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Planning Commission Rejects Downtown Plan’s Dwight Way Height Limits

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 10, 2008 - 07:14:00 PM

When city staff drew the boundaries for the new Downtown Area Plan (DAP), they made a mistake that planning commissioners are now faced with resolving. 

By the time last Wednesday’s meeting ended, commissioners had again opted for taller buildings than those picked by a citizen planning task force. 

The southeast corner of the new district managed to swallow up the northwest corner of the district covered by the Southside Plan, which has different development standards than those proposed by the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC). 

Commissioners are doing their own rewrite of the committee’s plan, with both documents headed to the City Council, which must adopt a final version by late May or risk losing some of the university funding negotiated in the settlement. 

Matt Taecker, the planner hired to work on the DAP, said DAPAC’s plan differs from the Southside Plan in mandating maximum building heights, including all developer bonuses for adding affordable housing and other amenities. The Southside plan only specifies base heights, to which bonuses can be added. 

Taecker recommended that commissioners opt for a 65-foot maximum, equivalent to a five-story building with commercial space on the ground floor. 

The primary focus was on the north edge of Dwight Way between Fulton Street and Shattuck Avenue, which includes a stretch of World War II vintage fourplexes, while across the street are the “mixed-use vestiges of Dwight Station,” developed in the days when rail lines ran down city streets. 

Retired planner John English, speaking during the public comment period, urged preservation of four-plexes as “good affordable housing.”  

“Those fourplexes are dilapidated and we should just write them off,” said commissioner James Novosel, an architect. “I like mixed use along Dwight,” he said, urging its inclusion into the so-called corridor buffer zoning district, which allows for taller structures. 

“One of the things we talked about over and over on DAPAC was making sure the corridor buffer had a lot less impact on the adjacent residential neighborhoods,” said commissioner and former DAPAC member Patti Dacey. In exchange, the committee had agreed to greater height and density in the downtown core. 

The fourplexes, she said, “are rent-controlled and very inexpensive.” 

Commissioner Gene Poschman urged restraint because “there are a great many unresolved issues, including building 65-foot buildings directly across from the lower mixed-use buildings on the south side of Dwight. The commission majority indicated they favored a taller north side, with a maximum of five stories including all possible bonuses.