After more changes, Lyn-Lake housing plan moves forward

Councilmember, developer cut deal on street-level parking ramp height

The proposed Village Green housing development at Lyn-Lake hit another obstacle in the dash to break ground by Nov. 1 as the Lowry Hill East (Wedge) Neighborhood Association voted in August to oppose new raising an underground parking ramp and eliminating some architectural details.

However, Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), who has also criticized recent alterations in the 82-unit 2935 Aldrich Ave. S. project, later struck a deal with developer David Dewey to reduce how high the ramp would rise above street level. Niziolek claimed that a higher street-level ramp would deaden pedestrian activity at the heavily traveled corner.

Dewey said he wanted to raise building above ground by about 4 feet, easing the parking ramp’s steepness, even though the city approved the original grade. Dewey said he would gain two rental units and have higher ceilings throughout the complex, creating a more attractive and lucrative rental property.

At the LHENA meeting, Niziolek cautioned the board against approving the changes, which he said would save Dewey $300,000-$1 million but allow less light into the parking ramp, making it less safe. "For the city, I’m negotiating a product, and that product has changed," he said.

Because there is a strong market in the neighborhood, Niziolek said residents should expect excellent design. He said Village Green’s design changed and does not fit into the concept he described as "urban design for people, not cars."

The history

City planner Hilary Watson said the original plan for Village Green featured 82 units of housing with first-level retail spaces and a ramp with 53 units of public parking and 84 private parking spaces. The design featured a mostly brick and stucco facade, with many balconies complementing the building’s street windows. Affordable housing is not part of the project, and there is no city subsidy.

LHENA reviewed and approved the plans in 2001, as did city planners.

Sonja Hayden, chair of LHENA’s transportation committee, said she and many board members disliked the new plan.

Hayden said she shared Niziolek’s concern over street-level inactivity, adding that the dead-end interior parking-garage layout was also a problem. Hayden also said many of the architectural flourishes such as balconies not in the new plan.

"There was less attention to detail on this plan," she said.

Hayden said that the neighborhood made many concessions to help develop the site and has grown impatient. She termed Dewey’s changes an unreasonable "bait and switch" as the developer hurries to make his November deadline.

"Village Green has been working at this for three years," she said "There isn’t much sympathy with developers who have been dragging their feet."

After Niziolek and LHENA members voiced concerns over the proposed changes, the LHENA board voted against supporting the new design.

A compromise

Niziolek said that after many discussions, he and Dewey reached a final agreement to raise the building approximately 2 feet, instead of 4 feet. "It reflects community interest as well as that of the developers," he said.

(Neighborhood boards only advise the city council; the opinion of the area’s councilmember, in this case Niziolek,

typically carries great weight.)

Niziolek said the compromise offers a good connection between the pedestrian space and the units, increasing the safety.

He said his only additional recommendation is for the planning department to get final approval and neighborhood input on the project’s building materials. The compromise plans will be brought before the City Planning Commission Monday, Sept. 9.

Dewey said this agreement caused him "great sacrifice," including one lost rental unit gained had the 4-foot lift been preserved. Dewey said the agreement would also make the retail space less desirable.

When asked why he will complete the deal, he said "It’s a good spot for housing."

In late June, Dewey agreed to pay the city $663,000 for the land. He agreed to preserve and manage the 72 parking spaces currently on a city-owned lot. The purchase will relieve nearby businesses of an assessment they now pay for the parking.

At press time, the Village Green had not signed a contract committing to the agreement, and no money has exchanged hands for the property.