Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
The Gardner Planning Commission met on Oct. 24 and considered expansions of a senior living garden apartment complex and an addition to a building at Gardner Municipal Airport.

Bethel Estates Expansion
Item 2 on the agenda pertained to applicant requests for expansion of Bethel Estates and required four separate votes.
The commission first considered a request for rezoning the 7.84 acre site from R-1 Single Family Residential District to RP-3 Planned Garden Apartment District.
The land is currently vacant. It is surrounded by single-family residential properties to the north, east and west. To the south, across Madison Street, is Bethel Estates, a senior living garden apartment development.
The proposed development is an expansion of the existing senior apartment complex, Bethel Estates.
Garden apartments are not allowed in R-1 zoning, but RP-3 will allow for a variety of residential housing building types, including Detached House – Suburban, Duplex, Row House and Garden Apartments.
The staff’s opinion was that completion of the development “provides diverse housing options within the City, providing a diverse age range within the neighborhood, and would have minimal impact to existing single-family residential immediately adjacent to the site.”
The only requirement was for additional pedestrian connections between building 1 and 2, adding that as a condition for approval.
Aaron Gaspers, CFS Engineers, representing the owners, RFK Investments, LLC, told the commission and staff it would be no problem to comply with the additional sidewalks.
A public hearing was held, with six nearby residents coming forward to speak.
Several were concerned with the additional traffic. Gardner Edgerton High School is down the street on Madison and gets busy during morning and evening.
One asked if there were going to be turn lanes or additional means to get traffic through the area.
A representative of Bethel Estates spoke and said the average age of residents was 70 to 75, and they didn’t create much traffic.
Heath Freeman, commission member, asked the representative about the construction timeline, if approved by council.
The representative said they would start construction in February with completion expected in June.
Another resident said she lives at the end of Lanesfield Street, which dead ends at the border of the currently vacant lot. She was concerned about risk to neighborhood children if the deadend were made a through road.
Staff answered that Lanesfield would remain a deadend street.
Residents expressed concerns with trash, debris and truck traffic during construction, with potential problems with storm water drainage, and possible effect on property values.
Gaspers said that the plan included a detention pond on the east side, and there would be no increase in storm water flow from the property.
Residents wanted to be sure the development remained senior apartments and could not change to other types of housing after re-zoning.
After public hearing was closed, commission members had lengthy discussion.
City code requires 10 percent active open space, and this plan falls short, providing 8.9 percent. Staff was supportive of the reduced active open space, provided that the developer adds the two sidewalk connections to the plan.
The staff’s comment was that the plan represents an improvement over what could have been accomplished through the strict application of otherwise applicable base zoning district standards. […] the applicant has provided a walking trail, all required landscaping, a gathering area with enhanced landscaping and seating, and bike racks; all meeting the intent of goals and policies established by the city.
Tim Brady and Brad Austin, commissioners, both questioned allowing the deviation from code.
Austin asked why the 10 percent open space couldn’t be met.
“I don’t want to necessarily get in the habit of saying – ‘well it’s really close, that’s OK,” said Austin.
Heath Freeman, commission member, addressed the concerns about the project changing to something other than senior living after the rezoning. He asked Ryan Denk, city attorney, if commission could make it senior garden apartments a condition of the approval.
Denk said the developer already has to stick to the presented plan, and any change would require a revised plan that would have to be brought to commission for approval.
Brady, said his home was in the neighborhood, and he was apprehensive about potential for decreased property value. Because of this, he believed he had a conflict of interest and would abstain from voting on the item.
Two separate motions and votes followed – first to approve rezoning and second, to approve preliminary site plan for Bethel Estates Phase 4 and 5.
Both passed with 4-0 votes with one abstaining.
The commission then heard staff presentation on final development plan and final plat for Bethel Estates Phase 4.
Commission approved both with 4-0 votes, again with Brady abstaining.

GMA Hangar addition
The commission considered an applicant request for a 1,440 square feet addition to a 2,880 square feet hangar, located on Lot 1 of the Gardner Municipal Airport, for storage use. Because the alterations result in a 50 percent expansion of the building footprint, city code requires this site plan undergo Planning Commission review.
The existing hangar was built in 2013 for aircraft storage. The building is not currently served by water or sewer, but is supplied with electrical power. There are no sidewalks or pavement and no expected affect on storm water drainage.
The staff found the site plan in compliance with all applicable requirements of the Gardner Land Development Code. The recommendation was for commission to approve, subject to evaluation and approval from the FAA.
Commission voted 5-0 to forward recommendation for approval to city council.