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Plans to construct eight single-family homes at 421-425 E. Mistletoe Ave., located in the pending Tobin Hill North Historic District, were sent back to the drawing board Tuesday after the City’s Historic and Design Review Commission concluded the plans need more careful review.
The project is spearheaded by Terramark Urban Homes, which has several projects in the center city. The proposed eight two-story homes will feature a central private common drive with two driveways on both ends of the lot. City staff said more discussion on design is needed before they can deny or approve the plans so the project was referred to the Design Review Committee, a subgroup of HDRC.
“The 16,000 sq. ft. site was uniquely underutilized with two efficiency duplexes on less than [one-third] of the available lot. These dilapidated structures were removed in 2016 as Terramark began reimagining the site,” Terramark Urban Homes CEO Charlie Turner stated in a letter to HDRC. “As the neighborhood evolves, the need remains for quality housing at attainable prices. Terramark believes it can meet the objective while still providing a well-designed project that fits the historic and overall character of the neighborhood.”
Staff did not recommend final approval of the submitted designs as several characteristics regarding scale, window and door placement, columns, porches, and roofs of the proposed homes strayed from those of other historic homes in the district. In addition, the block of East Mistletoe Avenue surrounding the proposed development is characterized by modest, single-story homes, not two-story homes.
“I support the staff’s finding and recommendations,” said Niki McDaniel, who has lived on Mistletoe Avenue for 15 years. “Terramark’s plan to build eight two-story homes in the middle of the block is inappropriate for our pending historic district and will damage the aesthetic of our neighborhood. Terramark’s densely packed homes would disrupt historic features, they would be intrusively close to the neighborhood homes and would literally stick out like a sore thumb.”
Residents on East Mistletoe Avenue and Ewald Street have spoken out about development before, and last October several of them applied to designate 88 properties as historic. They believe a historic district designation could help preserve the character of their neighborhood, which includes many bungalow-style homes built around the 1920s.
Due to Tobin Hill’s pending status as a historic district, property owners need to follow the historic and design review process until City Council reaches a final decision. HDRC recommended the historic district designation in December and the matter is scheduled to go before the Zoning Commission in mid-May.
“My concern is with compatibility with the rest of the neighborhood,” HDRC Chairman Michael Guarino told Turner after he argued he was in compliance with all guidelines. “I’m supportive of your other projects [around the city], which include streets already in place and completeness and a scale that was reasonable. I don’t find this to be reasonable in this instance, in this location.”
According to HDRC guidelines, new buildings must respect the historic context of the district and new construction should not attempt to mirror or replicate historic features or diminish the historic interpretation of the area.
Around 20 people who attended the meeting Wednesday stood up in opposition of the project. Residents’ biggest concern was the design being visually incompatible with other homes in the area and so many homes being packed on one plot. Others mentioned fears of property values going up and increased street parking that would cause congestion.
“That sounds like a traffic jam to me and it seems to me that it’s too much,” HDRC Commissioner and Vice Chair Michael Connor said, responding to the amount of homes proposed on the lots. “I have empathy with the surrounding property owners in the neighborhood.”
According to Turner, the previous homes were rat-infested and boarded up. He said the new development will breathe new life into the area and bring in younger residents looking for affordable homes.
Turner argued that Terramark cleaned up properties and went through the proper procedures and permits. He said citizens who have complained about the plan are “misunderstanding” the drawings and scale of the homes.
“We don’t come in to build what we don’t think is right,” Turner said. “Our density is 33% on this project to the lot, far below the 50% set in guidelines.”
Commissioner Joel Garcia disagreed with Turner and said the development would be appropriate in another part of town, but not in Tobin Hill.
“The units look quite handsome but in this instance I don’t agree with you on the density,” Guarino said. “I see this as packing and there’s just too much of it. Amount of density is one thing and many things impact that calculation. Just because multi-family zoning is permissible that doesn’t necessarily shape the neighborhood. It’s shaped by other things.”