Denied rezone means Lowell neighborhood unlikely to see apartment complex

Posted: November 21, 2017 at 1 a.m.

LOWELL -- A large crowd of residents applauded at the close of Monday's Planning Commission meeting to show support for the denial of rezoning 803 Concord St.

The 23.9-acre property had a proposed use as a multi-story apartment complex, which upset those in the single-family neighborhood nearby. The council chambers at City Hall was near capacity with residents expressing their concerns despite the developer's assurances that it could be a high-end, market-rate development.

"This proposed apartment development uses nice design and finishes inside and out," Phil Swope of Swope Consulting said in a request narrative sent to the city. Swope is a civil engineer working on the project. The apartment buildings will have brick and rock on the first level and used in accents, according to the document. Interior upgrades, such as solid-surface countertops, are also planned, he said.

CORRECTION

This story has been changed to reflect the correct date of the meeting.

Attorney Bill Watkins represented NSB Enterprise's request in a presentation shortly before a public hearing on the property. Watkins said his client's development would include a much-needed fix to the consistent drainage problems of the area. A larger development than a single-family housing district would justify the great expense of that solution with a greater financial return, he said. Watkins said the developer had tried a plan to put more single-family residences on the land and it "didn't work."

Watkins referenced the city's master street plan that includes a collector street on the north side.

"Once the street goes through, that changes the nature of this area," Watkins said. "This property is going to develop. It's not going to stay a field. Until it gets developed, the drainage problem will not be resolved."

Many made comments during a public hearing that lasted half an hour. Commission chairman James Milner said he was happy so many people attended the meeting to speak up.

"We normally don't have this kind of response," Milner said. "Everyone obviously feels passionately about this project."

Residents maintained that privacy, increased traffic and noise and decreased property values will be the issues they'll have to face once the development is completed.

Regina Hankins speculated that street improvements would be made as far as 10 or 20 years down the road and asked commissioners to clarify a timeframe.

Erin Virtue-Lawson, a resident and manager of the Lowell Historical Museum, said she was deeply concerned about the effect on Elza Tucker Elementary nearby.

"Teachers are already buying supplies out of their own pocket," she said. "We need enough funding and teachers. We need a plan."

Virtue-Lawson said the area's children often walk or ride bicycles to school and expressed fear for them as the traffic along the road would surely increase as a result of the development. Her own son will attend the school next year, she said.

"High-density residential zoning may result in the construction of a three-story building, which will destroy the privacy of the existing single family housing adjacent to the property on three sides," resident John Ratzki said in a written complaint. Ratzki lives less than 200 feet from the proposed site. He suggested that the development be limited to a height of two stories.

The height of the apartment complex buildings and its proposed number of units also concerned resident Lou Homstead, who lives near the site. Homstead said in a written complaint to the city that the occupants of the new buildings would produce a good deal of noise and trash. The impact on the surrounding trees and shrubs also concerned her.

Homstead said if a development must happen, she suggests it have a larger park, trails and playground, as well as community amenities like a pool, tennis court and buffering of shrubbery.

Drainage was Haraldine Neathery's primary concern, but she requested a berm, trees or fence to increase privacy between the new development and existing neighbors.

Resident Glenda Crowder voiced a concern that traffic would become a huge problem since a school is nearby.

Elza Tucker Elementary School is a half mile from the site, which makes Concord a part of the school's regular traffic route.

Swope said he estimates the development will bring an increase of 2,100 vehicles per day, but street improvements will widen Concord during the large-scale development process.

"This increase is well within the total capacity of a collector street, which is how Concord Street is designated," Swope said in his zoning request.

Other residents stressed the negative impact on their property values, as well as a decline in safety for the area.

NW News on 11/21/2017