The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Alderman Backtracks on Not-So-Done-Deal on West Belle Plaine

By Josh McGhee | September 9, 2015 8:50am
 The parking lot was seeking zoning changes to become a 4-story, 20-unit building with 21 parking spaces.
The parking lot was seeking zoning changes to become a 4-story, 20-unit building with 21 parking spaces.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

UPTOWN — Nearly three months after Ald. James Cappleman (46th) announced the Buena Park Neighbors Association had approved zoning changes to convert a parking lot into an apartment building on Belle Plaine Avenue, he's being forced to reconsider moving forward with the plan as more voices chime in and demand to be heard.

In June, the neighborhood group gave its approval changing zoning for 931-935 W. Belle Plaine Ave. from RT-4, which allows two-flats, townhouses, low-density apartments and single family homes, to RM-5, which allows medium-to-high density apartments. The changes extended the maximum height of the building from 38 feet to 45 feet allowing them to plan a 4-story building with 20 units and 21 parking spaces, according to developers.

Neighborhood groups have approved similar zoning changes for TOD buildings over the last few months, but the most affected residents weren't aware of this meeting, said Scott Kruger, a property owner on the block.

"There was five people there or something. We had to fight for this meeting because the zoning committee was hearing this next week, so I went to the alderman's office and I contacted people and they weren't expecting this many people to come out," Kreuger said. "They thought the developer would come and just pacify everyone they didn't realize the concerns on the block."

Tuesday night, more than 50 neighbors from the narrow street piled into Michael's Pizza, 4091 N. Broadway St., to listen to pitches from developers and voice their concerns — sometimes very loudly — over parking, safety and keeping the current spirit of the block alive.

"Buena Park Neighbors approved this zoning change at a June meeting without consulting anyone on the block, so they just had this little meeting themselves," said Kruger. "We all found out about it when we got the letters. They didn't let us know they were having a meeting, so they actually decided what was best for our block without any representation from the block."

Despite residents' assumption that the deal was "already done," Cappleman agreed to postpone the issue, which was being tabled at the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building standards meeting at City Hall on Sept. 14.

"There was a lot of people here and there continues to be a lot more questions. I would feel more comfortable postponing making a decision and choosing an environment that's more conducive so we can hear your concerns. I want to make sure we understand your questions and will provide an objective way of answering your questions and we'll discuss those answers at another meeting that's much more conducive," Cappleman said.

"I really have no stake in the game. I want to make sure all questions are answered and I want to make sure you understand the negative repercussions," said Cappleman.

To ease concerns about safety vehicles being able to get down the block during construction, Cappleman promised to contact the OEMC to determine if emergency vehicles would have difficulty on the block, which doesn't have alleys behind the homes. But the loss of about 30 parking spaces on the block is inevitable considering the owner must sell for financial reasons, developers said.

"My understanding about parking is if it's built as zoned you'll have the best parking available. If it is upzoned there could be, but not guaranteed, some parking available. I will say in other areas of this ward where there is rental units, we don't fill [parking] up 100 percent, but that's something to think about," Cappleman said.

While developers said they would consider selling unused parking spots inside the proposed building, Cappleman admitted other buildings with rentals don't allow parkers from outside the building for safety reasons.

Jean Dufresne, an architect at Space Architects and Planners, designed the proposed "demographically representative" building to fit into the neighborhood, while "responding to the current trends we want to build," he said.

"People want one and two bedroom apartments. The millennial generation wants to live alone they don't want five or six roommates and it's close to a train. TODs is really important and this is really close and I think we fit into the neighborhood at the same time," Dufresne said.

The conversation felt a little one-sided Tuesday night, Dufresne said, with residents lobbying concerns "that aren't necessarily relevant to anything a developer can do." For example, the parking lot is essentially gone, the group can't "widen the street" for emergency vehicles and trash pick-up will be difficult without the alleys.

"I wouldn't go [to the meeting]. I'm not concerned about having a parking spot or losing my parking space... Regardless of our project or any project on this lot all the parking goes away. That we have extra to give back or rent back that's great. Most developers will probably not consider that and if you do a smaller building most likely the units will be bigger [attracting bigger families that] want more cars," Dufresne said. "People that have cars, people that depend on their cars will complain about parking and will be concerned about it. But what you fail to hear often is the people that didn't show up to this meeting because they don't have concerns about parking because they don't drive."


For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: