Council: No apartments on Bridge Road

Published 10:33 pm Thursday, June 26, 2014

Some City Council members say they support a business use on a site on Bridge Road, but they will not support a 144-apartment complex there as developers had proposed.

City Council voted last week to send the matter back to the Planning Commission to give the developers of the 18-acre site at 3345 Bridge Road a chance to come up with a plan to develop the property commercially. Even though a few of them voiced their opposition to the apartments during the meeting, the two issues are still connected in some people’s minds, council members said.

“They are two separate issues,” Councilman Mike Duman said. “Yes, the apartments would be contingent on the zoning, but the zoning did not ensure the apartments.”

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In an unusual circumstance, the rezoning request — to change the property from Office-Institutional to General Commercial — and the conditional use permit request for the apartments were set in the same meeting but technically separated from each other.

After City Council voted to send the rezoning back to the Planning Commission, the conditional use permit request did not move forward, because it is not allowed in the current zoning.

The developers, including Sam Cohen and John Iuliano, initially planned an office park there, but they have had a tough time finding any takers. Only one building has been built, and even that one has vacant spaces.

They then proposed the apartments but encountered opposition from city staff, the Planning Commission and nearby property owners, as well as City Council.

“I don’t think there was any appetite for the apartments,” Duman said.

He said he is in favor of the property being either office space or zoned general commercial, which Duman said would produce only two allowable developments of any consequence — a mixed-use development or a small shopping center.

“I don’t see anything objectionable in either one of those,” he said.

Councilman Charles Parr, meanwhile, said he would not support any residential use of the property, not even if it were mixed with commercial uses.

“It needs to be some type of commercial thing,” he said. “I’m hoping the developers will get with staff, and they’ll also get with the community, and work out something that’s palatable. I really think they can work together.”

Nearby residents said at last week’s meeting they had concerns about the number of schoolchildren and extra cars on the road that an apartment complex might produce. Some of them said they wouldn’t mind the site being used commercially.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson also said she wants to see a commercial use of the property and wants to have a clearer idea of what the developers plan to do the next time it comes before City Council.

“I just think an empty, idle piece of property there for that long is not doing anybody any good,” she said.

Councilman Roger Fawcett said he will not support apartments on the site but was reluctant to say what he thought should go there.

“I’m not opposed to some sort of a business opportunity to go in there, but I think he’s going to have to come back to the table with something that’s going to fit,” said Fawcett, who was the lone vote against last week’s motion to send the matter back to planners. He made an initial motion to deny, “because I felt the whole thing never came in to begin with in the proper way,” he said.

Several of the City Council members said they did not feel the developers should be punished for the market changes that resulted in their current situation.

“I don’t think you can have a calloused attitude against entities or individuals who are willing to invest in the city, and your attitude is, ‘Too bad, you made a bad choice, so suck it up,’” Duman said. “Things have changed, and nobody’s got a crystal ball.”

At the end of last week’s meeting, City Council members voted to direct the city manager to bring recommendations regarding changes to city code, the Unified Development Ordinance and city policy and procedure to amend issues that were raised during the two-hours-long debate. They involved time periods for resubmission of rezoning and conditional use permit requests, motions to reconsider votes and procedures for conditional use permit requests when a rezoning upon which they were contingent is withdrawn or denied.

Council members also discussed looking at some of the issues at their upcoming retreat in the fall.