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Board of Adjustment grants variance for North Lamar development

Monday, November 28, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

A proposed mixed-use development on Lamar and North Loop has been granted a variance from the Board of Adjustment, but the variance has raised questions that Chair Jeff Jack thinks the city should address.


Camden Property Trust, represented by Michele Rogerson Lynch, plans to construct a vertical mixed-use building at 5400 North Lamar Boulevard. In 2008 developers obtained VMU zoning, prior to construction of a neighboring duplex that has triggered the need for a variance. The duplex is on a commercially zoned property.


“When MU (Mixed Use) was originally approved in our zoning ordinance, it required mixed use,” said Jack. “It had to have commercial plus retail or residential. That got changed to allow it to be only one or the other, or both. Unfortunately, that has really messed us up. Because now we have properties that have the MU on them that then become totally residential, triggering compatibility. I don’t think that was the intent, originally in the ordinance. I think this case highlights that.


“I think this is one of the items that the Board of Adjustment might have a recommendation to the Planning Commission Codes and Ordinances to look at the implications of this situation.”


The owners of the duplex, which is a modern cement structure, are in favor of the variance, as is the Brentwood Neighborhood Association.


Developers have come to a number of agreements with the duplex owner and surrounding neighborhood in terms of fencing, landscaping, and design and have established a number of community benefits in a private covenant with the Brentwood Neighborhood Association.


“You can see we are dealing with an unusual situation of two commercially zoned properties, both allowing for mixed use or residential. It’s unfortunate that our project was put on hold, and in the meantime a duplex condo structure – “warehouse,” I’ll call it — was developed in the interim, and now, unfortunately, is triggering compatibility for us,” said Lynch.


Board Member Melissa Hawthorne seemed to agree with the categorization of the triggering duplex, saying, “That’s just not your normal duplex. This is a property that could still transition. I see people build buildings where they say they are residences, but they convert to commercial fairly rapidly. That’s just not like your little wee house.”


“We talk about needing density,” said Hawthorne. “We talk about needing density in the city, and where to put it, and that it should go along the core transit corridor. If North Lamar isn’t that, I don’t know what is … This is exactly where we want this type of project.”


The Board of Adjustment voted 6-1 to grant the variance, with Board Member Bryan King casting the lone vote in opposition.


“This one gets down, for me, to be that the hardship is solely economic. The site was planned many years ago, and the trigger was not pulled on it. The conditions changed, and that triggers now, financial hardship. If they comply with compatibility setbacks, they won’t be able to build as many units,” said King. “I wish I had a dollar for every time I sold a piece of stock back when it was high, before it went low … That’s where this one, for me, is sitting.”

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