The City’s Zoning Commission on Tuesday recommended denying a developer’s plan to construct 20 residential lofts on a half-acre Tobin Hill tract, saying the proposed development is too dense for the location.
The commission’s 8-3 vote supported City staff’s alternate recommendation for local developer Limitless Creations to consider a plan with less density and height. Developers said they will talk further with City officials and neighborhood groups to determine their options.
The proposed Legacy Lofts currently involves five towers at 1817 N. St. Mary’s St. and 824 E. Euclid Ave. Each tower would have one street-level parking garage underneath four residential stories.
Shipping containers would be used in the construction of each 1,400-square-foot loft, a construction technique used by Limitless Creations Chairman and President Robert Melvin in his previous Tobin Hill project, Park Avenue at the Pearl.
Neighbors of the proposed project, which originally called for as many as 35 units, say the current plan still is too dense for the immediate area and that 50-foot-tall residential structures would be out of character with the surroundings.
Most commission members agreed, but a few other members said the project would be a positive addition to the increasing stock of residential developments outside of downtown.
Limitless Creations asked to rezone the tract from two categories covering residential and commercial use to an Infill Development Zone category that would allow up to 65 residential units per acre and commercial space.
Ricki Kushner of the Tobin Hill Community Association (THCA) said the developer’s vision runs contrary to the neighborhood plan.
“The requested density and proposed height are inappropriate next door to and across the street from one- and two-story dwellings,” she said. Kushner added that Tobin Hill’s tallest building is Metropolitan Methodist Hospital, which is separated by a city street from the nearest homes.
Richard Moore, Tobin Hill Neighborhood Association (THNA) president, supported approving the rezoning with conditions, such as constructing 15 units instead of 20.
Moore also suggested building two residential units atop a former store on the property. Project partners propose renovating the store and turning it into a community space.
Additionally, Moore recommended there be at least five feet between the residential towers and considerable setback space. He also asked the developer to submit conceptual drawings to better demonstrate the buildings’ proposed appearance. Silas Lacey, a local custom-home design company, is responsible for the newest Legacy Lofts design.
Moore was critical of the exterior design of Park Avenue at the Pearl: “It’s not an aesthetic quality wanted in my neighborhood.”
THCA representative Rick Schell added: “We believe alternate uses for the land would be more appropriate.”
The City’s Planning Commission voted in July to modify future land use for the property in question, but not to the degree that would permit the density that the developers sought at that time. The developers originally proposed 30-35 units, but neighborhood concerns prompted them to downsize the concept to 27 units, and now 20.
Melvin told Zoning Commissioners that aside from the former shipping containers, his project would use exterior materials commonly found around the area.
“When you walk into the project, you’re not going to think shipping containers,” he said. He added that the look of Park Avenue at the Pearl was designed to follow construction trends happening around the Pearl/River North neighborhood and that Legacy Lofts would be similar.
Commissioner Sofia Lopez motioned to accept City staff’s recommendation for denial.
“I do love the concept, but I wish it were on the other side of the highway,” she said. “I think I might even be willing to consider the level density you’ve proposed if it were on the other side of (North) St. Mary’s.”
Commissioner Gayle McDaniel said she, too, likes the concept but not the location given the planned density.
“It makes a really good fit in another area,” she said.
One of the dissenting votes came from Commissioner Patricia Gibbons, who said that while she understood neighbors’ concerns, the project could be a step forward in Tobin Hill’s growth.
“Does anyone remember what Pearl looked like before it was the Pearl?” she asked. “Who would go there? But we go there now because a developer had a vision and he made it happen.”
After the vote, Melvin told the Rivard Report he and his project partners would go back to the drawing board.
“Our objective is and always has been to have a project that the community and the City can get behind and be supportive of,” Melvin said. “Our goal is to maximize use of that land.”
But he said reducing the density to fewer than 20 units could potentially endanger the project’s financial viability.
“Fifteen units are not enough to sustain the size of the lot,” he said.