LEXINGTON — Despite a 3-1 vote in favor of the Lexington Lofts proposal, it did not pass.
The planned unit development (PUD) on the Nov. 7 agenda required a supermajority; that is, in the case of a five-member council, four council members would have to vote in favor of the item for it to pass. The Lexington City Council currently has a vacant seat.
Mayor Mike Murphy and council members Diane Harris and Kim DeVries voted yes, Councilman John Hughes voted no.
Forest Lake developer Norhart proposed the construction of luxury apartments that will consist of one four-story building and one five-story building located at the intersection of Restwood Road and Griggs Avenue, behind Northway Shopping Center.
Norhart requested several variances for the project at the Planning Commission meeting Oct. 8. The commission decided 4-1 (Commissioner Mark Vanderbloomer voted no) to recommend that the council approve the variances.
Bob DeDeyn, who lives on Dunlap Avenue, said, “I look at the website and it says, 'We pride ourselves in having a small-town atmosphere' and this does not represent that to me. It is a beautiful project, but it is not consistent with the character of our community.” He added, “Everybody that I've talked to in the community feels it should be condos, townhomes, something where people have a sense of ownership in the community. These are all going to be renters; they are going to be here for a year and then gone. I haven't heard anybody discussing why we need a project of this size there. It has been very secretive. A lot of people didn't even know about this project coming in and it is kind of disturbing the way the citizens have been treated on this project. We have been kept in the dark.”
Bob's wife Kathleen also spoke. “We are doubling our population, changing our percentage ... 50% homeowners and 50% renters to probably 80% renters and 20% homeowners. Have you thought about how that is going to affect our community? Why is there this big push for these big complexes? Is this coming from the Met Council? Why are we doing this now and all of a sudden in a big rush ...” she said. “How are we going to rent all of them and how is that going to affect our community? The biggest question is why, and why so quickly?”
Murphy said, “As far as finding renters, that is going to be up to the developers, but as a city, we don't actively go after and seek development on people's private property. The city doesn't own the lot, it is privately owned. They could build an apartment complex there without coming to us virtually for nothing as long as it met 100% all of the current code.” He added, “They are coming to us for certain requirements and requests because that is what gets a nice beautiful building in our community; otherwise it might end up looking like the old Lovell building, because that's what city code is.”
Kathleen said that the owner of the property, Paster Properties, was approached by somebody to consider high-density options rather than single-family homes or townhomes.
City Administrator Bill Petracek explained, “Paster Properties has owned that property for 50-some-odd years ... Howard Paster Sr. passed away several years ago and in order to settle his estate, they had to sell all these properties around the metro so that the grandkids could get their money. This property was essentially the last property to be sold in the estate. They put the property up for sale and these folks (Norhart) were the first to jump on it.”
Joe Hammer, who lives on Dunlap Avenue, said “My biggest concern is where it goes from here because it doesn't seem like it is going to stop. There will be a fourth complex coming soon. I just don't understand the direction. Is this just going to keep going and all of us single-family homeowners are going to be bought out? It doesn't seem right.”
Council members then asked Norhart representatives questions about screening, setbacks and parking. Hughes said his concern was about the small setbacks. “Being that close to the street would be more like downtown, where you feel like you are hemmed in with the buildings,” he said.
“I know a lot of people in the city have had the concern about the quickness of everything,” Harris said. “Property becomes available and is sold when it becomes available and it gets sold and sometimes it just happens to be in a shorter time frame that isn't controlled by anybody other than the market, owners of the property and who they sell it to. Everyone has kind of known that some kind of density was going in behind Festival for years; it was just a matter of when,” she continued. “It is the city's job to look at that opportunity and decide whether it is the right thing for the city. You could say no and it could sit empty. The family could decide to not sell it, sell it to somebody else and we may not have a choice about what gets built.”
Petracek explained now that the PUD did not pass, “Norhart is going to have to rethink the project, but they aren’t going to give up. The City Council was one vote shy from a supermajority that is needed to adopt a PUD. Norhart will need to reconsider making some adjustments to the items that were requested.”
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or email@example.com.