Rivergate project featured in The Athens News

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Church would make way for apartment complex under proposal

Zoning board, citing parking and height issues, rejects variances

By Conor Morris

published: Wednesday, May 21

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Photo Credits: Photo by Terry Smith, The Athens NEWS. Photo Caption: Under a proposal from Homestead U of Columbus, the New Life Assembly of God Church near OU’s South Green would be razed to make way for a student apartment complex.

Owners of the Riverpark and River’s Edge apartment complexes on South Green Drive have big plans for the land where the New Life Assembly of God Church currently stands.

Student housing company Homestead U LLC of Columbus plans to build a new 4.5-story, $20 million apartment building called “Rivergate” on the spot.

The only problem is, those plans may be a little too big; in a 4-1 vote, the Athens Board of Zoning Appeals at a May 13 hearing denied the owners four requested variances from city codes. That decision can be appealed. Concerns also have been raised about whether the plans have enough parking.

Phillip Foster, the pastor at the New Life Assembly of God church, spoke at the zoning board meeting in favor of the project.

He said the church entered into a contract with Homestead U’s late last year. If and when issues with the city and OU are resolved and the church finds a new location (Foster assured the board that it would still be in Athens), the church will be torn down and replaced with the Rivergate complex.

The site is already surrounded by student apartment complexes, including Riverpark and River’s Edge, and OU’s South Green dorms are just across a field to the south.

City zoning code says buildings’ maximum height must be three and a half stories, and cover at the most 60 percent of the lot area. Homestead U asked for variances to have a four-and-a-half story building, and use 82 percent of the lot area currently occupied by the church. The company also requested a variance on code that requires a maximum of 1,250 square feet of space for 90 living units, whereas the company plans for 95 units on 1186.4 square feet.

Rick Margolis, co-owner of Homestead U, said at the appeals hearing that the company’s design for Rivergate was intended to “keep it consistent with the properties around it.” He and various architects and planners at the meeting who were involved with the design cited the other Riverpark buildings and South Green dorms’ height.

At the same time, it’s important to note all of these structures do not comply with current city code because they were built before the most recent law. The buildings were grandfathered into the city’s current building code.

Outside of height, much of the zoning board’s concern with the company’s plans related to off-street parking code. Homestead U’s would be required to have 312 parking spaces – one for each resident – whereas they had only proposed 223 parking spaces. The design of the building currently shows all of its parking in a basement garage underneath the design’s pool deck.

During the comment period of the May 13 hearing, local lawyer K. Robert Toy argued that if Homestead U were granted the variances for Rivergate, it would be “injurious to the area and detrimental to public safety.”

Toy, who said he was speaking on behalf of himself rather than a client, said the 89 people without parking spots would likely have to find parking elsewhere – a big problem considering there’s very little nearby parking outside of the university’s lots and Riverpark and River’s Edge’s existing lot space. Toy said it would mean problems for parking in nearby residential neighborhoods such as Morris Avenue, possible congestion on Stimson Avenue, and undesirable travel on the “crummy road” that goes by Mill Street Village apartments

“They’re (students) going to dump them (cars) in those neighborhoods where we have children, families and everyone else,” he said. “And then you don’t want to park in an Ohio University lot without a proper parking permit because you’ll be charged a fortune.”

Pam Wells, property manager at The Summit at Coates Run apartment complex, off of Richland Avenue, also spoke in opposition of Homestead U’s variance requests. She said six years ago the Summit’s construction was limited to three stories. She also said The Summit, as student housing, very frequently has full parking lots.

“They (students) are parking the grass; they’re parking everywhere,” Wells said.

Dave Anderson, president of Homestead U, said in his rebuttal that Riverpark has had consistent parking ratios of 71 percent occupancy in its parking lots during the three years since his company purchased the apartment complex. He said overflow parking from the new complex could easily go into Riverpark or River’s Edge’s lots.

Anderson and other members of Homestead U also argued that students who live at Riverpark don’t necessarily need or want to have a car parked there, considering their proximity to campus. Compared to The Summit, which is far enough away from the campus that it has its own bus schedules, he said that Riverpark is close enough to allow students to walk to campus or uptown.

Homestead U surveyed students who lived in Riverpark, Anderson said, noting that they said comments such as “We really love living here because we don’t have to have a car.”

“Comparing the project to other places where you must have a car simply isn’t fair,” he said. “We’re finding that all of our parking spaces aren’t used, including in that time period brought up from August to April.”

Foster said he believes Anderson’s estimates about the openings in Riverpark’s parking lot to be accurate.

“I’m there every week, and those aren’t bogus numbers,” he said. “We’re the adjacent lot. I see spots every day that are open.”

Despite the board denying any of Homestead U’s requests for variances, most of the feedback on the actual design of the building itself was positive. The U-shaped building would have a pool, pool deck and grill area on the green area in front, as well as a coffee bar and gym on the first floor.

“In my view, that would probably be the nicest student housing around,” Foster said.

The construction of the building itself would mean around 140 construction jobs, $400,000 in permit and tap fees and $400,000 in annual property taxes for the city, according to project plans.

Homestead U executives at the meeting also said they will work with OU’s design plans for the extension of South Green Drive to Mill Street.

Construction on the property could possibly begin this year, depending on the status of their dealings with the city, and if they decide to ask for any other variances from city code.

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