Council caps apartment unitsMaplewood Apartments limited to 17 units
Developer John Kuster got his wish to rezone the former Nelson Nursing Home from R-2 to R-3 thanks to action by the Fairfield City Council Monday.
Kuster plans to remodel the former nursing home on West Taylor Avenue and turn it into an apartment complex known as Maplewood Apartments.
The council approved the third and final reading of the ordinance to rezone the building on a 5-1 vote. Councilors Michael Halley, Tony Hammes, Jessica Ledger-Kalen, John Revolinski and Martha Rasmussen voted for the ordinance while Daryn Hamilton voted against it and Connie Boyer abstained. Boyer said she abstained because she does business with parties affected by the rezoning.
The council’s approval came with a catch, though. Kuster will be limited to installing 17 units in the apartment. He said his architect told him the most units he could fit in the building was 19.
Hamilton said he would rather approve a contract with Kuster about the conditions of his development first and then approve the R-3 zoning later.
Several people who live on West Taylor Avenue or South Eighth Street spoke during the public hearing and expressed a desire to compromise with Kuster on the density of his apartment. Resident Jason Titze even prepared a visual aid for his presentation. Titze showed the council an aerial view of the neighborhood in which he highlighted 19 homes on South Eighth Street. He said the aerial photograph made it clear 19 families could not comfortably fit into the proposed apartment. Titze said a more reasonable number of units for the apartment is 12.
“Like Councilman Revolinski said, it feels like a big foot in a small boot,” he said. “Of course, we want to see something happen with the building and we don’t want it to be left vacant. If we could keep the number of units lower, it would be more compatible with the neighborhood and you won’t get a surge of people driving by. Taylor is going to be a busy street.”
Resident Paul Maiers said he saw no reason to change the building’s zoning from R-2 to R-3 if the density limitations were the same. He didn’t see how it was an advantage for the developer.
The purpose of rezoning the building to an R-3 designation was to allow Kuster to put more units in than what he would be allowed under R-2. However, City Administrator Kevin Flanagan and City Attorney John Morrissey said the city’s code seemed ambiguous about the differences in allowable density between R-2 and R-3 and that Kuster could conceivably build his apartment even with an R-2 designation, with council approval.
Maiers’s wife Becky Maiers said a less dense apartment would allow Kuster to make the individual units larger, which would enhance the quality of life of the people who lived there.
Before the council voted, resident Jennifer Diamond said if the council entered into an agreement with Kuster, it should limit the number of units Kuster can build. She said she spoke with Titze about the ideal density of that building, and the two of them thought it was between 10-12 units. However, she said she would be willing to compromise and have 14-15 units.
Diamond said the density of the apartment has always motivated the neighbors’ concerns about the project. She said by limiting the number of units, the council will have kept nuisances such as loud radios to a minimum.
After the vote, Titze said he was unhappy about the influence of the developer in the rezoning process.
“Usually, it’s the zoning that defines what the developer can do, not the developer who can define the zoning,” he said.
Titze said most cities have straightforward zoning in which single family dwellings are R-1, duplexes are R-2 and anything above that is R-3. He said it is strange that his whole neighborhood is zoned R-2 when there are only four duplexes on the block north of his house.
“This is basically sticking an R-3 in the middle of what should be an R-1,” he said.
Kuster said he was pleased with the vote and got the impression the neighbors felt better than before.
“The neighbors came up with idea of the building reverting to R-2 if we didn’t proceed,” he said. “The number [of allowable units] was between what they wanted and what we thought was possible. I think the neighbors felt like everybody got something.”
Kuster said the units would be marketed very strongly to employees of SunnyBrook Nursing Home, but he would open up the units to everyone if SunnyBrook employees didn’t take all the spots.
He estimated renovation of the building would start next year.