Excellent Analysis By Russ Pittenger of Moore Hall #2

[Due To My Technical Limitations In Louisiana a Fragment of the Original Post Was Lost.   This is the complete version]

I have reviewed the submission requesting the Area Variance for the redevelopment of Moore Hall.  I was initially struck by the degree of relief requested in context with the incompatibility of the proposal with the existing Historic District.  In addition, I am frankly alarmed by potential safety concerns regarding the ZBA and Planning Board’s possible re-affirmation of the existing substandard parking layout.  Please consider the following observations.
1.  The area relief requested for 53 units to comply with the requirements of the UR-4 zone is 102,807 SF.  The existing land square footage of 56,192 allows only 18 units while the applicant requests an additional 35 units.  The relief requested is 182% of the base area, or an increase by a factor of nearly three times.  A request of this magnitude is unwarranted and would dramatically effect the neighborhood character.
2.  The existing parking lot layout is substandard and should not be reused without bringing the layout up to code.  It does not comply with current City regulations, nor industry standards.  Only six of the 53 parking spaces existing/proposed respects the setbacks.   Forty one of the 47 spaces in the two lots are located partially or completely within the 20/25 FT property line setback,(87%).  In addition, the 6 non-compliant spaces accessed from the alley are substandard in size and would encroach upon the travel way.  Use of these substandard spaces would impede emergency vehicle access and present a concern for health and safety of both the proposed tenants and the neighborhood residents, not only jeopardizing personal safety but also protection of property.
3.  The existing building does not meet current building set back requirements.  The 20 ft minimum is encroached on by as much as 19′-4″ in one location, (96%), 14′, 8′ and 13′ in others.
4.  In addition, all of the parking spaces in the lots are accessed by driving lanes of varying substandard widths.  All of the spaces.  The city requirement is for the applicant to provide an access lane of 24 Ft.  The existing/proposed lot has lane widths that vary from 15′-7″, (65%!) 17, and 19′-3″  feet. These parking lanes widths are deficient and inadequate for safe vehicle maneuvering.  Any large sedan, SUV or full size pickup would find the lot difficult to maneuver into, or out of, even if a space was available.  These maneuverings would be inconvenient at best and possibly dangerous at worst.  Large vehicles would need to park on the street, thus further exacerbating the street parking issue.
5.  Pedestrian safety in the area of the proposed project is a concern.  There are three schools within one block, with students ranging in age from toddler through high schooler and adult.  The existing crosswalks at Union Avenue and Regent are dangerous to use as the instruction to yield to pedestrians are commonly disregarded by drivers, especially at night.  Adding an additional 100 vehicles to this equation will not improve a currently difficult situation.
6.  The existing parking layout is outmoded and frankly, unsafe.  Firefighters and EMS personnel cannot properly access the parking lot in the event of a car fire, vehicular accident or if a resident in the lot is stricken by a health emergency.  Approval of this project will certainly impact the ability for rapid response teams to serve the project.  The liability of perpetuating this substandard condition rests with not only the applicant but the approval boards and the City as well.
7.  The existing building also exceeds the required lot coverage.  Required: maximum 25%.  Existing/proposed:  31.4%, overage percent of deficit:  26.5.
8.  The density of the proposal, the sheer number of additional people, would severely upset the balance of the neighborhood, nearly doubling the population on the block as a result of a single property.  The units are designed as one and two bedroom.  Singles, couples, young families and retirees would be the likely renters, raising the potential resident population to well above 70, perhaps over 100.  How many of these tenants would have children? How many dogs would be added to the street? Twenty?  Forty?
9.  Inadequate numbers of on-site parking spaces would adversely impact the neighboring residential properties.  Once the project lot fills up, the thirty or more additional cars would logically seek the next closest parking spaces on the street.  While car counts by the applicant indicate that on-street  parking  is available within 400, 800 or 1600 feet, the inconvenience to existing residents would be potentially profound.  That a single family homeowner would then be forced to double park to unload groceries and then drive around the block to find a space to park during the racing season is accepted.  But to have that become the new, year-round normal condition is simply untenable.  Retired persons, the infirmed and young families with children who find themselves unable to park in front of their own home in inclement weather would have an unacceptable burden placed upon their day-to-day existence, all to facilitate the desires of a single, absentee owner.
