By Paul Thompson
On June 29, 2017, Chuck Cuda’s Opes Commercial Real Estate company received a notice of violation from the City’s Planning and Development department regarding the pole sign located near the northern edge of the formerly vacant property.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, September 26, Cuda appeared before the Board of Zoning Adjustment, ostensibly to appeal the staff recommendation that the “existing pole sign has been deemed abandoned and must be removed.”
Instead, Cuda opened the hearing by asking for a 30-day continuance, as he and Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT) Director Mary Cyr had laid the foundation for a compromise. The proposal would see the pole sign removed and replaced with a smaller monument sign near the edge of the property.
“We want to work with the neighborhood and present something that not only they’re happy with and what they want, but that makes sense for us,” said Cuda. “I think we could bring down a monument sign with enough placards for all of our tenants – maybe a six or seven bay monument sign, and bring it down to six feet tall with some nice landscaping around it.”
While Cyr agreed that the monument sign proposal could be palatable, she acknowledged that the Independence Avenue Overlay District would need to be altered to make it happen. Both the existing pole sign and the proposed monument sign would be in violation of the current overlay district, but Cyr indicated that she would be amenable to altering the language for the sake of Cuda’s compromise proposal.
“It’s what they have on Main Street. They allow monument signs for when buildings are set back from the right-of-way, which we neglected to do,” Cyr said. “So I feel like maybe that is an appropriate use of a monument sign. Currently, the only place where monument signs are approved (within the Independence Avenue overlay district) are around the KCU property.”
Cyr testified before the Board of Zoning Adjustment in favor of the continuance, registering her “friendly opposition” to the quickly-tabled Cuda appeal of the staff recommendation. Cyr stated her hope that neighborhood leaders can come up with a resolution that is development-friendly, while also appeasing those who worked hard to develop the overlay district. She said that her intention is to work with City Planner Ashley Winchell to come up with amended overlay language that would allow Cuda’s proposed monument sign.
“We would like to have a continuance so that we can work with Ashley Winchell, who is one of the staff members who put the zoning overlay together,” Cyr said.
The Board of Zoning Adjustment ultimately agreed to continue the case until December 12, giving Cuda, Cyr and neighborhood leaders more than two months to hammer out a solution. After the hearing, Cuda expressed optimism that the issue can be resolved without affecting Opes’s timeline for moving tenants into the development.
“I think we’ll be able to communicate well enough and work together well enough in order to get this resolved by December,” Cuda said.
Cyr reiterated after the hearing that she wants to see Independence Avenue take a development-friendly approach while simultaneously remaining true to the established overlay district.
“I just want to state for the record that the neighborhood is supportive of the people coming in and developing on Independence Avenue,” Cyr said. “But we also respect the overlay because we put a lot of work into it and a lot of thought into it.”
The anchor tenant of the development is a 10,308 square-foot Family Dollar, which is expected to move in by the end of 2017. Opes Commercial Real Estate will also bring in a nail salon (1,932 sq. ft.) to serve as an initial tenant.
In total, the development will include six distinct businesses. Spaces currently without a signed tenant include one with 1,932 sq. ft. available, another with 6,600 sq. ft., and a third space that’s roughly 7,800 sq. ft. A 3,000 sq. ft. restaurant/ice cream concept has also agreed to move into the development, but the owner still needs to wrap up a franchise agreement before an official announcement can be made.
During a recent meeting with neighborhood leaders, Cuda was told that the community would appreciate seeing a pet store move into the development. After the September 26 hearing, Cuda expressed optimism about a subsequent conversation with a prospective pet store tenant.
“I got some positive feedback from the pet store,” Cuda said. “It’s going to be after the first of the year, but I’m pretty confident that we’re going to be able to secure that tenant.”