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First small step for senior apartments

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The most recent senior housing complex proposed for the Barr property downtown got its first nod from Village Planning Commission during a packed public hearing on Monday, Aug. 8. Plan board unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning that project leaders, Home, Inc. and Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, need in order to apply for funding for their 37-unit apartment building. The recommendation to Village Council is a modification of the approval process, which will require the developers to reapply for preliminary approval if the project is funded. Council will consider the recommendation later this month.

Among the 35 people who attended the hearing, several spoke in favor of a housing project they said will serve a long-time need for affordable senior housing in the village. Mark Babb, who lives directly across from the proposed project site on Limestone Street, said that while he loves his view of a park, he is more interested in serving the needs of the village’s vibrant senior population. Carmen Milano supported the location, which is within easy walking distance of most essential goods and services. She saw the project in contrast to her mother’s senior complex, which while beautifully manicured, is so far from the community it feels “like a prison.” Linda Rudawski urged Planning Commission to approve at least the rezoning so that the project would “have a chance” at getting funded.

But the proposed plan and site create many difficulties for the surrounding area, others said. Home, Inc. and Buckeye Community have proposed 37 one- and two-bedroom units in a two-story building with about 37 parking units in the back. Brad Myers, Jean Payne and Joan Ackerman, who lives directly east of the property, expressed deep concern about the “overwhelming” density the building would create adjacent to a residence-C zone with mostly single family dwellings. Pat Murphy, of Community Solutions, was concerned about the lack of energy efficiency of the building, which is expected to meet the Energy Star standards of using 15 percent less energy than a conventional structure of its size. Murphy suggested that a more appropriate standard would be to reduce the energy use by 30 or 50 percent, or even the 90 percent efficiency of the Passive Haus standard.

Miami Township Zoning Inspector and local resident Richard Zopf suggested that, like so many other issues in the village, even though the project isn’t perfect, it addresses some of the major needs the village has and should be approved because its positive impact grossly outweighs its drawbacks.

Planning Commission members were hesitant to approve the rezoning only, which would permit the increased density and typically requires preliminary engineering review of drainage, grading and other technical issues. But as Home, Inc. Executive Director Emily Seibel explained during the meeting, project leaders cannot justify engineering costs for a project that has not yet received the critical funding it needs to move forward. Buckeye Community representative Roy Lowenstein explained that the main funding source for the $6.2 million project is the federal housing tax credit program (in this case administered through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency) that redirects uncollected taxes toward private investment in affordable housing projects. The program has been operating successfully for about 20 years, and Buckeye Community has used it to finance about 50 affordable housing projects around the state, Lowenstein said. But the program is also very competitive, funding just one in three applicants each year. And while the local project is a strong candidate because of its location and the demonstrated need for senior housing in the village, the developers cannot invest in engineering it until they are assured of the funds to build it, he said.

The developers and planners all agreed that the details on drainage and grading were necessary to approve the complete preliminary plan. But all were able to agree that as long as the plans came back for preliminary review process when and if the funding is granted, that they could approve rezoning the property to Planned Unit Development–Residential (PUD–R) for the density intended for this project only.

Council will consider the rezoning request of the preliminary plan, and if approved, the developers will apply for the federal funding by mid-November. If the project is funded, the developers will return to Planning Commission for a more finely-tuned preliminary plan review.


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