The Architectural Review Board approved a senior group housing project at its July 21 meeting. But a group of local residents spoke out against it and are determined to keep fighting for the changes they want to see.
The proposed project, a two-story building in a Spanish/ Mediterranean style, is to be built on the northeast corner of 17th Street and Montana Avenue. The site is within an R1 (residential) zone. Although the project features 17 individual living quarters for ambulatory seniors, it also features a communal kitchen, in which employees may do the cooking. “It is not a traditional rental,” is the description given by the applicant, Charles Rosenbleet, who has been involved with senior projects for several years.
Because of the senior housing provision, the project is a permitted use in the district. This exemption has angered many local residents, who believe that the project could set a bad precedent, that it is not conforming to safety codes as regards traffic, loading areas, and trash pickup, and that its proposed usage as senior housing might be a ruse to get approval for some other usage.
Ron Goldman, a local resident who is an architect, and the main spokesperson for the neighborhood group, disagreed with this definition of the ARB’s purview. In a letter sent to neighbors, he cited a section of the ARB ordinance (ARB, section 9.32.040) stating that the approval of a design should include consideration of “the integrity of neighborhood environments and patterns within the district.”
Goldman was prepared to give a detailed presentation to the ARB during public comment but the Board restricted him to the regulation two minutes speaking time. Some of the other speakers had been willing to cede their time to Goldman and complained that they felt he was not being allowed to speak and that “due process” was not being observed.
Almost 20 people spoke during public comment, most of them in opposition to the approval of the project, although some admitted that they supported the idea of senior housing. They expressed concern about the lack of safety in the design of the driveway, the narrowness of the sidewalk on the Montana side of the building, the “commercial” orientation of the building, the heavy traffic on 17th Street, the visibility of the trash container, and the size and appearance of the building.
Following the public comment, Project architect David Kaplan said that he had worked on the issues with the City, and that City staff had recommended approval of the project.
ARB Chairman Folonis asked some questions of staff and the applicant, but said he was “satisfied” with the answers.
Each member of the Board expressed sympathy for the neighbors who spoke of their grievances, but admitted that their only authority was to judge the aesthetics of the design and have no authority to weigh in on environmental concerns.
The Board moved to approve the design as proposed, with the condition that the applicant work with staff to articulate details on the Montana elevation and to screen off the loading area to the north.
The project goes next to the Planning Commission, where opponents will again try to make their concerns heard.