Post Bulletin weighs in on Lourdes Vacation Request

I very much desire to see a successful Lourdes High School (where my daughter may someday go) and a successful Kutzky Park Neighborhood.  The two are not mutually exclusive goals, but if Lourdes wants to get a street vacation potentially worth a million dollars from the tax payers they are going to need to work with the neighborhood instead of trying to go around it.

As I stated at the time we voted to deny the request 5-2, I do need to disclose that my company, Elite Consulting, Inc. does a large amount of business with Holy Spirit Parish.  That said, my contracted employment and financial decision making are entirely independent of Lourdes and the Lourdes Foundation.

Before the council meeting I met with Jack Remick, Joe Powers, and others from the Lourdes Foundation and capital campaign.  I was made aware of their pending request.  At that time I advised them the they needed to work with the neighborhood and ensure that any subsequent development would meet the established urban design guidelines (like the downtown masterplan which has been subsequently approved).  They them came forward after making absolutely no effort to follow that recommendation.  As I suspected they then ran into a neighborhood strongly opposed because of the huge risk that this posed.

It appears the foundation will bring this up again using Bruce Snyder.  At this point they have made no attempt to talk with the neighborhood or initiate a zoning change.  I hope that this is not an attempt to ram through the same failed plan as last time.

Today, the Post-Bulletin also weighed in on the Lourdes Vacation Request. I understand that there was some confusion on why I was comparing two vacation requests and I appreciate the newspaper contacting me so that I could further explain.

Here are some highlights:

The council, citing a lack of specific details about what would eventually be built on the property, rejected that request on a 5-2 vote. And on Monday, Council Member Michael Wojcik advised Lourdes to follow the example of the Boys and Girls Club as it asks the council to reconsider that decision. “Take some lessons from this group on how to work with neighborhoods and you’re going to find a much more receptive council.”

“Lourdes could change the zoning on the two parcels of land to a special district, and include in the language for that special district exactly what is and is not permitted there, the quality of the structures that would be in place there, and the use of the land,” he said. “Even though there wouldn’t be a specific plan, the neighborhood would have some assurance that the eventual purchaser of the land isn’t  going to do something that is not in congruence with the Imagine Kutzky Plan, the Second Street Master Plan or the Downtown Master Plan.”

Wojcik said that right now, a potential developer would have almost no restrictions on what would be built on the Lourdes site — a fact which is unacceptable to many residents of Kutzky Park and Wojcik himself.

“My biggest concern would be a two-block parking ramp,” he said. “Other concerns would be a low-quality development of some type, or a strip mall-style development, or the inability to have pedestrian access through the site.”

It’s a logical, compelling argument. Lourdes, in exchange for being given a piece of city property and thus improving the market value of its own land, should at least give the surrounding neighborhood some voice in what ultimately will be built on the site.

This issue is far from dead. In the next few weeks, the Lourdes Foundation is expected to renew its request for the street vacation. We hope the foundation has new information and a better plan this time, because as Wojcik said, “Asking the city to vacate a street just so they can sell for more money is a scary, scary precedent.”

Dennis Hanson and Ed Hruska claimed the connection was useless without actually trying to quantify that or having any data to support that claim.  In doing so they also ignored key pieces of the now adopted Downtown Masterplan.  It appears that hundreds of trips are made daily via that connection.

The question remains why can’t the potential land purchaser ask for a vacation later?  There is a myth that this vacation is for Lourdes, it is not.  Rather it is being done for some unknown but identified purchaser that must have some plans but refuses to discuss them.

This is scary for the neighbors, and it doesn’t have to be.  There is a belief that somebody is trying to pull a fast one and I certainly understand that concern.

What the foundation should do is meet with the neighbors and Imagine Kutzky and create a special district or some other legally binding agreement that will follow the property in perpetuity.  The district could simply reference existing plans and standards as well as other items to alleviate the very reasonable concerns of neighbors.  The neighbors would then have some legal assurance that whomever purchase the properties.  Some important inclusions could be.

  • The site can support a mix of uses.
  • No single story development.
  • Non motorized access will be maintained through the site.
  • The site will have no more parking than what is reasonably required for the site most of the time.
  • The site will be developed in such a way that the design complies with the guidance of the downtown, 2nd street, and Imagine Kutzky master plans.
  • The site scaling and setbacks will be appropriate for an urban neighborhood and transitioning from downtown to a residential neighborhood.
  • Quality exterior materials will be used.
  • Crime Prevention through Environmental Design techniques will be used.
  • A pedestrian friendly street scape will be maintained on all sides.
  • Other points to address neighborhood concerns.

Then, of course, staff can make sure the criteria is legally binding.  Based on this procedure the neighbors and the foundation will be able to come a reasonable agreement UNLESS the potential developer really is trying to pull a fast one like putting in a big parking lot or ramp on the site.  If that were the case this would flush it out.

Just for the record there were 2 Catholics on the City Council.  Both opposed the street vacation…

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