Amy Cunningham
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With a 5-1 margin and against the recommendations of city staff, the Gardner Planning Commission voted to advance the O’Connor property plans to the city council for approval.

A rendering of the proposed O'Connor senior apartment complex

Mike and Joyce O’Connor, owners of the property at 318 Center Street, have proposed demolishing the existing home on that site and replacing it with a 17,745 square foot, three-story, eight-unit condominium complex.  The maintenance provided units would be available for purchase by senior citizens.

Initially the concept appeared before the commission during a March 22 meeting where city staff and several commissioners questioned how the project would fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.  The plan was tabled so that the couple could make changes to better meet Gardner Design Standards.

The O’Connors made several minor adjustments to their initial renderings and resubmitted them to city staff for review.  At Tuesday’s meeting Amy Kynard, city planner, spoke on behalf of city staff recommending the project undergo further redesign because changes made since the previous meeting weren’t enough to bring the project into compliance. She said that the plan previously failed to meet several design standards, chiefly Principle 9 – Harmony.  Kynard explained that the goal of that design standard is to make the project compatible with the existing neighborhood.

“This caused controversy,” Kynard recalled for the commission.  “While not ornate or complex, the homes in the area are not box shaped, either…staff doesn’t believe this fits the existing neighborhood and recommends different building form for this type of neighborhood.”

For their part, the O’Connors argued that they did their best to follow the design standards.  Joyce said she understood the standards and said she was told those were guidelines.

“How do you build a property 100 years later that’s going to fit in? This is 2011, that was 1900 (when homes in the area were built),” she questioned.  “I think some of the recommendations from staff are personal preference.”

Following their initial meeting, Gardner staff asked the developers to either change the orientation of the building so that it faces Center Street or to create a façade on that side of the property to make it look as though that side was the front of the building.  Staff also asked the couple to lower the pitch of the roof – initially it was at 39 feet with an overall height of 48 feet.

The O’Connors decreased the pitch of the roof to 35 feet and the overall height to 40 feet to be in compliance with the maximum height requirement in the R-3 zoned district of 35 feet.  Their designer created a center gable, added a decorative roof bracket and added faux windows with closed shutters to the Center Street side of the structure.

“While these changes do improve the appearance of the building, these are not significant enough changes to make the Center Street façade appear more like a front façade, which was the primary purpose for the continuance as stated by the Planning Commission on March 22,” Kynard said.

Joyce O’Connor pressed the commission to make a decision at Tuesday’s meeting.  She said that the couple had already invested $10,000 in the project and could not continue to meet with costly designers and provide 10 sets of plans at a cost of several hundred dollars per meeting.

She said if the plan was not passed at the meeting the couple would most likely scrap their development altogether.

Janie Emberton, whose residence is just south of the proposed development, voiced concerns about the traffic the property would generate.  She said that she believes it would be very unsafe to locate a driveway for senior citizens to access Center Street right at the base of a busy viaduct.  She also said that a three-story apartment building was not what she envisioned for her neighborhood.

“Do I want to look out my window at the back of an apartment building?  Probably not, but that’s how things grow,” she stated.  “But my main concern is traffic.”

Commissioner Tory Roberts expressed her support for the project.  She said she took an opportunity to go out to the site and walk the lot.

“This is an opportunity for Gardner, we need to look at each project as an opportunity.  This project is good for Gardner and we need to vote to approve it,” Roberts commented.

In other business the commission:

•Approved rezoning property at 980 E. Santa Fe Street from M-2 (General Industrial District and CP-3 (Planned Commercial District) to C-2 (General Business District).

•Approved a site plan for Gardner Energy for the construction of a 1,320 square foot addition to an existing storage shed.  The property is located at 1150 E. Santa Fe Street.

•Approved six resolutions for submission requirements including preliminary and final plat applications, rezoning applications, conditional use permit and special use permit applications, site plan and final development plan applications and preliminary development plan application requirements.