Building plan in Homewood draws supporters, detractors
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A proposed four-story building would be one story higher than the tallest around it in Homewood and bring an $8 million investment in construction alone by a development team that says it will hire neighborhood residents at every phase of the project.
At a zoning board of adjustment hearing Thursday, Oxford Development and S&A Homes presented their case for a special exception and eight variances for a 41-unit apartment building for senior citizens with four retail opportunities and a community plaza at 524 N. Homewood Ave.
"This is the most important investment to come to Homewood in 12 to 13 years," said City Councilman Ricky Burgess.
Twenty people turned out to oppose it, some arguing the building would be too high, block views and create noise and parking problems. Several said it was not an appropriate setting for elders because of crime and noise from the nearby railroad and busway.
"I've never heard anyone get up and express concern for residents who don't exist yet," said Wrenna Watson, chair of the board.
The project has already met parking requirements, she said. It needs a special exception to be a multi-unit building in a residential area and variances for height, setbacks and the location of trash containers.
Proximity to the busway is one reason Oxford wants to continue to invest in Homewood, said Ben Kelley, development manager for Oxford. "We're looking to do multi projects there. We see development in East Liberty, and with the busway, Homewood is the natural next stop."
But Lucille Prater-Holliday said the proposed building is out of scale with nearby buildings, some of them relatively new homes on Susquehanna Street. "That building would be an obstruction," she said. "Other homes would be dwarfed by this building."
Architect Ken Doyno of the Rothschild Doyno Collaborative said the team modified its setback requests on three sides in response to community concerns.
The project's opportunity for jobs was a leading concern at community meetings. The Urban Redevelopment Authority owns the land. Its director of diversity and community affairs, Charles Powell, said the URA "has a goal of inclusion in everything we are involved in. I promise you that we will have representation from the neighborhood in all elements of the project."
"What we need is police and jobs," said Alvin Dean. "We don't need a high-rise. This is not going to benefit anybody, not old people, not teenagers."
Mr. Burgess said that it will. "In the long run it will lead to more opportunities and reduce factors like drugs and other illicit activities."
Andy Haines, executive vice president of S&A Homes, said the developers asked for a four-story variance so it would be able to provide first-floor retail, something that a majority of people at community meetings said they wanted -- retail and community space.
The site is bounded on two sides by Susquehanna and Finance streets. It includes an old post office building, which will be retained in the new construction with a cafe restaurant as one of the retail elements.
Operation Better Block, a neighborhood nonprofit, would lease the retail and bring in tenants, providing for each build-out money from Oxford, said Jerome Jackson, executive director of Operation Better Block.
With approval from the zoning board, the project could be open by November of 2013, Mr. Kelley said.
First Published July 20, 2012 12:00 am