Again this month, the planning commission had a full agenda that included three public hearings. All but two commissioners were present along with City Engineer Gary Roubal and planner Doug Lewan. Over half of the dozen or so people in the audience were associated with Peters Building Company.
Three of the issues before the commission, including two of the public hearings, concerned the same project, a plan by Peters Builders to construct a new development at 106, 108 and 110 E. Henry Street. The development is to be called Risdon Heights.
The first step in approval for this project was rezoning of the parcel at 110 E. Henry from R-2, two-family residential to D-2, downtown edge. Lewan reviewed the proposed change for the commission.
The parcel in question has industrial/residential uses to the north in a D-1 zone, and single family residential, zone R-1C to the south. To the east is residential and to the west is a parking lot, the downtown water tower and a residence in a D-2 zone.
Conversion from R-2 to D-2 would allow parcels at 106, 108 and 110 E Henry to all have D-2 zoning. This downtown-edge zoning from the form-based code seems consistent with the neighborhood.
Lewan explained that the D-2 designation is also consistent with the Saline Master Plan. It would provide a transition between commercial and residential properties, it would bring more peoples to the downtown, it would encourage alternative transportation (walking) and it would encourage full use of the property.
Both Commissioner Bill Beardsley and Commissioner Dean Girbach questioned whether another designation such as R1-C or a CUP might be more appropriate, but their questions were answered to their satisfaction. D-2 is the same as adjoining property and allows more flexibility.
A public hearing was opened, but no one came forward to speak. The rezoning was approved unanimously.
Risdon Site Plan
The next, and most demanding of the approvals needed for Risdon Heights was Jim Haeussler’s request for site plan approval. Tom Covert from Midwestern Consulting gave a Power Point presentation on the proposal.
The plan is to build 11 multifamily dwelling units on approximately 1.5 acres. This creates a density of 7.5 dwellings per acre.
“We looked at what Henry Street would look like if you were travelling down there and our goal with our siting of our buildings to have the garages off of Henry Street and give it that residential feel,” Covert said. “We thought it would be appropriate to also continue with a streetscape along Henry Street with lush trees and shrubs.”
Other details were also consistent with a residential ambiance.
Lewan favorably reviewed the plan. He said that he had few criticisms, because the review process was already in its second round and he developer had already responded to many concerns.
Lewan and city staff added eight conditions that must apply to any motion for approval. Roubal said the only one that needed the planning commission’s attention was number five. Condition five dealt with some unique features of the D-2 designation. The property needs to include street seating or planters in front of the property and the siding can only be 10 percent aluminum or vinyl. There are also concerns about lighting.
Most of these details were already considered by the developer and were addressed. The developer was “very responsive and receptive and provided good responses to all of our questions,” Roubal said.
It became clear that the developer was in quite a hurry to gain approval. He hoped to get preliminary and final site plan approval in one vote.
Timing With US 12 Detour
“Time is of the essence here because this project is located on the detour route for the US 12 project so for the applicant to achieve some of the larger infrastructure improvements, he would have to get in there and do that before US 12 is a detour route,” Roubal explained.
Jim Haeussler signs the site plan papers as city engineer Gary Roubal looks on.
The start of US 12 reconstruction is only a few months away, but Haeussler felt that it could be done thanks to careful preparation.
“We probably put more effort up front on this one prior to gaining approval than we have on any project in the past 15-20 years,” Haeussler said.
There were many concerned raised by the commissioners, including a series of questions from new commissioner Steven Diebol. Girbach expressed caution about such quick action. When the public hearing was opened, one neighbor of the project rose to speak.
Gary Traster was concerned with all the truck traffic he sees trying to turn into the property to the north. He also said that the area is always filled with parked cars.
“I believe in progress, but I believe this project right here is a little bit overkill for that area,” Traster said.
After extended deliberation Cheryl Hoeft moved to approve the preliminary and final site plan. Both Beardsley and Mayor Brian Marl spoke in support of the motion. The motion passed unanimously.
A final issue pertaining to the Risdon Heights project was to change the site plan for the property across the street, designated 118 E. Michigan. This property and the property on which the development is to be built were both owned by Andy Warner.
In 2007, the planning commission approved a site plan for the 118 E. Michigan parcel, which was contingent upon the availability of parking across the street. This would now be gone, so the site plan had to be reconsidered.
As it turns out, the loss of parking sites across the street is almost exactly offset by a decrease in parking requirements in the new parking code. This made it easy for the commissioners to vote to approve the change.
The other major action taken by the planers was, in fact, to approve the revised off-street parking and loading ordinance and pass it on to city council for final approval. This too involved a public hearing, but no comments were forthcoming.
The commissioners have been dealing with the details in these changes over the course of several meetings, so no additional deliberation was required. It was passed unanimously.
Beth Ann Rentschler and Eric Rentschler were present for the decision on a special land use permit for Eric's proposed art studio on Industrial Drive.
Rentschler’s Art Studio Approved at 1205 Industrial Drive
The council also reviewed a special land use permit request from Eric Rentschler for Eluminous Artistry, LLC. This proposed new business would include art instruction, photography, an art studio and art sales.
The business will be located at 1205 Industrial Drive in the Crown Center Building. It was approved quickly as Rentschler with his mother Beth Ann looked on.