New Apartments for Oak and Loc
Neighbors react to 5-story, 55-unit apartment complex for East Side corner.
Last night East-Side residents had their first chance to react to a 5-story, 55-unit apartment building planned for the northeast corner of N. Oakland Ave. and E. Locust St. The building, which would require a zoning variance, is being proposed by Klein Development and Jeno Cataldo. Striegel-Agacki Studio is leading the design of the project.
The apartments would target graduate students and teachers, according to the development team. The building would be a mix of studio and one-bedroom units with eight corner units having a two-bedroom layout. According to developer Michael Klein, a handful of units would be fully furnished. The building will be managed by Founders 3, which manages other properties for Klein.
Klein predicted rents for the project will start at $900/month for a studio, $1,200 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,800 for a two-bedroom unit.
In line with many other new apartment buildings and exceeding the zoning requirements, the development would include more than 60 parking spaces or approximately 1.1 parking spaces per unit. Ten parking spaces would be on the first floor and accessed from E. Locust St. and the remaining spaces would be underground and accessed from the alley.
The existing building at 2900 N. Oakland Ave. is a two-story commercial building owned by Capri Oakland Property LLC and now occupied by Cousins Subs. The 4,596 square-foot building and 10,966 square-foot lot are assessed at a combined $321,000. It would be demolished to make way for the new building.
The project’s estimated cost is $12 million to $13 million.
Bumper to Bumper Opinions
The development team made a short presentation that quickly became a question-and-answer session. Things got started with a bang when one attendee interjected “why aren’t you building this Downtown? This is completely inappropriate for our neighborhood.” Before the developers could answer, even more questions started.
Yet after more than an hour and a half of sometimes heated back-and-forth questions from attendees, a straw poll conducted by Kovac at the hearing showed general support for the project. Of those left in attendance, 16 were in support, nine opposed it and 18 individuals voted “maybe” with requests for modifications to the plan.
Feedback from the approximately 50 people in attendance ranged from concerns about traffic and parking to the building height and the fear of the corridor being redeveloped as it was just to the north in Shorewood.
The design of the building is unique, and that drew plenty of comments.
Said Kovac: “I do think the shape of this, for better or worse, is unusual.” He noted he often gets complaints about new buildings being boxes, but the shape of this one certainly is not that. He added “the building they’re proposing to tear down is extremely bland.”
The first floor would be wrapped in a substantial amount of glass for three retail spaces. The northernmost stall would be occupied by Cousins Subs, thus retaining its current location. The upper floors would be a mix of white brick and corrugated metal siding.
When asked why they didn’t make it look like existing buildings on the street, architect Michael Striegel responded, “our position is to design a clean modern building with its own aesthetic.” Striegel said he was pleased with the design, which drew audible snickering from the audience.
Multiple attendees suggested more neutral, earth-tone colors to match other buildings in the area. The development team said they would evaluate this along with a suggestion to set the first-floor further back from the sidewalk.
In response to a litany of questions about traffic, Department of Public Works representative Karen Dettmer said, “I know 55 units sounds like a lot, but on two arterial streets it will have minimal impact.”
Kovac, who noted this is the most congested intersection in his district, said “they’re not going to make it better, but they’re not going to make it appreciably worse.”
After a variety of solutions for mitigating the congested intersection of N. Oakland Ave. and E. Locust St. were discussed, one particularly heated attendee accused the city of deliberately slowing traffic to favor pedestrians and bicyclists. Kovac responded “I concede that point that we are trying to encourage slower traffic in general.” He noted that much of this was done to favor residents and improve public safety.
A handful of attendees spoke in favor of these design trends, but the majority of concerns in the meeting still centered around improving the flow of vehicles at the intersection.
One issue raised at multiple points throughout the meeting was the precedent this development could set. In fact, that was a key reason why the area business improvement district, known as Oak and Loc BID #13, supports the project. In a letter supporting the project they deem “catalytic,” the organization of area property owners expressed their hope the project will “spur the redevelopment of other properties.”
Kovac noted the desires of the business improvement district and residents are likely at odds, but he believes this project would attract residents who would increase the public safety of the area by placing more “eyes on the street.”
One thing that is much closer to reality than the major redevelopment of the corridor is the opening of a Blaze Pizza restaurant across the street from the proposed development. Work is ongoing on a building at 2907 N. Oakland Ave., on the northwest corner of the intersection, that most recently housed a Five Guys burger restaurant.
While Kovac raised the specter of another neighborhood meeting, none was announced. Because of the August recess for the Common Council there is extra time to accommodate an additional meeting without disrupting any approval timeline.
The project is tentatively slated to go before the City Plan Commission on September 11th, the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committe on October 10th and the full Common Council on October 17th.
Public hearings would be held both at the City Plan Commission and zoning committee meetings.
Should the project get approved, Klein hopes to start demolition on the current building immediately and finish the new building in early 2019.
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