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Planning Commission news—Senior apartments approved

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After lengthy consideration over what most of the Village Planning Commission members said was a “disappointing” response from the developers to their concerns about the project, planners at their meeting Monday, March 9, approved final plans for the Friends Care Community senior apartments. Senior apartments committee chairman Paul Webb said during the meeting that Friends had hoped to break ground this spring in order to complete the 30-unit facility on the Barr property this year.

Planners approved the planned unit development with three conditions 4–1 on Monday, with members Lori Askeland, Matt Reed, Tim Tobey and Bill Bebko voting for the project and planning chair John Struewing voting against it. Planners said that overall, the project was a good one, but several, especially Reed and Struewing, voiced dissatisfaction with the effort Friends had made to preserve the historic Barr house on the property and to mitigate the mass of the three-story structure that will dominate the northeast corner of Limestone Street and Xenia Avenue.

However, plan board members did not feel their concerns warranted denying the PUD, and admitted during the meeting that if they deferred the decision to Village Council, Council would approve it anyway. Webb made a plea to the planners not to delay the project, which has been on the table for two years already, by deferring to Council because the action could push construction completely off schedule. And planning member Askeland, who is Council’s representative, added that the demands that planners placed on the project created extensive delays that had “shocked” interim Village Manager John Weithofer when he reviewed the project last summer.

So planners approved the PUD, subject to three conditions, including that Friends must sign an agreement with the Village restricting the use to seniors 55 and over, that fire and police chiefs approve the plan’s safety measures, and that Village staff approves the plans.

The newest and most innovative element to the Friends apartment building is its design as the first commercial passive house structure in the U.S., architect Mary Rogero said on Monday night. She summarized the highlights of the energy efficient design, characterized by an airtight envelope, R50 insulation construction and triple-glazed windows that together produce a 90 percent reduction in energy used for the building’s heating and air conditioning. To further reduce energy needs, the facility will include solar collectors on a living roof and energy efficient appliances.

The 30,000 sq. ft. apartment building is designed for six two-bedroom units that will rent for about $850 a month, and 24 one-bedroom units that will go for about $650. The 1.6-acre Barr property will also have a 30-space permeable parking lot to the rear of the lot with a detention basin underneath for stormwater runoff.

Monday’s meeting included a public hearing, during which several residents expressed concern over FCC’s ability to guarantee the building will remain committed to senior housing.

As the first of its kind in the nation, the Friends building is an “exciting” and “phenomenal piece of work,” Kathryn Van der Heiden said, adding that the project should be valued for its accomplishments, even if it isn’t perfect. Villager Andrée Bognar stated simply that she hoped planners would approve the project so that she could move in by her 80th birthday at the end of September.

Planners recommended last fall that Village Council deny the project’s preliminary plans, but Council approved the preliminary plans with 25 conditions recommended by the planners. When the final plans came back to planners in January, there were still at least five outstanding issues. But planners felt by the end of Monday’s meeting that enough of them had been met to satisfy the board’s standards.

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