Thursday, September 22, 2011

Notes from last night's Planning and Zoning workshop on NSP2-funded artist lofts...

Check out the previous post for back-up material on the project.  The total number of units proposed is 13, with the possibility of going down to 12.  A total of 20 units would be allowed by existing zoning.  Silverblatt, Chair Mahoney, Waples and McNamara were there - Jennings arrived at 6:55 p.m.  This was a "cursory" review of the project so that concerns could be identified.  The project may be ready to come back in a month for formal review and approval/denial.  Notice there are three floor plan options - but it is thought that most would have studio space on the first floor.  It could not be a retail storefront - it has to be purely residential.  Sales of art on premise may be able to be accommodated through a code amendment.

Being there last night, I didn't hear much "positivity" coming from the dais.  I am ready to start referring to Chair Mahoney as "Madame No."  And gurrrl, I need you to do my hair like you had yours last night! Get in touch!

McNamara noted that this project wasn't like anything in Lake Worth, which was an observation.  He didn't like the tiny windows and thinks that the murals could incorporate the windows in creative ways.  Joan Oliva, Executive Director of the CRA, mentioned that there would be a mural program and local artists or residents of the project would be solicited to complete them.  Mahoney didn't like the use of the roof, even though it was a "green" roof - she was concerned about noise coming from the roofs and impacting the neighborhood.  She wondered if any artists were there that night and questioned whether artists would leave where they are living now to live in these units.  Oliva said that there were no price points yet, but that the project would have to meet the parameters of the grant.

William Waters, Community Development Director, brought up the need to identify suitable street trees. He had been working with the team on different options - some of what he would suggest would be too expensive for this type of project.  He would like to pick up a commercial property next to the units on Lake - but commercial property is excluded from project funding requirements of the grant.  He mentioned that there would be no more than 4 townhouses in a row (which was also part of the zoning-in -progress we put in place during the boom period and has since expired now.)  Sliverblatt asked if we need more townhouses since many of them are empty now and bringing down prices (not sure about this assumption.)  Mahoney said she wonders if it really is a "build it and they will come."

Oliva said that artists would get preference and floor plans are flexible. Waters added that there was some space to evolve over time and provide for a family situation.  Oliva said that market studies were underway.

Cara arrived at 6:55 p.m. and immediately complained about not having back-up material - but she wasn't there for the presentation, so we had to hear what transpired beforehand, again.  The entire dais differed to her after her arrival.  I half expected to see a carriage with two white horses out front upon leaving with a "Queen Cara" sign on it.  I am sure she will say that she was at a funeral so that it is inappropriate to comment that she came late to the meeting.

Herman Robinson noted the negativity present on the board with his comments.  He said that the comments from the board were dampening enthusiasm for the project. and what he was hearing was negative vibes.  Suzanne Cabrera, with the Housing Leadership Council and who helped get the grant in the first place, reminded everyone that this was a competitive process and if we don't use the money by certain deadlines, we will lose the unspent funds.  Any change of program, like not doing these units, could also jeopardize the grant.  Cost reasonableness is part of HUD funding so there is no money for amenities like saunas...if the city wanted them, they would need to come up with money for them.

Jennings said that the buildings were unattractive and did not relate to the surrounding neighborhood.  She did not like how they all looked the same.  She said that it interrupts the "flow" of the neighborhood.  It was a serious planning issue for her that there was no open space and she would rather see open space here than this project.  She said that she could see 10 units max instead of 12 or 13.  Oliva said that under 12 units, the project doesn't work financially.  She really stressed the need for open space.  Oliva pointed out that HUD money couldn't be used to buy open space, but once the project is successful, there might be a revolving loan fund created that could fund things like that.  But, the project would have to come first.

There was a lot of bashing of townhouses in general and that for this and other reasons this project was not appropriate here.  I see this project having problems when it comes before them formally next month - there seems to be no sense of urgency with this money - like the city doesn't want to spend it.  But you can bet it will still be used in campaign materials.