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Landmark-adjacent development deferred over affordable housing and other concerns

While only in the conceptual phase, the Landmark Overlook development would transform the corner of South Wilkes Street and Stephenson Avenue into a mixed use property with hotels or office buildings, two-level stacked condominium units, apartments and retail. (Image via BCT Design Group)

A development near Landmark Mall was deferred at the applicant’s request after the project was hammered by City Council for its lack of affordable housing and design issues.

Things had been looking positive for West End Associates LLC’s Landmark Overlook project — spread across 5901, 5951, and 5999 Stevenson Avenue and 2 South Whiting Street — as it headed into the City Council on Saturday. The project was approved by the Planning Commission and city staff.

The developers were seeking an amendment to the Landmark-Van Dorn Small Area Plan to change the primary use of the development from office and retail to primarily residential, allowing the developer to increase the proposed floor area ratio and construct new multifamily residential buildings.

But the project faced stern pushback from the City Council on everything from traffic impact to affordable housing. There were areas where the project met the letter of the law but was unsatisfying in ways that, reading between the lines, gave the Council less reason to be lenient in other allowances.

“There’s no affordable housing here, nevertheless they’re giving us money to compensate, but that isn’t the same,” City Council member Redella “Del” Pepper said. “All of these units and not one of them could possibly be affordable housing? Now we can’t ask for that, but it doesn’t mean how disappointed I am that that’s how they’re running it. I haven’t felt that this is a very thoughtfully done plan, frankly.”

There were also concerns from the Council that the city is moving forward with individual Landmark-adjacent plans without having a clear idea of what the city wants the area to look like.

“I think what we have here, and what I’m worried about with anything around Landmark, is that everyone rushes to make their developments pop before we finalize Landmark and the network around Landmark, especially on Duke Street,” said City Council member John Chapman. “We’re talking about something pretty significant. To me, my response would be: why not push some of this work and this development off until after May and we have a better sense of what we’re doing with that area and this intersection? Why are we letting the cart jump before the horse gets rolling?”

The applicant, represented by Kenneth Wire, said the applicant would be happy to convert the dollars into some affordable housing units in the multi-family residential parts of the development.

“I’m requesting a deferral unless I’m completely misreading the six of you,” Wire said.

The City Council approved deferral until the January meeting to allow staff and the developer to put something together more in line with the city’s goals.

“We understand private market interest and profitability, along with businesses coming in and why this might be an advantageous time for them to move forward with all sort of plans, and they have every right to do that under the law,” said City Council member Mo Seifeldein. “We take no issue with that. We want to work with you, but you have to be willing to work with us. We consider your margins and the market, but you have to consider what we do.”

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