When I arrived at the hearing, 10 minutes late since i had rushed from work on the other side of town, the room was nearly completely packed. I arrived to the hear the Commissions Chair finishing up the rules, guidelines and time limits. |
The hearing began with the BDS representative, Justin Fallon Dollard giving an overview of the project and what specifically was up for review. He consistently used the word "we" when referring to the project. I assume this is because he worked with the developers to find ways to get around community guidelines. And I mean get around them, not necessarily address them. One example of "getting around them" is his suggestion (and ultimately an addition to the MAL) of scoring the hanging concrete walls on the north and south. He suggested this to satisy "blending in" to the neighborhood. During the deliberation of the Commission, one of the volunteers scoffed at that addition as a poor attempt to "blend in."
Blending in, and what that means, seemed to be a large part of why these developers went home with frowns on their faces.
After the overview by the BDS, and after a few clarifying questions from the Commission, the hearing turned over to listen to testimony from people AGAINST the project. I am unsure of the exact number, but around 13 concerned neighbors took the stand to testify against the development and how it doesnt blend into the neighborhood, how the developers sidestepped process issues, and how this new development will affect the qulaity of life in the neighborhood and the overall quality of the neighborhood.
One of the issues was the sidewalk. PDOT has Mississippi listed as a pedestrian corridor and the requirements of that designation is a 12 foot sidewalk. The developers were charged to take space from their building to allow for this sidewalk to exist. One of the Historic Streetcar Era holdovers is the width of Mississippi Ave. It is only two driving lanes and parking on each side of the street, but it is much wider than Hawthorne or Belmont or NW 23rd because it used to run a Streetcar. The developers found a way to get PDOT to approve reducing the street, the public right of way, by two feet to allow for the sidewalk. Since MAL isnt on a corner this creates an hourglass effect pushing the sidewalk out 2 feet just for their 150 ft development. Cyclists would especially be affected by this theft of the public right of way.
Another issue was loading. MAL projects their commercial spaces to include a small specialty grocery and a credit union. Two things that Mississippi Ave could benefit from. For a development their size they are required to have a designated loading zone on their property. This didnt fit into their plan, so they drew up their development and asked BDS to allow a temp. loading zone on Mississippi Ave, this was denied and their loading zone ended up in the alley. Many of the resident on the other side of that alley use it frequently and were unhappy of having a frequent loader (grocery) in the alley, thus reducing their use of it.
Other issues included the mass of the building, inadequate off street parking, and other historical aspects. A resident of the neighborhood since 1928 came and testified that there were never any 4 story buildings on Mississippi. The developers have been citing "historical" 4 story buildings as their model...but no photos or evidence of those building existing on the street have ever appeared. Blending, as previously stated, was a large issue. The Commission reviewed their plan and the materials that they planned to use, and concluded that horizontal flats do not blend with the traditional shiplap and the stained wood doesnt blend with the traditional colored wood. IT was summe dup that the MAL would dominate the street instead of blend into it.
One person stated that the appeal of the Mississippi Corridor was its quaint charm, approachabilty and qualtiy of life. This development would be eroding each one of those things.
Once all of the testimony from the Apellants were heard the Commission Chair noted the 6 or so other comments on record from folks attending that did not wish to speak. Then it was time for the supporters to testify. The only person speaking in support of the project was one of the developers, Peter Wilcox.
After the supporter spoke, the Commission moved to close the record and deliberate. I was thinking that they would leave the room and talk but they just closed the record and started deliberating with everyone in the room available to hear. To be honest I was nervous. The BDS with Justin Fallon Dollard were clearly supporting the developers at the expense of the neighbors and there wasnt any clear signs from the commission. But then they deliberated.
One commission member started addressing the Loading, stating that she was against it being in the alley and would rather see it on Mississippi or on site. Then to the massing, because the area where this development is proposed isnt fully developed (there are two empty lots near it and across Mississippi are mostly small homes) the MAL would clearly not blend in. She stated that sheer size in a conservation district is a large issue and that step downs to break up the block could assist in reducing the mass. Another commission member was quoted saying "the design has not yet gone far enough in reducsing the mass." And noted that the front facade required further breaking down to reflect existing businesses (further down Mississippi.)
At this point I was feeling much more confident. Especially since the commission member were slipping in compliments to the neighbors for coming out and stating that they hadnt seen a larger turnout for a review in a long time. Then one of the commission said very clearly into her microphone "Bravo!" to all the neighborhood folks who came out today, and to note that she is struck by the uniqueness of the neighborhood. And another member said that the community reaction is due to the MAL taking alot away from the neighborhood and offering nothing back while developments like The Rebuilding Center, Pistils, the Rexall Building, and the Mississippi Commons were offering gathering spaces and open community green spaces.
Another suggestion was to use a variety of blocks at varying heights and setbacks, adding in that a 4 story development in this neighborhood, while approved by code, is pushing the envelope. And it poured on, with a commission member even stating that they disagreed with the BDS that the building was a streetcar era likeness. And something that wasnt talked about widely but addressed by the commission was the width of the development. At 150ft, it would be the longest starkest tallest front on the street and it was suggested to break that up a bit. Finally it was summed up "all these little things add up to a non-historical building."
The developers were then offered a choice: they could walk away denied by the commission and have to start from square one, or they could plea for a continuance. The continuance would give them a chance to meet with the community and to redesign their buidling to address the commissions concerns and the neighbors concerns. Ultimately they have the task of taking a four story building with a huge mass and nothing similar around it and making it blend.
They have until June 12th to do this. This is a huge victory for the neighbors, this helps to affirm neighbors and reminds us all that the power is in our hands we just need to gather our energy to remind the people in power that their power is afforded by our satisfaction. The Commission moved to re-hear this issue with modifications on the 12th. They suggested that the developers meet with the neighbors and do their best to address the concerns. The neighbors are planning two meetings with the developers before the 12th. Stay tuned for more information.