The City Council unanimously told a condo developer that it likes the idea of a project at the 2000 Gold parking lot—just not this project.
The Council found itself Monday, June 16, in the middle of a dispute two years in the making. Appealing an April decision by the Environmental Planning Commission, developer Sheffield Partners asked the Council to reconsider its four-story structure intended for a less than half-acre lot in the university area. "I support neighborhoods and the ability for neighbors to determine what should go in the area they live in," said Councilor Rey Garduño. "But I also support infill projects. So this is that double-edged sword."
Isaac Benton is the councilor for District 3, which includes the historic Silver Hill Neighborhood, the potential home to the condos in question. Benton proposed the Council approve the first part of the developer's appeal, a zone change, but not the building permit. Calling it a "watershed case," Benton, an architect, said no one is a bigger supporter of infill development than he is. His motion to approve the zone change, he said, would be a jumping-off point for making strong statements in support of that idea. The decision opens the door for the builder to come back to the city with another project proposal.
Russell Brito, a staff planner with the city, said the administration and the Planning Department support the building. Gordon Reiselt, president of the Silver Hill Neighborhood Association, spoke against the project, pointing to parking problems residents already face. The lot provides 26 spaces to building across the street and would need to continue to offer those in addition to parking for the new condominiums.
Many neighborhood residents disliked the project's scale as compared to the rest of the neighborhood, along with its density. With 46 living units at 600 square feet each, the condos would have created a density more than three times what's permitted under the lot's present zoning status. Most councilors agreed the project was, as Councilor Don Harris said, "too intense" for the area. Sheffield Partners co-owner Rick Goldman said the density was about as low as it could go while keeping the project financially feasible. Each condo would have cost about $160,000.
Neighbors called the 2000 Gold development incongruous with the neighborhood's look and feel. Goldman said, no, the condos weren't contextual alongside the "WWII-era bungalows," the "poorly maintained apartment building across the street" or the "garages that have been turned into residential dwelling units." The concept was to construct a green building, he said, and it was in line with what the city says it wants for future development according to the Planned Growth Strategy.
Councilor Michael Cadigan is one of the original proponents of the Planned Growth Strategy. He said builders often come to the Council with projects that violate rules, but because they're in compliance with some part of the strategy, they think they ought to be given permits.
During the process of debating the strategy, he added, the Council made a covenant with the older neighborhoods, promising not to throw out their sector plans and jam dense developments down their throats. "I don't think you can just get up here and say, This building has a green roof, or, This building is endorsed by celebrities like Lou Columbo, and for that reason, throw out 50 years of planning."