With a unanimous vote Tuesday, the City’s Zoning Commission approved zoning changes that would allow a mixed-use development on the 100 block of Arthur Street in the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood.

The proposed adaptive reuse project aims to transform century-old, derelict warehouses into an “arts hub” that provides a communal living setup. Preliminary plans for the 0.406-acre property include 14 apartments, eight artist studios, 16 parking spaces, and a gallery with pollinator habitat.

Property owner Nicolas Rivard, who also serves as the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association vice president and is the oldest son of Rivard Report Director Robert Rivard, told commissioners that the neighborhood needs more quality infill projects. The project site sits outside of the Dignowity Hill Historic District but within the neighborhood boundary, and it aligns with the “Near East” urban renewal area outlined in the 2017 Municipal Bond.

“This project is driven by the very same core motives as the neighborhood improvements bond that just passed, which is basically more affordable housing in appropriately designated spots,” Rivard told commissioners, adding that he’s exploring possible partnerships with the City or nonprofits to make some of the units affordable.

“We’re looking towards ‘Missing Middle‘ as a model for neighborhood-friendly density,” he added, referring to infill housing types that are more dense than single-family homes, but not as dense as mid-rise apartments. “We think that this is a way to achieve low-scale affordability that is family- and neighborhood-friendly and suitable for quiet streets like Arthur and Logan.”

The initial proposal included 20 apartments, but City staff recommended denial with the alternate recommendation of 10 apartment units. Rivard said he decreased the number of apartment units to 14 after conversations and pushback from certain neighbors.

“The numbers can’t work at 10 [apartments] and it’s been push and pull throughout our entire neighborhood,” said Liz Franklin, a member of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association’s Architectural Review Committee, calling the project creative and an example of out-of-the box thinking. She said the neighborhood association supports the project.

“What gets sidewalks? Money, development, investment,” Franklin said. “[Rivard] could go anywhere but is choosing to go outside the area that is not the most popular yet.”

Franklin added that the mixed-use development has the potential to activate the corridor and provide spaces for artists who struggle to find affordable workspaces.

But some residents in the area, such as Peyton Carillo, expressed concerns about increased traffic and the poor condition of streets and sidewalks. Carrillo lives on Hays Street and said her driveway backs up to Arthur Street, where the project will be located.

“Our next concern is all the kids,” Carillo said. “… What will traffic do to all the children who are playing out there?”

Carrillo also told commissioners another concern was the possibility of increased noise from events in the studios and gallery, which could become a nuisance to neighbors.

“Children shouldn’t be playing out there, in my opinion, but are there other areas where they could play at?” Commissioner Ba’Ron Head (D2) said. Head also asked about street improvements.

Rivard said he would work with the community to create additional programming for neighborhood children and additional safe spaces for them to play, such as installing a basketball hoop. Other options, he said, include the empty gallery spaces  – when they are not in use – and large yard with an empty driveway to the east.

“I think this substantial investment is good opportunity to lobby the City Council to pay a little bit more attention to parts that maybe haven’t advocated as strongly or that have just gotten ignored,” Rivard said of the blocks and streets in bad condition throughout District 2. “It’s a big priority for us to create pollinator habitat through this project, both on the streetscape and in between spaces [and] buildings, so that’s a big priority. The drainage and curbs will need to be addressed to accommodate this additional amount of people.”

He added that gallery events would likely take place once a month, and if there is huge influx of people, one solution would be to block off streets to nonresident traffic.

After the unanimous vote, Commissioner Reagan Greer (D9) commended the proposal.

“I haven’t seen anything like that before, and I’m watching that area where y’all live just do all kinds of things, so congratulations,” he said.

Disclosure: Robert Rivard, editor and director of the Rivard Report, and Monika Maeckle, co-founder of the Rivard Report, are the parents of Nicolas Rivard and are shareholders in the privately-held Peppergrass Group, LLC, the controlling entity for the development project led by Nicolas.

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...