works staff tells us they are always willing to listen to concerns about traffic, so once this is built, we need to keep an eye on traffic along Madison, Page, McCann, and Kickapoo.