Last spring, the City Council agreed to sell 3.5 weedy acres of former dirt dump next to the Oakwood Cemetery off Elliott Avenue to a development team for $10. The group—made up of Habitat for Humanity and for-profit builders Southern Development and Community Results—would assume cleanup costs for the site, but there was more to the deal: an understanding that the neighborhood they designed would offer new solutions to the pressing problem of how to provide and pay for affordable housing in the city.
Nine months after the team got the nod, they appeared before the City Planning Commission at its meeting last week to apply for a rezoning permit. But some felt the project design for 111 Elliott Avenue fell short of expectations, and the developers have another month to take another shot.
“You’re talking about being innovative, and I’d like to see you be very bold with it,” Planning Commission Chair Genevieve Keller told Don Franco of Community Results, who presented the plan. “It looks like you’re sacrificing open space for so-called density and calling it innovative, and I’m not quite convinced that it necessarily is.”
The plan calls for building 46 to 49 homes of varied types—single-family houses, cottages, and townhouses. Of those, 20 will go to low-income earners who are working with Habitat for Humanity, including five coming out of public housing. One will be a group home for eight Region Ten clients.
The central townhouses will face small common greens. Streets won’t be closed loops or dead-ends, but will instead link to the surrounding Ridge Street neighborhood, and will be designed to encourage drivers to share the road with bikers and pedestrians.
A few commissioners said they’d hoped for an intentional community that looked different from anything they’d seen before. Southern Development’s Charlie Armstrong said the City Council had indicated the same. “They were looking at it from a 10,000′ view, but they said, ‘We like the concept, and we want you to push the envelope.’”
But he and Franco said existing code may not allow for some of their ideas.
Franco said they envisioned true shared streets—spaces where walkers and cyclists are given the same importance as cars. It’s not a new concept, but it’s hard to implement from scratch in a city where codes are very car-centric, he said. It might take years to change the rules, but they had hoped to break ground a year from now. Habitat will soon have partner families waiting in the wings.
“We want to create something that’s going to be special and a great place to live, but we also can’t wait until 2020 to build it,” said Southern Development’s Charlie Armstrong.
But the developers said they’ll come before the Commission again in February with new ideas. Keller said she’s looking forward to seeing them. The team is committed, she said, “so I hope that we will have an intriguing project to review next month.”