Uptown parking compromise stirs controversy

Under threat of suit, city grants additional parking spaces -- now neighbors are talking lawsuit

The City Council voted at its July 2 meeting to amend city staff's decision to lower the parking variance for a new CARAG development, 1221 W. Lake St., by one-third instead of cutting it in half.

The city had originally granted Southwest developer Ross Fefercorn 167 spaces for his two-building commercial development, 68 spaces and the option to build 99 additional spaces.

When Fefercorn reduced the size of his project by eliminating the basements, City Zoning Manager Blake Graham restricted the development to 114 parking spaces. Fefercorn then threatened to sue to city, saying the city can't renege on approved plans, regardless of later changes to the development.

Graham's report states that when Fefercorn did away with the basements in his plans it changed the overall square footage, thus reducing the parking space allotment. The city determines the number of necessary parking spaces according to a development's square footage.

The strip of retail buildings is called Uptown Row and the first building, now complete, is home to a Wild Noodles Restaurant, Planet Beach Tanning Salon and Keep in Touch Massage.

The second building is currently under construction on the corner of Emerson Avenues & Lake Street and will include a dental office, medical clinic, Fantastic Sam's hair salon, video game retailer and another restaurant.

Besides the two commercial buildings, there will also be a residential development. Emerson Row Townhomes, which is not yet built, will include six approximately $400,000 townhomes with a double car garage for each unit.

Nearby residents supported Graham's decision as limited parking limits the kinds of tenants Fefercorn can sign. They worry if Fefercorn keeps the extra parking spaces he'll put in another restaurant or another high-intensity business that requires more parking.

Numerous residents tracking the property's progress since Fefercorn's involvement in 1999 claim Fefercorn promised not to put in a high-intensity use, such as a restaurant.

But Fefercorn said restaurants have always been a part of the plan and he appealed Graham's reduction of parking spaces. It's that appeal that resulted in the City Council's July decision.

The City Council amended Graham's reduction, upping the number of spaces by 20 (to 134), on an 8-2 vote. However City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) voted against the compromise, saying it pandered to bait-and-switch tactics increasingly used by developers.

Adjacent resident Phillip Qualy has retained legal counsel in the matter and said he and his adjoining neighbors are upset that the city backed off Graham's decision. "If anyone can threaten to sue the city and get their way, it's a sad day," he said, adding Fefercorn had lost in every city vote until threatening to sue.

Qualy said he and his neighbors have to protect their property values from problems such as the increased traffic volume associated with high-intensity businesses. He said to do that, they might sue the city as their last line of defense. He said he and his neighbors plan to host fundraisers to help foot the bill for a potential lawsuit.

Fefercorn signed off on the city's amendment to the variance. He said although he would have won a lawsuit against the city for the proposed parking reduction, it's better to compromise than spend money on a suit.