The request for mixed-use development of the abandoned properties on NW 13th street was narrowly approved. The developer awaits final approval from the City Commission who are concerned about neighborhood protection and economic growth in the area.
By Christopher Curry
Redevelopment plans for a block of vacant, abandoned buildings along Northwest 13th Street sparked City Commission debate over neighborhood protection and economic growth Thursday night.
In the end, the commission narrowly advanced a developer's requested changes to prior approvals in a 4-3 vote. The developer's requested land use and zoning still have to come back to the commission for final approval in the future.
Back in January 2012, New York-based RD Management received commission approval for an eight-story building of as much as 106 feet on the block that stretches along the east side of Northwest 13th Street from Third Avenue to Fourth Avenue. An abandoned car wash and vacant buildings, including the former location of Orange and Blue Textbooks, now stand on the site.
Among other things, the changes that moved ahead Thursday night will reduce the maximum allowable height from eight stories and 106 feet to six stories and 85 feet.
They also would allow the proposed development to stretch farther east into the residential University Heights Historic District North. RD Management has purchased two houses — a brick, boarded and vacant home and a rental house with a stone facade — with plans to add those properties to the footprint of the development.
The developer's plan is to relocate the houses to other lots in the historic district, something that will require approval from the city's Historic Preservation Board.
While the maximum allowable height is reduced, the highest point of the building may extend an additional 50 feet to the east, and the parking garage may be 75 feet farther to the east.
At its eastern edge, the building is planned to be 43 feet tall.
That eastward push of the development brought concerns from neighboring owners of a rental home, Mayor Ed Braddy and Commissioners Todd Chase and Yvonne Hinson-Rawls over apartments intruding on the adjacent neighborhood.
Commissioner Thomas Hawkins countered that commission members often talk about the need for economic development and that this project, which has projected construction costs of nearly $30 million, would bring it.
Braddy also said he felt the prevailing sentiment of the commission majority was that dense, mixed-use projects were the only type of development that should move forward at this time. He said he felt the majority's stance was that developments of single-family homes or stand-alone retail were “always bad.”
Hawkins said the vacant homes scattered around town and the empty big-box retail sites along Northwest 13th Street showed the results of a focus on development that separated residential and retail.
“We can talk about an ideology, or we can talk about something that is real, facts we can observe,” he said.
After much debate, the commission advanced the requested changes, with Braddy, Chase and Hinson-Rawls in dissent.
Here are some of the other modifications:
Increased the allowable number of apartments or condominiums from 168 to 202 and the total number of bedrooms from 230 to 288.
Eliminated a requirement for 20,000 square feet of second-floor office space
Removed a requirement to preserve a 56-inch diameter heritage live oak
The eastern edge of the property will have a planted, landscaped buffer instead of an 8-foot-high wall.
The developer's representative, Gerry Dedenbach, the director of planning for Causseaux, Hewett & Walpole, said the additional apartments and the elimination of office space were intended to make the project “more financially feasible.”
He said the developer has no plans to apply for a property tax rebate or any other form of incentive from the city. Across Northwest 13th Street and just to the south is the site of the proposed University Corners mixed-use development.
For that larger project, the developer seeks a 20-year property tax rebate from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency estimated to total almost $49 million.
RD Management owns and manages more than retail properties, with tenants that include national department stores and restaurant chains. The previously approved plans for the Northwest 13th Street project include 26,000 square feet of street-level retail.
“More retail is a no-brainer three blocks from campus,” Dedenbach said.
Under the city code, the developer will have to plant trees and pay mitigation for the removal of the heritage live oak.
Dedenbach said developer-funded infrastructure improvements will include utility work, sidewalk construction and the redesign and reconstruction of a stretch of Northwest 12th Drive.
He said RD Management would like to start construction this year and complete the project in 2015.
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