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Commission signs off on South First Street site plan

Although city officials were unable to review the final site plan, the Planning Commission signed off on the layout of the second phase of the redevelopment of public housing on South First Street.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the plan at its meeting on Tuesday, barely three hours after it was submitted to the city.

Brandon Collins, an organizer with the Public Housing Association of Residents, commended the plan’s development process. It was created with numerous meetings with residents to hammer out the minutiae.

“It can’t be highlighted more — this is a totally innovative process. It is a democratic process,” he said. “You can’t look anywhere else in this country and see this type of engagement.”

The vote came after a long, complicated review process that started at the Jan. 6 City Council meeting.

At that time, the council approved a special-use permit and critical slopes waiver for phase two of the project.

The permit was required because the development includes outdoor parks, playgrounds and ball courts that would be private. Public facilities are allowed on the parcel by-right. The critical slope waiver is necessary because construction would occur within certain topographical areas.

Phase two will replace the existing 58 units with 113 multifamily units. It also includes a 7,000-square-foot community center and 3,000 square feet of office space.

Under the plan, the 18 existing buildings on the site would be demolished and replaced with 23 new structures.

Phase two is estimated at $26.7 million and includes $3 million in local funding.

Riverbend Development and Collins Engineering are doing design work.

The first site plan was submitted on Jan. 8, followed by a revised plan on Jan. 27.

A third plan was presented on Feb. 14 to go before the Planning Commission on Tuesday. City staff denied it on Feb. 26.

City planners flagged numerous concerns with the Feb. 14 plan. Among the issues were improperly designed fire suppression systems, inadequate utility buffering and erosion and sediment control plans that weren’t feasible.

City staff asked for more information, cited a lack of detail and noted certain items in the plans that weren’t properly depicted.

Some of the more prominent issues were water flow for fire suppression. The proposed fire hydrants were too close to parking spaces and two buildings were served by one fire suppression line.

City officials also noted a water diversion plan that actually showed water traveling up a slope, which isn’t feasible. They pointed out inconsistencies between pages, sewer lines too close to trees and a need for more tree and shrub planting, per a special-use permit approved in January.

Former Mayor Dave Norris, who is CRHA’s redevelopment coordinator, urged the commission via email to put the plan on Tuesday’s agenda because the deadline to apply for low-income housing tax credits is Thursday.

Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson told the commission that to apply for the credits, the project must be clear of all site plan review.

A new submittal was presented on Feb. 27. Staff met with the applicant Monday afternoon and indicated “a handful” of outstanding issues. A new plan was submitted at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Ashley Davies of Riverbend Development told the commission that the only changes for Tuesday’s submission were based off of comments at the meeting with city staff on Monday.

City staff scrambled to provide a staff report with recommendations to the commission before its meeting Tuesday and, 75 minutes later, completed a report for the commission’s pre-meeting at 4:30 p.m.

The report notes that the commission is legally required to “thoroughly review the Site Plan,” but would have to take CRHA’s word that all issues had been addressed if it wanted to move forward.

“Staff had had no time to perform a review of the Site Plan,” the report says. “By presenting [this site plan] to the Commission, the Applicant’s Representatives are representing to the Commission that the deficiencies noted in prior staff comment letters … have all been addressed.”

The report notes that the updated erosion and sediment control plans are not in the purview of the commission’s authority and will require further staff review. Compliance with the special-use permit and critical slope waivers will be monitored by the zoning administrator.

The site plan wasn’t up for a public hearing, but several people spoke about it during public comment.

“I think a vote for this is a way to vote for trust in this community,” said Laura Goldblatt, a member of the CRHA board of directors.

Goldblatt was one of at least four members of the CRHA board of directors who attended the meeting, including Mayor Nikuyah Walker, and three spoke during public comment. However, the board didn’t publish a public notice that a quorum would be present and discussing CRHA business.

Board member Michael Osteen said a delay would have impacted all the projects that CRHA is planning in a massive redevelopment of its public housing.

“If this delayed by a year, Westhaven’s delayed by a year,” he said. “If Westhaven’s delayed, Sixth Street’s delayed.”

Shantell Bingham, chair of the Human Rights Commission, acknowledged some growing pains for a development led by resident input, but said minor issues shouldn’t hold it up.

“Now is not the time to let minor technical difficulties get in the way of that and I don’t want it to be a barrier of this cash flow getting into housing,” she said.

In approving the site plan, Commissioner Lisa Green said the city needs to develop a process to review such projects that have a tight deadline “to make absolute sure that the project that you worked so hard on is the same quality as these million dollar condos.”

“We have to find a way to say yes in these tight timelines and it’s not always going to fit in our government procedures,” she said. “This is too important. We’ve got to find some new process and procedures to look at things that are this important through our equity lens.”


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