University Heights council OKs controversial project


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One University Place is inching closer to becoming a reality in University Heights, much to the disappointment of dozens of residents.

University Heights city councilors approved a rezoning ordinance for the controversial development on Tuesday night with a 4-1 vote.

The redevelopment of what is now St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 1300 Melrose Ave., has split the community for months, and dismayed residents began walking out of the meeting even before the vote was over.

Before the vote, in a packed library at Horn Elementary, 600 Koser Ave., roughly 20 people came forward and addressed the council. Many of them urged councilors to wait to vote until after the city's Jan. 11 special election.

University Heights resident Rick Hopson pleaded with the council to wait.

"A zoning commission is a commitment, it's a promise," he said. "It's a promise to the people who have built their lives in that neighborhood. I'm asking the council, begging the council, to defer the vote until after the special election."

If St. Andrew accepts the proposal, the site could become a six-story, two-building complex with 80 apartments and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. Called One University Place, it will be built by Maxwell Construction Co. in an area that was previously limited to single-family homes.

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Councilors said church officials will most likely make their decision before January.

Prior to Tuesday's meeting, major concerns of residents included which types of businesses would occupy the space, the development's effect on traffic and property values, and its environmental impact.

But on Tuesday evening, the majority of speakers were concerned they were misrepresented. They wanted to push the vote until after the special election when Jim Lane could be replaced by an elected councilor. Lane was appointed by the mayor after a councilor resigned last summer, and residents said they wanted a chance to vote.

Many residents also requested a 3-D representation of the development at past meetings, and after being rejected, resident Pat Bauer provided a Lego model at the meeting.

"Most everyone we show says that tells them something they weren't seeing on the blank pages of paper," Bauer said, as he displayed his colorful model on a scale-sized topographical map of the neighborhood.

At their November meeting, councilors tabled the vote after nearly three hours of presentation, public comment, and discussion. Roughly 20 University Heights residents addressed the council that night, most of whom were firmly against the development.

Resident Billy Gay was one of the few at Tuesday night's meeting to speak in favor of the rezoning.

"This land … is a valuable piece of property, and it can only sustain the development of a large project like the one being proposed," he said.

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