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Planners OK Rosewood VMU project despite neighbors’ concerns

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Planning Commission recommended a third vertical mixed-use project on the Rosewood Avenue corridor last week over neighborhood objections but offered no relaxed standards on parking or floor-to-area ratios.


The properties – a combination of five parcels in the 2500 and 2600 blocks of Rosewood Avenue totaling 3.3 acres – already had mixed-use zoning but it was not located on a major transit corridor. The current zoning is CS-MU-CO-NP.


Owner James Wallace was petitioning the Planning Commission to opt-in his project, which he hopes will include an affordable housing element that will make it eligible for city bonds and federal support. He has yet to file a site plan on the property, which has left the neighbors leery of what he might do.


Wallace described neighborhood opposition as a moving target. First it was concern about springs on his property. Then it was traffic. Wallace said the story among neighborhood kept changing during the process.


“Every time I go and turn in new information, they come up with something new,” Wallace said of his efforts to negotiate with neighborhood leaders.


Neighborhood leaders did not have glowing comments about Wallace, either, and were uneasy about the lack of a site plan. Mahala Guevara, lead speaker for the Homestead Heights Neighborhood Association and the property owner behind the subject tracts, said 25 percent of the property owners in the area opposed the project. Since the city owns a third of the property surrounding the Wallace site, that’s an especially high number, she said.


Pinned down by commissioners as to her specific concerns, Guevara said the community had three: increased traffic on a blind hill across from a local elementary school; the potential for reduced parking requirements that could drive parking into the neighborhood; and the potential for heavy metal contamination from city-owned property to be a problem as water off the city-owned site ran down to the Wallace-owned property.


Commissioner Saundra Kirk asked Guevara directly whether the Wallace site had ever been tested for metal contamination; Guevara said no. Kirk said it would be difficult to prohibit Wallace from doing something on his property simply because the city had not done its own clean up.


Chair Dave Sullivan also noted what the alternative was for the property. Under VMU, the project would have ground-floor retail and design standards. Current zoning could provide something far less attractive, like a full apartment site.


“Would we be happy with that? No. We wouldn’t,” Guevara agreed. “But we don’t want a relaxed parking restriction on the property, either.”


Commissioner Mandy Dealey had no problem recommending the VMU zoning, noting that her recommendation offered no entitlements and also would provide better standards for the project’s ultimate construction.


“Having a site plan is not necessary under VMU zoning,” said Dealey. “This really gives Mr. Wallace the opportunity to do something nicer than he could do under existing zoning.”


Kirk said she saw nothing under VMU zoning that would add a traffic load to the area any greater than existing zoning. And she pointed out 3.3 acres should be big enough to accommodate adequate parking.


The vote passed 7-0, with two commissioners absent, but Commissioner Dave Anderson, who has served on the Environmental Board, expressed confidence in city staff assessments and did note that he would expect to see a buffer on the property around any critical environmental feature when the plan comes through the site planning process.


“I would just advise you that you need to know what you have on your property, and where that water is going,” Anderson said.

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