The Zoning Board of Adjustment last night denied an application seeking three use variances to build a three-story, 12-unit apartment building on the site of the former Koza’s Bar on West Scott Avenue.
The board voted 7-2 to deny the application. After more than an hour of testimony and questions, board member James Pelletiere called for a motion, which was seconded by first alternate Paula Braxton. Board members Joseph Gibilisco and James Heim voted against the motion.
“It’s a little bit too much on a little too little,” said Chairman William Hering after the vote, suggesting that a smaller plan might be seen in a different light. “Nine was the magic number on this property,” he said, whether it was townhouses or rental apartments.
The primary concerns expressed by commissioners seemed to be the change from townhouses – as originally approved in October 2008 for nine units – to rental apartments as well as density. The board rejected a proposal for 12 two-bedroom condos in December 2007 that would have renovated the former Koza’s Bar at 197 W. Scott Ave. and added a second floor.
“I’m having a problem with 41 feet,” Zoning Board member Egon Behrmann said during testimony, questioning if any other buildings in the area are that tall. Hering said state regulations require that any apartment complex with more than 10 units is required to have an on-site manager.
The applicant, Scott Avenue, LLC, headed by Anthony Ginesi, can return to the board with an application that’s considered “substantially different.”
Three variances were sought: D-1 use variance, allowing first-floor residential in the B-1 Business Zone, which allows commercial property on the first floor but not residential; a D-5 for density (10 units/acre allowed; 10.9/acre sought), and a D-6 variance for height (2 1/2 stories/35 feet allowed, 3 stories/41 feet proposed). The application was bifurcated, meaning the applicant would first seek variances and then present a site plan if the variances were granted.
Attorney John DeNoia on Monday night presented about 45 minutes of testimony from Ginesi, the site’s principal owner, and engineer Anthony Gallerano.
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The market changed since the previous plan was approved for nine three-bedroom townhouses, Ginesi said, and instead sought to build rental apartments ranging from $1,400 to $1,700 per month. Commercial space on the property would be difficult to rent, he added, and not appropriate for the neighborood.
The building’s footprint is smaller than the previous plan, with less of the building in a flood hazard zone and parking moved further from the Allen Brook, Gallerano said. Building coverage is about 14 percent compared with the previous plan of 22.5 percent.
Commercial uses would be more intrusive to surrounding areas, which are mainly residential, Gallerano said, with some commercial property across the street and at the nearby corner of Allen Street and West Scott Avenue.
Since the area is zoned only for commercial on the first floor and not residential, there was some discussion as to whether to include the first floor as part of the proposal’s density. Since residential is only a permitted use on the second floor, DeNoia argued that it would make for density of 10.9 units per acre. Taken in its entirety, however, 12 units would yield density of 16.9 units. Density of 10 units per acre works out to a strict calculation of 7.36 units on the 0.74-acre site.
Planner Kevin O’Brien suggested that the first floor should be included in the overall site. If the plan were to be limited to the allowable 2-1/2 stories, it would make for four fewer units, or 10.8 units per acre.
A commercial property would generate more trips and traffic than a residential development, Denoia argued. “It’s not residential density but use density,” he said. As to density issues, a two-family home on a 50×100 foot lot works out to density of some 16 units per acre. “We’re really not out of the woods on this thing, we’re on par” with what’s been approved previously, he said. And while parking issues may exist in the neighborhood, this application is in full compliance on parking, he added.
Four residents of nearby Allen and Price streets as well as West Scott Avenue raised several concerns about the application. Those whose properties abut the proposed site worried about privacy, noting that the three-story building will look directly onto their backyards. To address privacy concerns, DeNoia suggested his client was willing to install a solid fence, or something that would meet requirements, for properties adjacent to the site.
There were also concerns about parking despite the proposed 24 parking spaces (2 per unit) easily meeting state standards. Since West Scott Avenue is a county road, no parking is allowed when it’s snow-covered, congesting side streets with more parked cars while existing commercial properties rely solely on street parking.
Others worried about their property values and what type of element the project would bring to the neighborhood.