Council stalls project vote to consult church, December vote likely

Survey provides mixed results

By Gigi Wood

Most prefer a separation of church and state.

But the University Heights City Council vote on Nov. 9 is aimed at bringing together public officials with the church to help solve a development debate dividing the community.

Councilors were expected to take their third and final vote on a zoning amendment that would pave the way for a mixed-use condominium development at 1300 Melrose Ave., the location of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Instead, Councilors Mike Haverkamp, Brennan McGrath and Jim Lane voted to defer the vote until December. The vote was 3-2, with Councilors Stan Laverman and Pat Yeggy against the delay.

During the next month, Mr. Haverkamp and Mr. McGrath plan to meet with church representatives to discuss the development. The church has purchased land on Camp Cardinal Boulevard to build a new facility for its growing congregation; however, whether the church will approve the move and the condominium deal remains to be seen.

The church reportedly had given the developer, Jeff Maxwell, a deadline to receive council zoning support for his project. The zoning amendment would allow multiple family housing on the site.

About 70 people attended last week’s council meeting at Horn Elementary to voice concerns about the project. One concern of many residents is the council seat held by Mr. Lane. He was appointed to the council to fill a vacancy left by former Councilor Amy Moore, who moved away from the area this past summer. A special election will take place in January for the seat. The candidate filing deadline for the seat is Nov. 19.

Many residents have said voting for the development should be done by councilors who are elected and that zoning and other project issues should wait until after the special election. Those in favor of the project were unsure if waiting would sour the deal between the developer and the church.

Mr. Haverkamp said asking the church for an extension and waiting to take the final vote might be the only way to bring closure for the community. He said there has been much “anger and rancor” associated with the project and that deferring the vote could help neighbors mend fences.

City Attorney Steve Ballard suggested asking for an extension until the council’s February meeting, so the candidate who wins the special election will be serving on the council.

The 80-unit development is a controversial topic in University Heights. Some say the tax revenues generated from the project are sorely needed, while others say the project is too dense and will increase traffic and crime.

A new wrinkle in the debate is a community survey that was paid for by the city to gauge support for the development. The study was mailed to 504 residents during the last 10 days in October and had a response rate of 64.9 percent. University Heights has about 1,000 residents.

According to the study, 50 percent of respondents strongly disagreed with Mr. Maxwell’s development, 27.6 percent strongly agreed with it, 12.1 percent agreed with it, 6.2 percent disagreed and 4 percent were neutral. The survey has received mixed reviews within the community, with some saying it illustrates that the majority of residents are against the project, while others say the questions were worded incorrectly and some who were against the project threw their surveys away instead of sending them in.

The next council meeting is Dec. 14.  CBJ