Developer Andrew Brickman, who three months ago dropped plans to demolish an Edgewater Dr. estate to make way for upscale residential housing, is back with a new plan to construct 19 townhomes overlooking the Rocky River on Sloane Ave.
A group of about 40 residents gathered Wednesday evening at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Detroit Ave. to hear the latest details about the project from Brickman and city officials.
Although still in the “very, very beginning phase,” according to Mayor Michael Summers, the tentatively named Metro Luxury Townhomes designed by Lakewood-based Dimit Architects would range in size from between 1,600 to 3,000 square feet with two to four bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms.
The three-story units – 32 feet tall – would each have attached two-car garages and rooftop decks with views of the river and lake. List price for the smaller townhomes would begin at around $300,000. Brickman could not provide an estimated price for the other homes because certain acquisition and improvement costs remain unknown.
The townhomes furthest down the cliff would be 75 feet away from the river. Only two boat docks are planned, but that number could expand.
If everything falls into place, Brickman said the homes would be built in different phases beginning in the spring. The project would take about 18 months to complete.
The preliminary site plan has been reviewed three or four times by the city’s Architectural Board of Review in informal work sessions and is continually being revised, Brickman said.
Financing not finalized
Summers indicated Brickman has informal purchase agreements with the owners of the three existing houses that must be demolished to make way for the townhomes, but cautioned that the arrangements are “not done deals.”
When asked by an audience member if he had secured financing for the project, Brickman replied, “I don’t really know if that’s your concern.”
Touching on the topic later, he remarked, “I’m fortunate in that I’m wealthy enough that I don’t need financing.” Brickman almost immediately realized the haughty tone of his words and tried to soften them. He acknowledged he has a commitment from one lender and is looking for additional funding sources.
Cliff stability a concern
A more pressing concern for Brickman is the stability of the cliff he wants to build upon.
A Sloane Ave. property owner who lives adjacent to the proposed project location noted he has lost about one-third of the hillside along the river due to erosion and cannot get help from the Army Corp of Engineers.
“It’s worrisome for us right now,” Brickman admitted. He had a team of experts examine the condition of the cliff and is awaiting the results of their study. The unknown cost of shoring up the cliff could significantly affect the project’s overall viability.
Minor zoning variances needed
One major reason Brickman’s Edgewater proposal failed was because he tried to shoehorn more houses onto the property than were permitted by the zoning code. Nearby residents objected to it, and provided city officials with a convenient reason to reject the project.
Brickman won’t have the same problem this time around.
Assistant Director of Planning and Development Dru Siley said the development would only require two relatively minor variances.
One variance would be needed for the law that prohibits the building structure from covering more than 20% of the lot area. The building structures of Metro Luxury Townhomes would cover 30% of the lot area.
The other variance would concern the proximity of the development to its western property boundary. Normally, the development would require a greater setback. In this instance, there’s no other property adjacent in the west, just the river, so the setback requirement is virtually irrelevant.
Stalled Foran Montlack development still riles residents
Some Sloane Ave. residents are leery about any real estate developer who promises good things. They know what can happen when a deal goes bad.
To the south of Brickman’s proposed development sit a couple of long-vacant lots that were supposed to be home to a 60-unit riverfront luxury condominium.
Foran Montlack, a development partnership, demolished the houses that stood there and then lost access to financing when the real estate and financial markets crashed.
The group was very slow to maintain and landscape the empty lots and engendered scorn from the neighborhood.
Brickman’s presentation was interrupted a couple of different times by cagey residents who wanted to know how his project would be different from the Foran Montlack failure and if he was interested in acquiring those lots.
Brickman confirmed he’s had several conversations with them and is intrigued by their property, but they have not responded to his interest.
Mayor Summers said Foran Montlack is still waiting for the economy to improve. “They have no plans to take action, currently,” he said. “There’s nothing happening.”
Brickman said it is “impossible” to get financing for the kind of project Foran Montlack originally proposed. His project is smaller and would be financed, in real estate lingo, as a fee simple non-condo rather than a traditional condominium.
Tax abatement process in motion
The proposed development will likely receive some kind of property tax abatement.
Summers said the Board of Education is the city’s partner in making the decision and must continue to receive the same level of property tax as it is now receiving from the owners of the houses that will be demolished.
Incidentally, the City Council on Tuesday had the first reading of an ordinance that would create a Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) for 13 parcels of property on the southwest side of Sloane Ave, along the Rocky River, including the parcels Brickman is interested in.
The CRA would provide the city the ability to hand out tax abatement as an incentive for new development.
Neighborhood reaction to plans generally positive
Compared to the sharp negative reaction Brickman got from the community on his Edgewater Dr. proposal, the Sloane Ave. crowd was fairly positive.
“I kind of like what I see so far,” one man said. Another man commented: “It’s gorgeous. I love the contemporary architecture.”
There was some concern about the apparent lack of visitor parking within the development. Brickman explained they were still fiddling with the site plan to try and wring out more space. Someone suggested he should buy the nearby bank-owned Irish cottage and use it as a parking lot.
A woman raised a concern about the safety of having an exit onto Sloane Subway, a steep, narrow, and winding side road. “That’s just nuts,” she said.
Dru Siley, the assistant director of planning and development, said only four units would empty onto the road and it wouldn’t create a ton of additional traffic.
A couple of residents complained about the disturbances in the area when Foran Montlack performed home demolitions. Summers said extra precautions would be taken to minimize disruptions this time around.
It will be decided on a case-by-case basis, but the townhomes will probably have deed restrictions prohibiting them from being leased.
Next steps: more public meetings
The properties haven’t changed hands yet, and Brickman is still waiting on the results of the cliff stabilization study. Nevertheless, the development process will move forward.
Siley told the audience that the project would be up for discussion at several public meetings over the next couple of months, including with the Planning Commission and the Architectural Board of Review.
He and Councilperson David Anderson (Ward 1) said they would make an extra effort to make sure the meeting dates were properly publicized. Siley said he sent out 150 notices to affected residences about Wednesday’s meeting.
- Brickman is the developer of the townhomes on the Rocky River side of the river. He said there are 6 more units available in the neighborhood of $739,000 each. He added that he had been approached by a “big budget Hollywood film” to shoot in the property.
- Councilperson Mary Louise Madigan (Ward 4) who is frequently absent from important non-City Council meetings was in attendance Wednesday evening.
- The name of the development is likely to change. A long-time resident of the area suggested High Bridge Park, the original name of the properties.
- Mayor Summers said discussions continue with McDonald’s about the future of their Sloane Ave. location.
Representatives from the fast food giant last month said the building would likely be demolished if the business relocated to Detroit Ave.
Summers said yesterday some “creative” proposals are being considered that would repurpose the property, although not as a restaurant. He did not provide additional details.