Key Project at Civic Center Weathers First Round of Appeal

By Jorge Casuso

An office building slated for the Civic Center area the city plans to develop weathered the first round of an appeal process opponents hope will significantly alter the project, or kill it altogether.

In a 4-2 vote Wednesday night, the Planning Commission directed the developer, Maguire Partners, to make minor changes to a design opponents contend fails to meet a requirement that none of the building's elevations appear as a back facade.

The changes include adding windows at street level and a stairway leading down to an existing alleyway on the east side of the building to make the project - slated to go on the site of the abandoned Flamingo Motel -- more pedestrian friendly.

The redesign will delay until Dec. 1 a vote on the last-minute, hand-written, one-line appeal to the proposed four-story project at 1733 Ocean Avenue, which must be approved before the development agreement expires Dec. 31. It also sent tempers flaring, with representatives for the developer, city staff, commissioners and opponents continuing the debate after the votes were cast.

"This development has had a lot of process," said Commissioner Eric Parlee, who made the substitute motion for the minor changes. "It's odd and unfortunate that the concerns of the appellant only get put forth at the eleventh hour."

"I don't think we should reopen this up," said Commissioner Matt Kanny, who voted to make the changes. "I think it's unfair to make the applicant go through a redesign. The council has already approved it.

"Now that there's a different city council, they hope they can reverse this," Kanny said. "They want to get the project delayed so they don't get their permits and don't build it. To hold (the developers) hostage like this is unfair."

Opponents contend that the project - which was first approved by the council in 1990 -- fails to meet the requirements of the development agreement. Whatever is built on the proposed site, they said, will be viewed as a cornerstone of the Civic Center plan the city hopes to develop on the surrounding land it has agreed to buy from RAND for $53 million.

"The discussion we've had tonight is important, not just for us, here, and our immediate concerns, but for the city and posterity," said Ellen Brennan, the appellant. " Whatever is built on this site will probably stand long after we are gone."

"To me this is very much a landmark location, and it should be an inspiring building," said Commissioner Darrell Clark, who voted against the redesign. "I'm very disappointed."

Councilman Ken Genser, who testified against the project, said the loading dock recalled "an anus," while Commissioner Kelly Olsen compared it to a hospital gown.

"This building is basically designed like a hospital gown and that is not very comfortable," said Olsen, who opposed the changes. The appeal, he said, "is not an attempt to stop this project but to make it better, and that's our obligation. (The redesign) does not solve the basic problem."

Chairman Ken Breisch countered that the east facade opponents said violated the agreement did not need more windows and pedestrian activity because it would face a park.

"Great buildings have garden facades," Breisch said. "It's getting on my nerves there has got to be a Gap or a Banana Republic, a window to look into. What could be a better facade to face a park than an arcade? Now, we have to have Gaps to animate it.

"You'll always have a front and back," Breisch said. "I don't think we want four facades that look alike. I think we've got some improvements."

The argument with Olsen continued after the votes were cast.

The developer's race against the Dec. 31 deadline was delayed last week after the commission failed to have a quorum. Kelly Olsen, who had a job interview, and Darrell Clark, who was ill, were absent from the meeting. Breisch was at a conference in Atlanta. Commissioner John Zinner excused himself from both meetings because he has worked as a consultant for the developer.