Homeowners fear their property values will suffer if a new, 17-unit rental building at 520 Center Street, proposed by Bluff City Properties, is approved. At the request of concerned neighbors, the Winona Planning Commission will review the site plan on Monday, but the city has a narrow legal window for rejecting site plans.
The company has not indicated where it would locate the 49 off-street parking spaces needed for the project. City staff members have suggested that the company may be racing to receive site plan approval before proposed zoning changes to parking requirements, which would block the plan, can be approved.
On June 14, Kevin Brady of Bluff City Properties submitted a plan for the new lodging establishment (that is, apartments without kitchens) at Center and Mark streets. Bluff City Properties owns numerous rentals in the area, including two similarly-sized lodging units at opposite corners of Center and Mark streets known as Izzy's and Shorty's. The site of the proposed new lodging building is currently being used to provide parking for the 14-unit Izzy's lodging. The plan did not indicate where Brady intended to put parking for the new building nor did it include information on where Izzy's parking would be replaced. City staff asked Brady to provide that information. Calling the plan deficient, staff recommends that "at a minimum" the Planning Commission receive a plan for parking.
"To add a 17-unit rental to our already saturated neighborhood will make the area unlivable," wrote one neighbor in a plea to the city. Letters from other neighbors assert that the company's existing rental units violate parking rules, that the company does not control its rowdy renters, and that the proposed project will decrease the value of their homes.
Race against proposed zoning changes?
On June 10, just days before Brady submitted his plan, the Winona Planning Commission first considered citywide parking changes that would both reduce the number of parking spaces per person required for lodging establishments from one to .65 and require that they be on-site. Current rules allow parking for lodging establishments to be off-site, up to 300 feet away. Under the proposed rules, Bluff City Properties would likely not be able to develop the 520 Center Street location.
Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa said that his department did not know of Bluff City Properties' interest in a lodging project when it recommended the zoning changes. He acknowledged the coincidental timing of the submission, though. "All of the changes that were proposed in city code were a part of public record and reported in the papers. If someone were thinking about doing a project like this and saw that new regulations were coming out that would affect the potential project, you want to submit your application. That's why I think we got this application when we did," he said.
The Planning Commission could deny the plan due to the lack of parking information. However, Bluff City Properties may submit a new plan before the City Council can continue its discussion of the proposed zoning changes, which was postponed last week. With parking information in hand, the Planning Commission would have few legal options for rejecting the plan, despite neighbors' concerns. Devaluing neighbors property is not against city code, Espinosa explained.
For more information on the city council's discussion of the proposed zoning changes, see "Condo debate goes citywide" at www.winonapost.com.
The Planning Commission meeting is at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, June 8, in the Wenonah Room on the second floor of City Hall. This meeting is open to the public.