10.  Fair is fair!  If this project were approved, with all it’s numerous existing limitations, the ZBA would then be forced by precedence to allow any and all other properties in the city to expand their density to three times the allowed number or face a legal challenge.
11.  Contrary to the applicant’s opinion, this project must be reviewed by the Planning Board.  The current existing condition does not provide Handicapped spaces as required by code at a ratio of 1 per 25 cars, (or portion of 25).  The proposed unit count of 53 requires 80 spaces at 1.5/unit and four of those spaces would be required to be signed and striped for H/C use.  Adding striped loading lanes for the H/C spaces would further reduce the number of parking spaces provided on site by at least two.
12.  All night long lighting for security would adversely effect the residential character of neighboring properties.
13.  The sheer density of the project would increase traffic, hours of activity and ambient noise.  The commercial apartment-complex character of this proposal would have an adverse, disruptive effect upon the neighborhood character, ultimately impinging upon the rights of the adjoining residents to enjoy their homes in the reasonable manner they have come to know and should be able to expect.  Zoning should protect neighborhood character.
14.  Snow removal operations were addressed in an off-handed remark by the applicant as “the snow would be transported off site”, although this may be easier said than done.  The lots still need to be plowed, the snow piled up, all the cars moved to the street, pay loaders brought in, dump trucks backed, loaded and the snow hauled away, etc.  The site is so restrictive, so tight that there is no place to pile the snow, park the loader nor maneuver the loading operation without impacting the neighborhood with a commercial operation.
15.  Trash removal, dumpster location and garbage truck access has not been addressed. No location for daily waste removal has been provided nor demonstration that the improvements do not adversely effect the neighboring properties nor impede upon the alley fire lane.  Clear and open access for fire fighting equipment must be maintained. Also a plan for service vehicles, deliveries, and employee parking should be provided.
16.  The interior ceiling heights of 7.5 FT do not meet code and I understand those clearances will be further reduced by mechanical systems added during the retrofit.
17.  The existing building is an incongruous eyesore and detracts from the entrance to our city.  This is an historic district and precious gateway that must be protected and enhanced despite efforts by many who act as if the Comp Plan is flawed, but then wrap themselves in it as if it were a flag when the situation suits them.  The ‘City in the Country’ slogan was intended to preserve and protect green space, not meant to encourage high rise housing within the city, despite assertions to the contrary by the applicants and even some board members.
18.  The determination that this project is a Type-2 action under SEQRA is inconsistent with other projects of this scale and scope, leaving the review board’s decisions open to legal challenge.  The 2006 zone change recognized the potential impacts of an 18 unit conversion and deemed the action at that time to be a Type -1.
19.  It is disingenuous for the applicant to tout both the previous use as a dormitory in one breath and then to stand firm on the 2006 zone change to UR-4 in the next.  It can’t be both.  Like a border bandit, the applicant’s attorney strikes and then recedes across the boundary when the argument suits his purpose.  As a dormitory, the building was located upon a campus, amid other college buildings.  Parking was controlled by the college, was by permit only and very few of the students owned cars.  In addition, the building was all but empty during summer months when school was out and the track was open.  In the mid fifties, any development was good development.  But it is no longer the fifties…we should be looking toward the next sixty years, not reinforcing and preserving the mistakes of the past.  In addition, we all recognize that the zone change to UR-4 was only done to facilitate the building’s demolition and the site redevelopment into more human-scale buildings.  That was the project that was approved and prompted the zone change.  That the condominium market is currently soft is regrettable, but neither the city regulations nor the Eastside residents should be forced to capitulate to favor a particular application.  This proposal doesn’t merely bend the rules, it shatters them well beyond the breaking point in a desperate attempt to shove this square peg into a round hole.
20.  The UR-4 zone is intended for multi-family.  The number of units allowed is determined by lot size, square footage.  While the term ‘multi-family’ clearly means more than one, it shouldn’t be construed to mean ‘unlimited’.  I ask the review boards to reject this proposal.
Respectfully submitted,
Russell Pittenger, Landscape Architect and concerned neighbor

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