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Planners deny plans for Barr property

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At a well-attended meeting on Monday, April 14, Village Planning Commission voted 2–2 to recommend to Village Council that the Friends Care Community’s preliminary plans for senior apartments not be approved. The application was not approved because a majority of plan board members must approve a measure to pass it. The project plans will next be considered by Council at a public hearing of Council’s choosing. Council must allow 30 days from the date of publication of the meeting.

Friends Care is seeking approval for a planned unit development featuring a 30-unit apartment building on the 1.6-acre Barr property on the corner of Xenia Avenue and Limestone Street. Plan board president John Struewing and member Tim Tobey voted no, and members Matt Reed and Lori Askeland voted yes. Bill Bebko, a volunteer advisor for Friends Care, abstained.

Struewing and Tobey both said that though the project accomplished many of the goals of the Village’s comprehensive plan, the density of the project was too high for the site and the building was too massive. While Reed also felt that the project was too massive, he and Askeland approved it because it filled a need for affordable senior housing in the downtown area.

But all four plan board members agreed to recommend that Council in its deliberations of the project consider conditions that should be met if they vote to approve the project. The conditions included restricting the occupancy to seniors 55 years and older, evergreen screening between the property and its neighbors, consideration of an additional ingress to the property from Xenia Avenue, and additional bicycle parking. Plan board also wanted the primary use of the “bubble” of space on the property that was reserved for the possible use of the Senior Center to be restricted to senior-related uses.

As an additional condition, plan board specified that the historic Barr house currently on the property be given three months to find a buyer willing to move it off of the property. If none came forth, Friends would petition Council for funds to move the house to a corner of the property and wait another 12 months for a buyer before razing the home and salvaging its parts.

Plan board members praised some aspects of the project, such as a green roof, permeable pavement and parking lot, geothermal heating and cooling and Energy Star appliances, and they expressed satisfaction that issues related to sanitary sewer and stormwater drainage were tame enough to address in a final application, or the second stage of PUD approval.

During a public hearing at the meeting several villagers spoke in favor of the project, while several were opposed to its design. According to Richard Lapedes, the need for the economic vitality the Friends project proposes is greater than the need for aesthetics at this challenging time in the village. Speaking as a school board member at times, Lapedes also said the building would serve the need local seniors have for compact and convenient housing and would free up their homes for younger families who want to move into the school district.

But others, such as Michael Jones and Anne Bohlen, expressed reservations about how the mass of the building could negatively impact the feel and look of the downtown area. In Jones’ estimation, the proposed Friends building would be just slightly smaller than the John Bryan Center, and its mass would counter past efforts to balance development with open space. He recommended the building be divided into smaller structures, as was suggested by others, thereby accomplishing senior housing while “retaining more of the inherent objective embedded in the zoning plan in the 1970s to keep the sense of interlacing of the built environment and empty space that visually describes our small town character.”

Senior Andrée Bognár said she wanted to be able to live in the Friends’ apartment but that if it were split into smaller units, it would no longer be affordable for so many who want to be there.

Lease estimates given the cost of the current project design and financing were estimated to be $850 per month for a two-bedroom unit and $650 a month for a one-bedroom unit, according to Friends Care Director Karl Zalar. With $100/month subsidies for six apartments, the plan is projected to end with a $10,277 deficit at 5 percent financing. “This project is affordable and will pay for itself, but it is not a money generator for the organization,” Zalar said.

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