The LookOut news

Main Street Projects Headed Back to Planning Commission

By Jorge Casuso

May 29 -- Claiming that he is caught in a Catch 22, the developer of a block-long, mixed-used project on Main Street that was approved by the City Council earlier this year will take his case to the Planning Commission -- for the second time.

As expected, Developer Howard Jacobs on Tuesday appealed last week's 4 to 0 vote by the Architectural Review Board to oppose the proposed design for the two projects totaling 133 market-rate apartments slated for the former Boulangerie site at 2012 Main Street and smaller parcel across the street.

In a seven-page letter attached to the appeal form, land use attorney Chris Harding argued that redesigning the project would conflict with the council's approval of the design in February. The project reached the council on appeal after the Planning Commission turned down the project in December, contending that it was too massive and did not fit the context of the neighborhood.

"Absent appeal, Mr. Jacobs faced the following 'Catch 22' dilemma," Harding wrote. "In order to obtain four affirmative votes of the ARB, he would have needed to make design changes which conflict with City Council approvals…

"Had Mr. Jacobs obtained ARB approvals on such terms, he would not then have been allowed to build such ARB-approved projects because these projects would no longer be consistent with the City Council approvals," Harding wrote.

The appeal was filed eight days after the ARB unanimously shot down the design by its chair Howard Laks, calling it "Disneylandesque." The design incorporated a number of styles, from Craftsman to International, in an effort to abide by the Planning Commission's suggestion that a stylistic mix would make the block-long project appear less massive.

Before the ARB hearing, Harding had sent a letter to City officials cautioning that the board limit its deliberations to architectural design, landscaping and signage, and not to take up the issues of massing and neighborhood compatibility he said were already addressed by the council.

The letter did not sit well with board members Rodolfo Alvarez and Joan Charles, who charged that it was intended to intimidate them and claimed that it colored their opinions of the project.

"I see a pattern, a pattern that at best is a silly attempt to influence me and at worst it's a crass attempt at trying to intimidate me," Alvarez said. "I find that difficult and bordering on impropriety."

The two board members, who were initially inclined not to vote, eventually relented so that there would be a quorum.

In his latest letter, Harding contends that the comments by Alvarez made it "quite apparent that Mr. Jacobs cannot receive a fair hearing from the ARB.

"Commissioner Alvarez's comments made it crystal clear that he is unable to view Mr. Jacobs' projects objectively because he was offended by Mr. Jacobs' decision to have the assistance of legal counsel," Harding wrote.

The project, which has been in the planning department pipeline since the fall 1999, would be the largest mixed used project on Main Street.

The proposed block-long building is four stories tall with 11,549 square feet of retail space and 107 residential units. The roof level would feature a swimming pool and a hot tub.

The smaller proposed structure is a three-story, mixed-use building with two levels of subterranean parking. The ground floor would contain a total 6,533 square feet of retail space and 26 residential units.

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