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Council OKs Riverside-area mixed use project on first reading

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council gave a tentative go-ahead to a mixed-use project named Monaco II last week, approving a zoning change on first reading.


T. Mark Knutsen, owner of the property at 2440 Wickersham Lane, was seeking a change from low-density multifamily (MF-2) to Community Commercial Mixed Use (GR-MU.)  Developers plan to build a mixed use project on the lot, which is almost 2 acres, with residential units on the top two floors and retail on the ground floor in the East Riverside Corridor near Oltorf and Pleasant Valley.


Knutsen told City Council that the project was a brainchild of learning about Subchapter E, also known as the “design standards and mixed use ordinance” in the city code.


“I’ve been a huge fan of Subchapter E, and so many people are not. I don’t understand it,” said Knutsen. “You cannot build Subchapter E in LR zoning… staff recommendation was LR. What I was told today is that they are continuing with that recommendation, but they are not opposing GR.”


“I think this concept is going to make this whole neighborhood beautiful again,” said Knutsen.


Though Knutsen agreed to a limitation on liquor sales at the Planning Commission, Planning and Development Review Director Greg Guernsey explained that Knutsen “did not fully understand the implication of liquor sales.” As a result, Knutsen asked Council to amend the restriction, allowing the sale of beer and wine but not other, harder, forms of liquor.


“I don’t want a liquor store on the site. I don’t think it’s best for the neighborhood. I want the grocery store to serve the community, and I think part of serving the community is being able to sell beer and wine. I want the restaurants to be able to serve the community, and I think part of serving the community is being able to give them a margarita,” said Knutsen.


After a brief discussion on the best approach, City Council settled on removing the prohibition on liquor sales, and adding a prohibition on drive-throughs.


Council Member Chris Riley pointed out a letter from the homeowners association that explained they did support beer and wine sales in a grocery, and asking to approve the zoning request. “It seems to me we’ve heard from the homeowner’s association loud and clear, and they don’t have a problem with the proposed liquor sales,” said Riley. “That’s why they took the trouble of including a whole paragraph in their letter to us explaining that.”


Council voted 6-0 to approve the rezoning on first reading. Mayor Lee Leffingwell was absent because he was attending a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, DC.


Knutsen told Council that opposition to the project was financially motivated, and covertly sponsored by Abdul Patel, who had expressed previous interest in purchasing the property.


“He has been trying to buy this project for me for a couple years. I think that he believes that if his agent, Jim Witliff, can succeed in sinking the zoning then he might be in a better position to get this himself,” said Knutsen, who stressed that his project had the support of the Monaco HOA and the Neighborhood Association.


Witliff, who spoke against the rezoning, denied that he was acting on Patel’s behalf.


“I’m here to tell you, categorically, clearly, Mr. Abdul Patel has not talked to me about this project since the day, approximately one year ago, that Mr. Knutsen said he was not going to sell the project,” said Witliff.


Witliff explained that he was opposing the project because, when he was involved in 2009, he was part of crafting an agreement that he felt was in the best interest of the neighborhood. “What he’s doing right now, in my personal opinion, is 50 pounds of potatoes in a 10 pound sack. It doesn’t fit on the site… Because of my familiarity with the project, when I took a look at it I was flabbergasted at what I saw.”

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