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Council approves Barr property project

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This architectural rendering shows the view from Xenia Avenue looking south at the proposed Friends Care Community Barr property senior apartments. Village Council unanimously approved the project on Monday night, and construction will begin either this fall or next spring.

By Diane Chiddister

A controversial project that pitted the need for affordable senior housing against a concern for downtown aesthetics moved toward reality this week when Village Council unanimously approved the Friends Care Community’s proposal to build senior housing on the Barr property downtown.

The vote was 5–0 on the second reading of the resolution, with Lori Askeland, John Booth, Judith Hempfling, Kathryn Van der Heiden and Karen Wintrow voting for the project. Now that the project has received Council approval, the FCC has six months to submit a final plan to the Planning Commission. If approved by the planners, zoning and building permits can be issued, according to a written report by Village Manager Eric Swansen.

The project, a three-story apartment building with 30 apartments, is one component of the Friends Care Community’s desire to address the needs of local seniors, according to FCC Board President Carl Champney on Monday.

About 50 villagers attended the meeting, with about half of those speaking in support of the project and half speaking against. Most who opposed the Barr project cautioned that the building is too large and imposing for the site; those who supported the project stressed the need for growth and affordable housing for seniors.

After more than an hour of listening, Council members, while acknowledging the concerns of those who opposed the project, came down squarely in support of it.

“I think our community desperately needs more rental housing for seniors,” Van der Heiden said, adding that, “We need to think about economic development. To move forward, we need to be open to change.”

Since most villagers accept the need for moderate growth, the choice is between creating sprawl or having more infill, and she believes that infill is best, Hempfling said.

“Density is something we have to find a way to embrace,” she said.

Several who spoke in favor were seniors who said they would like to live in the Barr apartments, including Andrée Bognár, Helen Birch and Martie Jensen. Home, Inc. Executive Director Marianne MacQueen spoke of the aging of the local population and the need for more affordable rentals in town.

“It behooves us to become a community that’s welcoming to older people,” she said.

Those who opposed the plan cited the building’s mass, which they believed is out of scale to the neighborhood. Citing the Village Comprehensive Plan’s directive that new building projects be compatible with existing neighborhoods, David Battle stated, “If you have a comprehensive plan that can be overturned willy-nilly, what’s the point of having one?”

Battle brought to the meeting a three-dimensional model of the building, which several said they had requested from FCC and not received.

“When you try to get that many units into that small a plot of land, the mass will be incredible,” said Brad Myers.

In the end, Council came down in favor of the project, which is a PUD development that will front on Limestone Street. The building will be 35 feet high, and will cover about 30 percent of the Barr property lot, which is on the northeast corner of Xenia Avenue and Limestone Streets, according to the FCC proposal. It will also include a parking lot with 30 parking spaces.

According to architect Mary Rogero in opening comments, the FCC has attempted to address villagers’ concerns about the building’s size by setting it further back from the street than originally planned, and keeping a landscape buffer of trees on both Xenia Avenue and Limestone Streets, among other features. FCC officials have stated that they could not change the project into one with smaller buildings due to cost factors. In a statement Monday night, FCC Executive Director Karl Zalar said that the FCC makes a profit and can afford to develop the project. He also stated that due to unknown variables at this time, he could not say specifically what the cost of the apartments will be.

The project has many green features, according to Rogero, including a green roof, permeable pavements, natural linoleum flooring, low flow toilets, energy star appliances and low VOC paint. Rogero recently contacted Pat Murphy of The Community Solution regarding the project, and on Monday night, Murphy said he was encouraged by the project’s sustainable features.

After Planning Commission considered the FCC project for several months, the planners voted 2–2, with Bill Bebko abstaining due to ties to the Senior Center, which had an option on the property. The planners cited the building’s mass as their main concern, and also submitted to Council a list of conditions should Council approve the project. The FCC has agreed to most of the conditions already, which Council will clarify at its next meeting June 16, according to Wintrow.

Other business on Council’s June 2 agenda will be covered in next week’s News.



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