By Jeff Keeling
City Commissioners Monday delayed a final reading on rezoning the former General Mills property on West Walnut Street, pushing the final judgment on the proposed 216-unit apartment complex from Thursday to April 3. The decision came so a final site plan, scheduled to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals April 1, can be in commissioners’ hands when they consider the rezoning.
The delay marks the second postponement since commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of rezoning the 5-acre property, and nearly 3 acres currently owned by Mize Farm and Garden, from B-2 (Central Business District) to B-3 (Supporting Central Business District). North Carolina-based Evolve Development LLC plans to demolish the structures there and build all residential units, including on the first floor – a use prohibited in B-2 zoning, which requires some commercial on the first level.
Commissioners were at their agenda review meeting, and representatives from Evolve were present to discuss any final issues prior to the expected third reading Thursday. They included Evolve’s Scott Austin, local attorney Tom McKee, real estate broker Jerry Petzoldt, and Chamber of Commerce CEO Gary Mabrey. The Chamber of Commerce Foundation currently owns the General Mills property.
The delay came about after Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin asked whether Evolve would include what he called a “binding site plan” in a development agreement it plans to sign with the city. Van Brocklin pointed to the concern of nearby Tree Streets residents, and others, about “what is going to occur here,” including both the appearance of the five proposed buildings and whether the complex will come to be dominated by college students.
“My question is, ‘would you be willing to put that site plan in as part of the development agreement?’” Van Brocklin asked.
“Yes,” Austin answered.
The final site plan is subject to approval by the BZA at its April 1 meeting, where Evolve will seek a variance allowing it to put parking between apartment buildings and State of Franklin Road. Van Brocklin wanted that process completed prior to final rezoning consideration by the commission, and Austin said doing it in that order would be preferable to him as well.
“I realize you have to have some flexibility,” Van Brocklin said, referring to a preliminary drawing of the building’s exterior that has circulated among commissioners and drawn some praise for its style and appearance. “What would be very uncomfortable for the commission would be, ‘this is what people expect’ (from drawings or discussions) and it looks markedly different from this when it’s done.”
“I understand,” Austin said. “It will not.”
Commissioner Jeff Banyas, who like Van Brocklin voted yes Feb. 20 on second reading but expressed reservations, agreed with the mayor. (Commissioner Jenny Brock was the third yes vote, while Vice Mayor Clayton Stout and Commissioner David Tomita voted no.)
“I’m hearing from all these people in the neighborhood, ‘we’re scared what it’s going to end up looking like,’ and it’s real easy (for you) to say, ‘this is what it’s going to look like, there’s no need to be concerned. Because when you show someone this picture, they say, ‘well, that’s nice.’”
Austin said the quality of construction, design and amenities all have to help Evolve create a project that can bring the kind of rent rates that he said should attract a mix of professionals, retirees, and probably some students.
“We’re investing an awful lot of money in the land, and in order to justify the price of the land we’ve got to build something that will drive the rents,” Austin said.
“In order to drive the rents there has got to be a luxury apartment complex down there, or else we’re in trouble. I get it, I understand. Short of the development agreement, which we tried to put in place, all I have is me saying yes.”