Note the difference in the size of the driving lanes between the parking lot in the upper right and the Moore Hall parking lots in the lower left. One has generous room for emergency vehicles to operate and the other does not. (Double click on picture for better view)
Between the use of the legal loophole for “non-conforming” parcels and the variances being sought by Sonny Bonacio for the conversion of Moore Hall, the project is a study in how to get around the city’s housing codes and zoning standards.
This is not a matter of a few tweaks, this project requires radically dispensing of a host of code standards as will be documented below.
The advocates for this project offer that it is being done in order to provide affordable housing. This raises a fundamental question about our city’s policy regarding this critical need. If we are going to dispense with many of our community’s housing standards in order to create such projects, then this should be addressed directly as a matter of established city policy. Do we want to allow for lower parking standards? Do we want to allow for large structures with copious tiny units that have different height requirements? Do we, as a community, decide that the neighbors of such projects must accept that their streets will be designated as the parking for these projects?
Most critically, will we allow for parking lots that have lower standards for the safety of the people that use them and for the neighbors who live by these lots?
A Little Background
Northstar Development bought Moore Hall from Skidmore College to develop luxury condominiums. The developer was seeking to change the zoning from Educational-Institutional to Urban-Residential four in order to implement their plan. Since the plan complied with all zoning standards, it met with no opposition from the neighborhood and the rezoning sailed through the City Council. Unfortunately, there was no expiration date established for the rezoning should the developer fail to successfully complete the project. With the collapse of the market in 2007 the project died. Unfortunately, the building remained and it was now a “non-conforming” unit so as long as a developer did not change the footprint, a developer was allowed to ignore most of the code requirements. The new applicant today is seeking major variances of the city’s codes for what it cannot achieve as a “non conforming”
So the current project violates the following codes:
- The parking lot violates multiple standards. Only 6 of the existing 53 spaces meet the set back requirements of the current code. Forty-Seven of the spaces are located partially or completely in the set back area. This is not just a matter of safety (which it is) but setbacks are meant to maintain the aesthetics of the area. Parking cars up against a neighbor’s property or against the street is a serious eye sore.
- Six of the spaces adjoin North Alley. As they currently exist these infringe on the alley making them a potential safety hazard in general and in particular a problem for large emergency vehicles.
- The driving lanes between the parked cars are much too narrow. The city requires that the lanes have a width of 24’. None of the lanes meet this standard and one is only 15’ 7’’ wide. That is only sixty-five percent of the standard. This is a serious danger. The standard is meant to insure that emergency vehicles can quickly and easily access an area. The failure to address this is of grave concern.
- Making parking spaces too narrow make getting into and out of cars problematic and become an easy source of damage to adjoining vehicles.
- The ceilings in the building do not meet the city’s height requirement. They are seven and a half feet and may be even lower due to the mechanicals that will be required to heat and cool the building.
- The current code does not allow a structure to exceed twenty-five percent of the parcel. This project would exceed that standard by over twenty-six percent.
- The current code would require that no more than eighteen units be allowed. This project would exceed that limit by thirty-five units. That would mean that they would build almost three times the number of units allowed by the code.
- The current proposal does not address the requirement for handicapped parking. They claim there are fifty-three spaces but as everyone knows, a handicapped parking space is much larger than a regular space. This is even more problematic given that the spaces the applicant claims to exist are under sized.
- The city requires that there be 1.5 parking spaces for every unit. This would mean that for 53 units there would need to be 80 spaces. They are short of the required number by 27 according to their calculations which are problematic—see above.
- How would the applicant address the snow removal for their parking lots? Not addressed.
- How would the applicant address where trash would be put and how it would be removed? Not answered.
This project cynically sells itself as “affordable” but in fact when looked at by dollar/space ratio a unit will cost more than some units at the applicant’s project called Market Center. Bear in mind that in addition to the size issue, the Market Center apartments come with balconies, reserved car spaces, and washer/dryers.
This project would set a very bad precedent if it were to go forward as is. Its utter indifference to a neighborhood and the safety of potential tenants if backed by the city’s land use boards would establish a new standard and not one to be proud of.