City Commissioners Delay Garden District Building Height Vote

City commissioners delayed a decision Monday afternoon on whether to allow up to 60-feet-tall multi-family buildings in portions of the Garden District of the historic Lake Morton neighborhood.

City staff had devised a plan that divided the district into six subdistricts that define where the taller buildings would be allowed within the district.

But following a lengthy public hearing when a dozen people spoke, city staff was given instructions to come back with a revised plan that eliminates allowing taller buildings south of Lime Street near the lake and adds a provision requiring new multifamily buildings in the district go through the design review committee of the Historic Preservation Board.

Currently, multi-family buildings are limited to 40-feet, although taller buildings were allowed until recently.

Issues with the proposed amendment became apparent after developer Baylis Consulting submitted plans for a 54-foot-tall, 40-unit apartment building at the corner of Lime Street and Indiana Avenue. The conceptual plan for the contemporary-style building was approved by city staff, contingent upon the City Commission approving the proposed height amendment.

Another stumbling block was raised Monday when Commissioner Justin Troller asked if under the formula it would be possible to erect a 60-foot-tall building on the lakefront south of Lime Street if some of the current houses were leveled. Planning Manager Theresa Maio confirmed it would.

Neighborhood resident Michael Rogers presented slides illustrating the differences between the look of a 40-foot tall building, as currently allowed, versus a 60-foot-tall building at the site of the building Baylis is planning at the intersection of Lime and Indiana.

Neighbor Colin Weins spoke about how Orlando, Tampa and other cities are addressing urban density and walkability. Orlando’s Thornton Park has 30-foot to 40-foot height restrictions. While Tampa’s Hyde Park has certain areas that allow multi-family buildings up to 60 feet high, its architectural review commission guidelines for new construction say it is not permissible to add a building that does not maintain or blend in with the height of buildings on adjacent lots. “Some cities don’t have maximum heights but say it must be of compatible height and mass,” Weins said. “This is something you are not providing for.”

Melinda Rinker, who also lives in the neighborhood, said that while “we hear there are a lot of developers who purchased land with the understanding they will get the 60-foot height” but as homeowners “we have to stay within very strict guidelines for anything we do to our historic homes. We bought historic houses knowing we had those guidelines. They bought their land knowing those 60-foot height guidelines have not been approved yet.”

Edie Yates, a managing partner of Baylis who served 12 years on the City Commission leaving last January, defended her company’s plans for the building.

In 2017, “we were focused on how do we incentivize development in the area where not a lot had happened in last 20 years, an area that had deteriorated in that 20 years. It is an area surrounded by parks that the city spent a lot of money on to incentivize investment the downtown area.”

Yates also spoke about the review process, saying the staff review on the planned Baylis building was conducted by the same staff person who works with the Historic Preservation Board, using the Land Development Code for guidance.

“The idea was to make it simpler for people to do projects in an area that drastically needed new development,” Yates said.

When prompted by questions from commissioners, City Attorney Tim McClausand said that there likely is not a legal issue involved in changing the 60-foot height limit on certain properties at this time but commissioners may want to consider it as a fairness issue.

The commissioners agreed by consensus to continue the public hearing until Jan. 7, when city staff will come back with revisions to the proposed ordinance.

For other news about Monday’s meeting see: City Commission Report: Food Trucks, Hawthorne Hill, Mount Zion, and Broadband

Updated: 11:00 on 12/18/2018 to clarify information presented by Colin Weins