Why do we care about WU HPZ rezoning?

I have recently attended two meetings where rezoning and removal of a property from the West University Historic Preservation Zone were discussed. You want to know why you should care about that; I will explain shortly.

The property in question is the Trinity Presbyterian Church on the corner of 4th Avenue and University Blvd. The first meeting was an informal presentation to neighborhood residents about the property. The second, earlier this week, was a formal city hearing about the rezoning and HPZ withdrawal. This was the more important one.

Because of the city’s regulations and administrative procedures, each issue is evaluated separately but for most purposes we can think of them as one issue. It seems one will not happen without the other. The application has gone through the historic review process successfully. The WUNA board has provided a letter outlining provisions they felt should be incorporated into the development.  The hearing was to give an opportunity for the property owner (the church), the developer and the public to comment on the proposed changes. About a dozen people made comments in one or both of the two hearing sessions.

About half spoke in favor of the project. Comments addressed the quality of the project, the neater appearance brought to the community and that the development was much better than possible alternatives such as student housing. The other half opposed mostly on the basis of a fourth story on the buildings, noise and dust during construction, more traffic and long term impact on the integrity of the historic district. Our APNA president, John Burr, addressed the last concern because what is decided here could set a precedent for other historic zones.

This proposal is a particular problem for the WU HPZ because the property is in the very center of the zone and is impacted by the entertainment district, the street car and expanding business activity along 4th and University. Most people didn’t criticize the quality of the project but were concerned about the impact of development on their historic neighborhood. Perhaps development pressures and change are inevitable.

Now we are getting to why we should care. Fortunately there are no large pieces of property in the middle of our HPZ but there are several within the edges of our zone. The lot south of Wanslee Motors and the Catholic Church properties along 6th Avenue come to mind. Sixth Avenue has enough traffic to be attractive to commercial developers who might be insensitive to the character of our historic neighborhood. Once a clear path for rezoning and HPZ withdrawal is laid out, others may try to go the same way. There will be pressure in each case to push the limits of zoning and historic restrictions. We will be pressed to make the same choice now facing the WU HPZ residents: should we allow a less objectionable project to have our support to avoid a worse alternative? We have to decide where to draw the line, understanding that we will not get the last vote in any case.

Now is the time for us to be thinking of these things. You should discuss your views with the members of our two boards, APNA and APHZAB who will address any proposals to come forward. These are complicated matters and deserve our most careful consideration.

Ken Taylor blog@kmtaylor.com

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