Mayor Steve Leary – May 2017
The demands of our busy lives and the proliferation of bloggers and “fake news” have created a challenge discerning between fact and fiction, particularly as news relates to local projects. During the March 27 City Commission meeting, we heard from three applicants seeking to redevelop properties. These property owners had gone through the processes of meeting with city staff and citizen advisory boards to move their applications to final consideration by the Commission. There has been a tremendous amount of community dialogue and writings regarding these projects. For those not engaged on a regular basis, and for whom emails, Facebook posts, and even articles from local media provide much of the information, I provide an overview of the projects.
First, the Comprehensive Plan which guides our consideration of all development within the city is a guiding framework. The Comp Plan is not a perfect document and recognizes this as it has within it a variance process to meet particular project requests. No two projects are completely alike, so this process allows flexibility to secure high-quality projects.
One applicant was hoping to redevelop the Aloma Bowl property into an Orchard Supply Hardware store. I took my two sons to Aloma Bowl this weekend, though whether or not you or I love the bowling alley, cannot weigh in our decision on the project. If a project meets all of the requirements of the Comp Plan, then we have little room to deny an application. However, in this instance the applicant was requesting a parking variance. The Commission felt this variance was not required, and as such the application was denied by a 5-0 vote.
All projects in excess of +10,000 square feet require applicants to apply for a Conditional Use permit. This process allows the Commission to consider other aspects such as the compatibility of the project with the surrounding neighborhood. The Villa Tuscany Memory Care Facility proposed for 1298 Howell Branch Road did meet the parking requirements. Though misreported by some, the project was not denied due to a parking deficit. This project was denied with a 5-0 vote of the Commission based on the project’s incompatibility with the surrounding neighborhood.
A third request was for a new three-story building for 158 E. New England Ave., in the vacant parking lot just east of the Häagen-Dazs ice cream store. The applicant was seeking a few minor variances on height and setbacks, though the major discussion focused on the requested parking variance and parking space count. After approximately two hours of discussion, the Commission voted 5-0 to table the item to allow the applicant to work with staff to address the concerns prior to bringing the project back.
Thank you to the applicants for bringing your projects forward for consideration and to the community for engaging in the process. I encourage you to stay involved in your government and if you have any questions, please reach out to me or city staff to provide clarification. Many online sources are too often invested in their own narrative to provide a 360-degree perspective on issues.
Mayor Steve Leary