November 19, 2013
Student housing project rejected
City zoning board denies variances for 6-unit building on Lincoln Avenue
A Lincoln Avenue student housing project proposed by developer Jim Reeners was denied use and area variances during a city Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Monday night.
The project called for the construction of a two-story student housing building containing six units and 18 rooms, at 91 and 93-95 Lincoln Ave. The property is zoned R-2 residential and contained three houses.
It would be a similar housing unit to the one owned by Reeners on Groton Avenue, adjacent to the Lincoln Avenue properties.
The board denied the use variance by a 6-1 vote, with Phyllis McGinley the sole dissenting vote.
To receive a use variance, an applicant must prove unnecessary hardship. Four criteria are required: lack of return on property in current state, a unique hardship independent of the neighborhood, preservation of the neighborhood’s character and that the hardship is not self-created.
Reeners said he determined a need to purchase the properties on Lincoln Avenue to protect his investment in the Groton Avenue housing. He also claimed that the houses, built in a floodplain, suffered from significant subterranean flooding, which prompted the last owner to sell.
In his project proposal, Reeners said rehabbing houses in the floodplain would have been difficult and intended to build the six-unit building on a raised foundation to mitigate those problems and allow for more efficient heating and cooling.
Reeners purchased the property at 93-95 Lincoln Ave. for $127,000 or around $40,000 above its assessed value.
Reeners admitted that other developers of rental housing would have purchased the properties if he had not.
David Funk, the vice chair of the ZBA, said that the obvious desirability of the properties made an economic hardship argument difficult.
“The person did sell it to you, so there was no economic hardship,” Funk said. “You don’t want to rehab it.”
Chair Mary Kay Hickey said the subterranean flooding on the property, which Reeners was not aware of, might have been an economic hardship but it was self-induced by purchasing a property in a floodplain.
Reeners said that rehabbing or building three separate homes for one or two families would be cost prohibitive. While there is a need for single-family housing, Reeners argued, the place for it is not on a street that is increasingly student housing and near commercial development like Trombley Tire and Auto and a Byrne Dairy convenience store.
Board members were unconvinced the financial hardship was not self-inflicted by purchasing properties in the floodplain and that there was a strong need to build a single structure housing six units as opposed to rehabbing the current structures or rebuilding within the R-2 zone.
Reeners did not provide any hard data that represented a potential hardship from the property and asked the board to extend the public hearing to gather more information.
The board decided to go ahead and voted on the proposal.
“They did as they felt was best,” Reeners said.
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