July 29, 2008


College housing project draws opposition 

Residents object to density, design and parking of proposal that would be built at 50 Tompkins St.

Staff Reporter

City residents voiced the same concerns as the city Planning Commission about density, parking and design at a public hearing Monday night for a proposed Tompkins Street student-apartment project.
The proposal by local landlord Jim Reeners would build two, two-story buildings on the 0.9-acre site at 50 Tompkins St., housing a total of 53 students, and would involve demolishing a historic garage house in the back of the property, the former site of a fraternity house that burned down in 2001.
“I am in favor of one single building in a residential lot,” Vivian Bosch said at the Planning Commission meeting. “I think it’s more in the character of the residential neighborhood.”
Patricia Place agreed with Bosch’s comments and added that the number of students Reeners wants to house will create more noise, trouble and traffic.
Place, who lives on Prospect Terrance, said she is concerned about the influx of students because of the behavior of students already in apartment buildings on Tompkins Street with parties, walking home from the bars and using her front lawn and parking lots as bathrooms.
Reeners said he could build one building instead of the proposed two with the same number of students, and it would even be cheaper but would not look as nice.
Reeners has been working with the city’s Historic Commission on the project design, materials and look to ensure it fits the character of the historic district that includes the lot. The Historic Commission said at a meeting in May that two buildings would look nicer than one large one.
Alderman Clay Benedict came to the public hearing to voice his concerns with the two buildings as well.
“I’m opposed to any lot having a second large structure,” he said. “I’m concerned it will set a precedent for future construction.”
Planning Commission member Bill Kline said he does not see an issue with two buildings on one lot.
“There is no reason to outlaw two buildings because you can just build one bigger building,” he said. “It’s a non-issue to me.”
Kline added that he thinks this project is completely different than that of John Del Vecchio, a local landlord and developer proposing a second four-unit apartment house at 19 W. Court St. behind an existing house that contains three apartments and one office.
“The character of the street is mainly commercial,” he said of Tompkins Street. “I believe this is the only appropriate use for the site.”
Del Vecchio addressed Reeners’ project during the public hearing, questioning the site plan, which was not approved by an architect or engineer.
Certification of a site plan is not required by the city.
He also read the same questions posed to him by the Planning Commission and public, including what will the owner do with the increased noise, traffic, litter, etc.
Del Vecchio said when he proposed seven apartments in the second building he wants to construct on his lot at 19 W. Court St., the Planning Commission said it was too many students. Reeners wants to place 53 students on his property.
“Fifty Tompkins St. has 30 percent more lot area and he is proposing 2 1/2 times more students than the project at 19 W. Court St.,” Del Vecchio said.
Reeners said he fully understands people’s concerns with the proposed student housing.
“I am not an ignorant individual and I can see your concerns,” he said to the crowd that sat listening.
“I can’t say that our systems are going to work right off the bat; however, we have surveillance in and outside the building, motion lighting and (24/7) lighting in the parking lot,” he said. “Our leases are written in such a way where they are not allowed to party, music can’t be too loud.”
Reeners said he has a one-strike-and-you’re-out rule also written in the lease that parents of his tenants are aware of.
“We do everything in our power to make happen what we want to happen,” he said. “We have a 30-year record in this community of doing what we say to the best of our ability.”
Reeners supplied the Planning Commission with more information it requested, including a drainage system and a long environmental form. The Planning Commission decided to table an environmental review until it reviews the long form Reeners completed.
The Planning Commission also began the process to declare itself the lead agency for the project because the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and Historic Commission are involved agencies.
To become lead agency, the Planning Commission must ask the other involved agencies for input on the project and if they want to be lead agency. If no other group wants to be lead agency, the Planning Commission can proceed in the environmental review process.
Assistant City Fire Chief and Director of Code Enforcement Chuck Glover said he would request a fire safety review of the project from the city fire chief for the commission’s next meeting on Aug. 25.


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