Apartment plans stalled

3/6/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

A proposal to turn the old American Legion building into high-end apartments appears to be stuck in a holding pattern as city officials struggle to fit the unique 82-year-old building into modern zoning rules.

"We're trying to cram a square peg into a round hole," Commissioner Roy Cessna said.

Carlos and Candace Gamino, who own CSS Properties, LLC, have proposed creating an apartment complex out of the former American Legion building at 125 Pine St. The two-story property would be renovated into either four three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments, or a combination of four two-bedroom and two one-bedroom apartments.

Last month, the city commission asked the planning commission to make a recommendation about the project. The planning commission had been unable to reach a decision about an amendment to zoning regulations that would allow apartments on the ground floor of buildings in the central business district. Apartments are allowed on the second floor of downtown commercial buildings.

Due to its split-level design, the American Legion building doesn't fit well under existing central business district zoning. It is unclear which of the two floors would be considered the ground floor under zoning definitions.

On Tuesday, the city commission voted 3-2 to back the planning commission's recommendation to not amend the current zoning ordinance to allow ground floor apartments in the central business district.

According to the staff memo provided to commissioners, the planning commission felt it was important to maintain the integrity of the downtown core area by not changing zoning, and felt the American Legion building project would do little to address the city's need for housing.

Overriding the planning commission would have required a two-thirds city commission vote.

City commissioners couldn't reach a consensus. Cessna, Melvin Dale and Chris Law voted to uphold the planning commission. Mayor David Crase and Dan Fankhauser were opposed, and favored an alternative to allow ground-floor apartments with a conditional use permit on a case-by-case basis.

"I don't think we want residential units along Main Street, but this particular building is different," Fankhauser said. "It's a split-level. It's belowground and aboveground. I don't know what use that building could serve. If you make it commercial, you have to put in some kind of elevator to make it ADA approved."

Crase said the area around the American Legion building includes a church, more residential housing and property that has been undeveloped since the 1970s. He doesn't really see anyone coming forward with plans to develop in that area.

"To me, I have no problem putting residential over there. It's a unique building. You really can't say it has a ground floor," he said.

Law said in his opinion most people don't oppose the project specifically, but there is a considerable amount of resistance to changing the zoning.

"Kudos to the Gaminos for trying to rehab the property, but I don't favor changing the zoning to allow it," Law said.

Candace Gamino said it is a unique building that faces unique challenges. It has been a part of the city's heritage since 1931 and is one of two art deco facade buildings in town that she is aware of. Gamino said the best use of the building would be to turn it into apartments, not commercial space.

Beverly Schmitz Glass, director of Downtown Vision, said the concern is that ground-floor apartments in other buildings downtown would harm the character of downtown.

"It's more than Main Street; it's the whole business district that defines downtown," she said.

Commissioners suggested the Gaminos could request a waiver of zoning requirements to allow the project to move forward. The waiver request would be submitted to the planning commission for a recommendation, and then the city commission would discuss the planning commission's recommendation.

It could be April before the issue goes back to the planning commission.

"I know in trying to do projects here and in other cities, there's nothing more frustrating than having to go through all these hoops," Crase said. "You've got someone who wants to do a project, you've got stuff lined up, and it's delay, delay, delay."

In other business Tuesday:

* Commissioners adopted a resolution supporting Overland Property Group's application for tax credits for low-to-moderate income housing. Overland plans to develop the second phase of Reserves at Prairie Ridge, an apartment complex on North Campus Drive, to add two, 16-unit buildings to two that already exist on the property. The city adopted a similar resolution two years ago for the first phase of the project.

* State Rep. John Doll talked about various items of interest moving through the legislature before heading back for the second half of the session. One of the bills that would affect the city and other local tax levying entities would require a reduction of the mill levy when property valuations rise, or a vote to keep the levy the same.

Doll said the bill is in the tax committee and has "some serious legs" to it. He said he plans to vote against it, but thinks it will pass.

Doll said proponents argue keeping the levy the same when values rise is the same as a tax increase, an argument he personally disagrees with and thinks is an unfair position to put local boards in.

City Manager Matt Allen noted the legislature is not holding itself accountable to the same rule included in the bill.

"I think we can certainly follow the line of logic. We just can't follow the hypocrisy between passing the law and not subjecting yourself to it," he said.

* Commissioners declared March 7 as John Doll Day, recognizing Doll for his years of service on the city commission and in being an advocate for the community.

* Commissioners approved a proclamation designating March 5-12 as Garden City High School Wrestling Championship Week in recognition of winning the 6A state wrestling team championship. The commission also adopted proclamations designating March 5 as Michael Prieto Day, and March 6 as Tevin Briscoe Day. Prieto won the 6A state championship at 106 pounds while Briscoe took the 6A state championship at 132 pounds.

* Commissioners learned that the Kansas Chapter of American Public Works Association named a joint project between the city, Finney County and the Kansas Department of Transportation to improve the Kansas Highway 156/Mary Street/Jennie Barker Road intersection as Transportation Project of the Year for projects of less than $5 million. The project is also being submitted for national recognition.

* Commissioners approved two advisory board recommendations — appointing Marcus Ramos to the Garden City Recreation Commission board and Storm Mosher to the Police/Citizen Advisory board.

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