Woodard waits, Atwood gets go-ahead

Woodard waits, Atwood gets go-ahead

Keith Woodard’s plans for a massive nine-storey project on the Downtown Mall are still in limbo, while another nine-storey development on Water Street is sailing through the City approval process.
    Woodard wants to revamp the Mall by adding a full city block of mixed-use commercial space (80 residential units and 180 below-ground public parking spaces) and demolishing all but the facade of two 90-year-old buildings. Unfortunately for him, the City’s not quite ready to bring in the wrecking ball.
    At the June 19 City Council meeting, Woodard asked Council to overturn an April vote by the Board of Architectural Review denying his application. Council decided to defer the decision, so Woodard will have to wait at least another two months before the Council votes on his application. In the meantime, the Council is planning to use a July work session to discuss the project with the Planning Commission.
    BAR Chair Fred Wolf defended the decision. “The BAR is not against vitality,” he insisted. But the board is also cognizant of the project’s overall impact, he said. Wolf explained that the application couldn’t be considered in isolation—employing a painfully colorful metaphor, he likened such blind approval to “teeth pulled out of the smile, one after another, until there is no smile left.”
    While the BAR only considers architectural factors when making its decisions, the City Council must consider the project’s overall consequences—including how it would impact the City economically. And the Council, like the BAR, seems wary of making hasty decisions. At a recent meeting, these concerns were made clear. “It’s the specter of what comes next that haunts this project,” said Council member Kendra Hamilton. “A nine-storey building that we know little about leaves only fear in the minds of citizens.”
    “This is precedent-setting,” said Councilor Blake Caravati, “This is the first major project in the last 25, if not 35, years on the Mall.” (The Mall recently marked its 30th anniversary.)
    A City staff report encouraged the Council to deny Woodard’s demolition application. It highlighted a noteworthy discrepancy: Owners have the right to gut the interior of buildings in the historic district, but they do not have the right to demolish structural walls. The buildings at 101 and 105 E. Market St. share a common structural wall that Woodard plans to knock out in order to secure the parking structure. Woodard’s application specified that he would preserve the facades of the buildings on 101 and 105 E. Market, as well as the façade of 101 First St. up to the third storey. He plans to add another six storeys of residential units, set 20 feet back from the storefronts, for a total of nine storeys.
    While Woodard might be frustrated by the City’s approval process, fellow developer Bill Atwood is loving it right now. On Tuesday, July 20, the BAR approved Atwood’s Waterhouse tower—a project on the site of the current Eloise store. “They basically verified the right to have a nine-storey building in the shape I have,” he says. The Waterhouse project is located east of the nine-storey Lewis and Clark building, between South and Water streets. It will, if built as planned, add another 110 parking spaces to the area—the majority of them underground.