Sunday, September 17, 2006

Fancy Footwork With Redevelopment?

When Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs held her 100-day report meeting at Washington Community School in April, developer Sal Carfaro was called to the stage and introduced.

Plaintalker found it somewhat unusual that a person who was applying to land use boards for approvals would be showcased in this manner. It seemed to imply that Carfaro had an inside track for his proposals, which included one four-story, 64-unit building in the 800 block of South Avenue and possibly another four-story building in the 900 block.

The plan was described at a July Board of Adjustment hearing as the “pioneer” project in the administration’s push for transit-oriented growth, meaning high-density buildings around train stations or other transit links.

However, the board unanimously denied approval for a use variance on Sept. 13. Had Carfaro received the use variance to put a residential building in an industrial zone, he then would have gone on to seek site plan approval for that project and presumably would have pursued the second project.

His options now are to drop the plans or to make a new application.

If indeed the administration and mayoral mentor Assemblyman Jerry Green thought the board would green-light the project, either board members didn’t get the memo or they took their roles so seriously that they could not in good conscience grant the variance. Plaintalker thinks it was the latter, and board members are to be applauded for honoring the intent of the master plan and the tenets of good land use.

A similar green-light situation came up inadvertently at the Planning Board, when the board met Sept. 7 to discuss and vote on an “in need of redevelopment” study for the proposed East Third/Richmond site. A slide popped up entitled “Redevelopment Plan” with the goal being high-density, multi-family housing and a commercial portion.

In the stately minuet that is the redevelopment process, the “in need of redevelopment” plan was supposed to have gone back to the City Council if approved. The council could then accept or reject the board’s findings. If the site was found in need of redevelopment, the council could then direct the Planning Board to prepare and submit a redevelopment plan. The council would then have to accept the redevelopment plan before the site could be developed.

Well, besides the slide up on the screen, there was a “Redevelopment Plan” dated Aug. 23 at each board member’s place. Attorney Michele Donato fended off questions by saying only the “in need of redevelopment” study was under consideration that night, but that the board would meet again on Sept. 21 to review the redevelopment plan. That presupposes council approval of the study Sept. 20 and council authorization to proceed to the next step, preparation and submission of a redevelopment plan.

Could it be that instead of a stately minuet, we are looking at a lusty tango?

As the song goes, it takes two to tango. The Board of Adjustment apparently sat one out in favor of principle and reason.

The City Council has the next dance.

--Bernice Paglia


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