In the middle of Grandview Avenue sit two houses built in the early 20th century, boarded up and blocked off by a chainlink fence. Less than a year ago, business-owner Lori Drienka’s mother-in-law …
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In the middle of Grandview Avenue sit two houses built in the early 20th century, boarded up and blocked off by a chainlink fence.
Less than a year ago, business-owner Lori Drienka’s mother-in-law was renting out one of those houses, having lived there for years as Drienka ran the Eli Ashby Healing Arts Center right next door at 7401 Grandview Avenue. Drienka’s mother-in-law lived in the home until her passing in November.
Fast-forward to 2019 and Drienka and her daughter, Carly, find themselves opposing plans to demolish the houses and build a development in their place.
“The houses’ placement adds to the character and historic integrity of Olde Town. We would lose part of our history we can’t replace,” Drienka said, referring to how the buildings, in their current location, show what Grandview Avenue looked like in the early 1900s. “It’s difficult to educate people on something that’s not there anymore.”
With hopes of rehabilitating the buildings and running a business out of one of them, Drienka put in an offer on the properties at the same time as developer Keane Palmer, who ultimately bought the properties.
Palmer’s incoming development, Grandview Station, will replace the houses with a three-story development, which will include ground-floor retail spaces and 14 condominiums.
The Drienkas have started a petition on change.org to preserve the historic homes and stop the proposed development, as well as a hard-copy petition inside their store. As of Aug. 29, the two versions of the petition collectively had more than 700 signatures, with a goal of obtaining 1,000.
But Palmer has said he will not save and rehabilitate the houses, because he cannot. At the beginning of the project, he hired forensic engineers to determine the economic viability of saving the two historic homes, he said.
“They looked like they were rundown but we wanted to understand the condition of the properties,” he said. “We determined we couldn’t rehabilitate them. It’s economically unfeasible, which is unfortunate because at some point, the buildings were historically valuable.”
Aiming to build something the whole neighborhood would enjoy, Palmer went to advocacy groups, community members, landowners and the city, gathering input on what they would like to see built, he said. This feedback informed the design of Grandview Station, which Palmer says will “increase the vibrancy of Olde Town.”
“It will increase pedestrian traffic and interests, and it will bring in new vendors,” he said. “We’ll have 14 new people living there and contributing to Olde Town.”
The development plans comply with city guidelines and design requirements specific to Olde Town, said Palmer and the city’s director of community and economic development, Ryan Stachelski.
But Drienka and other opposers question waivers the city’s board of adjustments made for the property, which will allow the building to stand at 33.5 feet, as opposed to the 32-foot height limit set by the city.
The building will be divided into sections: the first section, nearest to the sidewalk, will only stand at 12 feet, with a second section rising higher and the section at the back of the building rising to 33.5 feet.
Additionally, the city has allowed for the building to include three stories within the 33.5 feet. Current guidelines allow for two stories within 32 feet.
The city has approved the plans, even with these exceptions, as compliant with design guidelines – a decision which Drienka plans to appeal, believing the design is not compliant and that the public should have had greater opportunity to weigh in.
Stachelski said there were a handful of such opportunities, including a public meeting held by the Design Review Advisory Committee. He added that plans have had to meet requirements decided upon by city council, informed by community member input.
For Stachelski and his colleagues, the focus has been interpreting what the community has said it wants, based not only on “anecdotal voices” but on community members’ previous actions, he said.
“My intent is really to say, `what did the community ask for when they had city council approve these zoning regulations and codes?’” he said.
But Drienka takes issue with such an argument, pointing to the fact that the waivers made for the building, such as the height and number of stories, were never approved by city council.
The property’s future
As the develpment appears to move forward, the city has required several measures to preserve the buildings before demolition. First, the historical society will walk through the houses and document their history. Second, there will be a 30-day window in which individuals can volunteer to move the building to another property.
For Drienka, these solutions “miss the point” – much of the houses’ historical significance stems from their location and the way they represent a historic Grandview Avenue, she said.
She and other opponents plan to continue their efforts through several means: the petition; letters written to the developer and city staff, signed by approximately 20 citizens and property-owners in the area; and the appeal.
“I would like to see the city preserve these houses,” she said, “or, at the very least, require the developer to follow the same rules all property owners here have followed, and show some regard for Olde Town’s historical integrity.”
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