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Kaufman Gets Initial Approval After More Commission Drama

Brent Warren Brent Warren Kaufman Gets Initial Approval After More Commission DramaAn aerial view of the proposal. Renderings by NBBJ.
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The ongoing saga of the redevelopment of the former International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers site took another turn yesterday afternoon during a contentious meeting of the Victorian Village Commission.

The commission voted three-to-one to approve the height, footprint and massing (or general shape) of the latest design for the project, which is located at 23 W. Second Ave.

Officially known as a “concept approval,” the vote gives the developer, Kaufman Development, an indication of the level of support for the project before they proceed with more detailed and costly drawings. In order to receive a Certificate of Appropriateness for the development (which is required in order for it to be built), the developer will need to return to the commission with those detailed drawings for another round of discussion, followed by another vote.

Often referred to as a conceptual approval, other historic commissions and design review boards regularly issue them – the normal procedure being that city staff will write a letter outlining what exactly was voted on and what the applicant will need to bring back to the board in order to get final approval.

Just as there was during the last meeting on the project – a special meeting held on July 21 – there was a lengthy discussion about what exactly a conceptual approval is, and whether or not the commission can legitimately issue one.

Commission chair Jack Decker argued in both meetings that they can’t, and he used his power as chair to repeatedly question the legal basis for conceptual approvals and to slow down any movement toward an actual vote.

At the July 21 meeting, Decker stopped a vote on the measure by declaring a motion from another commissioner out of order – the meeting ended in confusion and without a vote being held, with developer Brett Kaufman complaining to city staff, “are you going to let Jack just drop the hammer like that?”

Staff suggested that another special meeting be scheduled and that a city attorney be consulted to weigh in on two questions – whether or not Decker had the authority to hold up the vote, and what exactly city code says about concept approvals.

Yesterday’s meeting (held virtually and available to stream on YouTube, as all of the city’s public meetings now are), was actually interrupted shortly after it started with a request to go into executive session, meaning that commissioners met for about 45 minutes out of view of the public in order to have a discussion with a city attorney about those issues.

The city’s Planning Division Administrator, Mark Dravillas, said the purpose of the executive session was “to provide the commission the ability to consult with a legal advisor…on a matter pertaining to statutory construction, where litigation has been threatened.”

When the public portion of the meeting resumed, neighbors were given a chance to give testimony on the project, followed by another hour or so of discussion amongst the board and the architects and other representatives of the developer.

The overall development concept hasn’t changed drastically since the project was first retooled and brought before the board in February – a seven-story building, topping out at 89 feet, that would hold 166 residential units, a two-level parking garage and about 8,000 square feet of commercial space.

When a motion was made to vote on the conceptual approval, Decker ruled it out of order, saying, “I’m doing what I did last time, I’m ruling the motion out of order because there is no separate approval process out of code 31-1609A separate from an application for a certificate.”

This time, though, the other board members were allowed to vote to overrule the chair’s ruling – which they did – so a vote was held.

Decker was the lone vote against, telling Kaufman, “you have an approval for height and massing, whatever that is.”

“Based upon my understanding of what the city attorney related as to what conceptual approval means, we’re voting on height and massing,” said commissioner Shawn Conyers, explaining his vote, “and the applicant is responsible for coming back to this commission, in a public hearing, when the project advances to a point where we can get [the necessary] supplemental information…for a formal review.”

Separate votes are still required for the partial demolition of the original IBEW building (the back portion will be removed), and the zoning variances necessary to build the project.

For more information on the many proposals for this site that have been brought before the neighborhood over the last several years, click here.

The Second Avenue side of the building, with the preserved portion of the IBEW building in front.
The Price Avenue side of the development.
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