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Council approves East Block rezoning on first read
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt
On a vote of 6-1, Council approved rezoning to allow for greater height at 835 West Sixth Street, known as the East Block property, on first reading last Thursday. Council Member Laura Morrison offered the only vote against the change.
The applicant, Schlosser Development, is seeking rezoning from downtown mixed use (DMU) to downtown mixed use-central urban development (DMU-CARE), a modification that would allow for an increase in height from its current 120 feet to 350 feet. The expanded property, called Shoal Creek Walk, will feature office, retail, and condominium units.
The site is partially located in the Capitol View Corridor, which limits height to 55-70 feet. The developer is hoping to increase the height of that part of the property not in the CVC to make up for the limits in floor-to-area ratio (FAR).
However, because the applicant is not asking for an increase in the FAR, only an increase in the allowed height of the development, the interim density bonus ordinance would not be triggered, meaning there are no affordable housing requirements.
However, the developer is still willing to provide affordable housing. Alice Glasco, who spoke on Schlosser’s behalf, told the Council that her client is proposing — in addition to complying with the city’s Great Streets program, providing 30,000-35,000 square feet of public space, and paying for improvements to
Glasco told Council that number is a benchmark agreed to with the Planning Commission and represents the maximum square footage the developer could achieve without the CURE zoning. In other words, she said, the rezoning would automatically trigger the affordable housing agreement. (See In Fact Daily April 5, 2010.)
Glasco presented two primary offers, which her client had developed with members of the Planning Commission.
1) If the size of the property exceeds the 482,687-square-foot benchmark, 5 percent of the units, but not less than one unit for every 20,000 square feet in excess of the benchmark, on the site would be dedicated to affordable housing units for families earning up to 80 percent of median family income.
2) If on-site affordable housing units aren’t feasible, the developer would pay a fee-in-lieu calculated at $3 per square foot over the benchmark.
Several Council members showed appreciation both for Schlosser’s ability to build downtown, considering the current economic climate, and willingness to voluntarily offer affordable housing guarantees. “We’re glad for the development,” said Council Member Sheryl Cole. “We’ve had so little development in the downtown area for at least the last year. I appreciate the fact that you’re coming forward to make community benefits for affordable housing.”
Morrison was less impressed, however, with the applicant’s offer.
“I’m having a really tough time with this one because we’ve talked about the need for affordable housing in our community, the limited resources we have for affordable housing – we’re down to our last $13 million in bonds,” Morrison said. “We need to do everything we can to make sure we’re leveraging everything we have in this community to be able to provide for the amazing affordable housing needs that we have.”
Morrison pointed out that when Council was voting to approve the Grayco South Shore PUD last year, an offer was worked out whereby the developer would pay almost $5 per square foot for affordable housing, nearly $2 more than in the deal being offered by Schlosser.
“I feel like if our expectations for the kind of benefit that a project will bring to our community is moving backwards then we’re going to be in danger there,” she said.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell pointed out that negotiations for community benefits, including affordable housing, are specifically authorized in the case of a PUD. The same is not true in a straight zoning case, he said. That would be “contract zoning,” and is illegal.
But Leffingwell also made it clear that he hoped to look more closely at the development proposal and the affordable housing offer before voting on a second and third reading. “In the meantime,” he said, “I’m working under the assumption that your offer for community benefits and affordable housing is strictly an offer on your part and not something that is negotiated or even talked about as to whether or not this Council approves your zoning.”
Council then voted 6-1 in favor of approving the ordinance on first reading, with Morrison dissenting. After the meeting she told In Fact Daily that an expanded East Block property doesn’t meet the expectations of the CURE zoning category, which, she quoted, should be used to “accommodate high-priority projects that enhance the stability of urban neighborhoods including the development of affordable housing.”
“CURE zoning is completely discretionary,” Morrison said, “whether it’s going to be providing benefits to the neighborhood. And I just feel like it isn’t the right development for that area, with the strong needs we have for affordable housing. One of the stated reasons of CURE zoning is affordable housing, and it’s pretty meager what they were offering.”
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