Changes proposed for 50-year-old retail center, apartments

Changes  proposed for  50-year-old retail center, apartments

The land around the house at 3932 Dupont Circle was considered “country” back in 1913.
Today, the residents live in the shadow of the 17-story Commander Apartments and hope new development isn’t a change for the worse.

New vision for high-density residential complex upsets neighbors

A couple dozen residents attended a public meeting late in the day on Apr. 29 to share their thoughts about a proposed redevelopment of nearly six acres along St. Johns Avenue in Avondale.

At the heart of the issue is a land use amendment that would change the site, where the 99-unit Commander Apartments and the St. Johns Village Center currently stand, from community/general commercial to High Density Residential.
Along with the land use amendment is Companion Zoning Application 353, which addresses the future of the current 99,000 square foot apartment tower and the 43,000 square foot retail center. Both would be demolished to make room for development that would include up to 350 units in a mix of residential as well as office/professional/commercial space and a parking garage.

Attorney Steve Diebenow, representing the developer Michael Balanky, president and CEO of Chase Properties, listened to objections and answered questions for nearly an hour from
area residents who expressed concerns with the scope of the project.

Those concerns ranged from the number of units in the proposed multi-family development to increases in traffic and noise to the potential for more dog owners not willing to pick up after their pets while walking them on nearby neighborhood streets. Michael Fisher, a representative for Fishweir Elementary School, also noted that an influx of families with school age children could not be accommodated in the already at-capacity school.

While Avondale homeowners might logically appear to be the most invested in what could be another development battle for Diebenow, who recently wrapped up a neighborhood fracas on behalf of Mellow Mushroom, residents from Ortega and Riverside also spoke up at the workshop. The opposing side in the Mellow Mushroom development included the Riverside/Avondale Preservation Society and I Love Avondale LLC.

st johns development

St Johns Village Proposal – CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD PDF

Linda Bremer, a Riverside resident and member of the Sierra Club, asked about the plans for Big Fishweir Creek, noting that the 2005 PUD included a marina. That PUD also had a provision for an $800,000 escrow deposit for dredging the creek.

Diebenow responded that plans for the property include a riverwalk along the southern boundary and a kayak/canoe launch and that the Army Corps of Engineers will determine the actual cost of dredging following a $100,000 study.

Ortega resident Erik Olsen noted that within 1,100 feet of the Commander is an active bald eagle nest with a mated pair that has had successful broods. “This could make it difficult to bring down a building or put another one up,” said Olsen.

Although the property at 4000 St. Johns Avenue is outside of the Riverside/Avondale historic district, it is under the 2008 Riverside/Avondale Zoning Overlay. This means that the developer is obligated to follow the requirements in the overlay or address any changes in a new Planned Unit Development (PUD) request.

The current PUD was filed in 2005 with amendments in March 2006. According to Diebenow, there are differences between the 2005 PUD and the new one, primarily the increase from 166 units to 350 and a quadrupling of project scope from 142,317 square feet to 595,000. In addition, another objection to the 2005 PUD was the proposed height of the condominium that would replace the Commander Apartments. The new PUD would propose more multi-family buildings of shorter height, spreading out the density over the site.
Another concern to area residents was the plan for a five-story parking garage, which would be wrapped around by residential units on the river side of the property.
Gayle Granger, who owns a 100-year-old home on the corner of St. Johns Ave. and Dupont Circle, said “If this property is rezoned as HDR, it would be an overuse of the property and cause a lot of congestion and increase the noise factor. That is not right for this neighborhood. A massive development will have a profound effect on the neighborhood.”
While no one seemed to be in favor of the proposal, several residents did offer a preliminary olive branch.

Thirty-three-year Avondale resident Douglas Coleman noted that this is the third rezoning attempt he’s been through. “We want this done so that it doesn’t negatively impact the neighborhood. But…there’s a bunch of us who will fight you all the way if a five-story, 367-car garage is part of the plan.”
Kyle Billy, who lives on Glendale Street, said “I’m not against a good development, but all we’ve heard so far is about a 350-unit development. In one location, that seems like too much for this space.”

“I was thinking it could be a good thing as it [the new plan] would be under the 2008 [Riverside/ Avondale Zoning] Overlay, which limits building to five stories,” said Julie Banks, who has lived under the shadow of the Commander since 1984. She would endorse it if “it was done beautifully and tastefully without the obscene height [proposed in the 2005 PUD].”
The 2013 PUD would have to be approved by City Council and the Planning Commission. The approval timeline for the new bill includes introduction of the bill to City Council on May 28 with the first City Council public hearing on June 11 and a Planning Commission hearing on June 13, a Council Committee public hearing on June 18 and, finally, a second City Council public hearing on June 25 (all dates subject to change).

District 14 Councilman Jim Love has proactively set up a second meeting between the developer and area residents to keep the momentum going in the direction of positive change. “It’s the right thing to do right now,” said Love.

A townhall meeting with developer Balanky and attorney Diebenow is scheduled for Monday, May 13, 7 p.m. at FSCJ Kent Campus Auditorium to provide a new plan and receive residents’ feedback. Be sure to check for updates at, and send comments or concerns that you would like to share with the community about this development to
[email protected]

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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