Commission denies waiver for Legion plan

4/3/2013

Apartment proposal, building's future now in limbo.

Apartment proposal, building's future now in limbo.

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

The Garden City Commission on Tuesday denied a waiver request that would have allowed ground floor apartments as part of a proposed renovation of the old American Legion Building at 125 Pine St., dealing a potentially lethal blow to the project.

CCS Properties, LLC, owned by Carlos and Candace Gamino, submitted a proposal that was accepted by the city commission last fall to renovate the old building into several high-end apartments. The issue then went through the planning commission to address the property's zoning.

Due to its split-level design, the building doesn't fit well under existing central business district zoning. The planning commission opposed changing zoning ordinances to allow ground floor apartments downtown because of the potential impact on the character of the area if other building owners wanted to do the same.

Last month, a divided city commission voted 3-2 to not change zoning ordinances, but indicated the developers could ask for a waiver.

On Tuesday, by the same 3-2 split, the commission denied the waiver. Roy Cessna, Chris Law and Melvin Dale voted to deny the request; Dan Fankhauser and David Crase were in favor of granting the waiver.

It's unclear what happens now with the building.

Commissioners didn't address whether the city would consider a new round of proposals from the public or if they intend to let the building remain idle. When contacted later on Tuesday, City Manager Matt Allen said there are currently no plans to put the issue on a commission agenda, though that could happen at some future date.

In a phone interview Tuesday night, Carlos Gamino said the commission's decision was still fresh and he and his mother haven't decided where to go from here. For now, they aren't planning to pull their proposal.

"It's kind of hard to fight city hall when they don't want you to do it. We'll see. We might come back with a different proposal. Who knows?" Gamino said.

Gamino said they have thought about only doing apartments on the second floor, so it may be something to consider.

"Nothing's off the table," he said. "We felt it was better as all apartments, but it doesn't mean second floor wouldn't work. We've just got to rethink it."

The majority of the people who spoke to the commission on Tuesday opposed the project.

John Lindner, an attorney representing Paul Kornachuk, a Dodge City resident who owns commercial property in downtown Garden City including Key Office Equipment, said his client had several concerns, including water and sewer infrastructure capacity, trash Dumpsters, the lack of city easement, increased foot traffic, potential trespassing onto other property and increased security concerns.

In addition, Lindner said, his client was unaware of the city's original requests for proposals last year — understandable since he doesn't live here, but had Kornachuk known, Lindner said he may have submitted a proposal himself.

Lindner said the city should allow another opportunity for proposals and notify surrounding property owners, in addition to a general public notice, because the city might get a number of better proposals.

"I know it's a unique building. But it certainly could be commercial, and it could be a whale of a commercial building. The location is great," he said. "I just think there is some other interest out there, and I'm not saying kill this deal and let us walk in with a new proposal."

Ken Robinson, owner of Robinson Alignment, said the only issue he would have would be the lack of a yard or playground if the units were rented to people with children, but added that he would have no problem if it were only rented to adults.

Despite submitting a rival proposal last fall that was disqualified for being a day late, Beverly Schmitz Glass, executive director of Downtown Vision, said the issue as far as her organization is concerned has been about the ordinance that restricts first-floor apartments, storefront churches and child-care businesses.

Downtown Vision eyed the building as potential new space for its offices. Glass said when the proposal was rejected, it was disappointing, but the decision was accepted and the organization moved on.

Glass said opposition to the CCS Properties proposal was not "about being sad because we didn't get our way." She said the concern is about the impact of first-floor apartments in the central business district.

Another concern is safety. Glass said without egress windows, the residential use wouldn't comply with building codes. According to city staff, the 2009 building codes require apartments with four or more units to supply both a sprinkler system and egress windows in sleeping areas. Glass questioned whether enough space exists for egress windows, since the building is right on the property line on one side.

Kaleb Kentner, planning and development director, said there is some room on the east side of the building for window wells, but the other sides would likely require more waiver requests because the walls are so close to property lines.

Candace Gamino said the goal was to create high-end apartments that would add to the community and also ease some of the city's housing issues.

"We're just a mom and a son trying to achieve the American dream in Garden City, Kansas, USA," she said. "Trying to make a living like all of you. Along the way, the American Legion happened and we jumped at it."

Gamino said she has yet to hear a reasonable argument against the proposal other than people saying, "I don't like it." Gamino said not liking something is not a sufficient, rational reason.

"We believe adding more people downtown will make it more vibrant and inviting. Have you driven downtown at night? It looks dead and uninviting. The best way to turn that around is to add people. The best way to help local business is to have a captive audience," she said.

Gamino said she and her son intended to install sprinklers and smoke detectors, renovate and put back the original windows on the east side that are currently bricked up, and that other things like trash Dumpsters could be addressed later.

Regarding Downtown Vision, Gamino said Glass's statements shouldn't be given much weight considering Downtown Vision stood to gain if the Gaminos' project failed. She also called it naive for some to complain about the $1,000 sale price for a $380,000 appraised value building because there is little to salvage except the exterior, and the building is not worth the appraised value.

"It's not worth anything until we put something into it," she said. "We want to make the city proud, too."

During an interview later Tuesday, Commissioner Cessna explained his decision came down to the project being rejected by the planning commission, as well as the prospect of potential additional waiver requests for the project in the future for things like the window egress.

For Cessna, the project looked like it had too many hoops to jump through.

"We're trying to take a square peg and push it through a round hole. It just wasn't going to conform to the needs of what we're looking for in a commercial district," he said.

Cessna said another request for proposals is a possibility, and something for which the new commission will need to discuss and provide direction.

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