WC resident comments on Collins’ new proposal

Sam Ross, a resident of Hariton Court adjacent to the proposed apartment complex, sent the following email with his comments on the proposed development.  The email was addressed to Jim English, president of the Wards Corner Civic League.

Mr. Collins will be presenting his new plan at the November 20, 2010 Wards Corner Now meeting.

Jim –

For whatever it may be worth the following represents my understanding of the meeting we attended at The Landmark At Talbot Park on October 20.

The presentation was well done, the architect and the developer expressed their problems quite well. It is probable that everyone would acknowledge now is not the best time to be trying to develop housing units for sale. Having held the property for four years or more without significant sales has to be a stretch on whatever corporate resources Mr. Collins has. Additionally, we all would agree that the existing in-place structures show their age and are in need of maintenance and management which would obviously increase their costs beyond reasonable levels.

In terms of aesthetics any change (even paint) would enhance the curb appeal of the older buildings. The renderings presented are far more pleasing and of more neighborhood value than the existing buildings so I do not believe the people’s problems have to do with either property improvement nor construction methodology.  Also the proposed changes to the ambiance of Newport Avenue would certainly be welcome especially as that shown in the provided renderings.

There are various advantages and disadvantages to the proposal that Collins should address as part of his presentation to the public. As I once knew of things the only thing that sells anything is the benefit received from the proposed change. Therefore the advantages to the project should be highlighted to inform inquirers as to what they will receive from the change. This has several key factors within it. People support things in which they feel they have had part ownership as well people support things that have been shown to benefit both parties in the transaction.

For these reasons I suggest Mr. Collins focus more attention on the following areas:

1. Rental versus Owner occupied structures.

As was discussed, there is the probability that as the mortgage market and realty    market change and improve over some period time there is the likelihood that  the         new units may convert, gradually, from rentals to condominiums.  There can be             no absolute guarantee of this nor should there be a    plan issued for this but the             probability is strong that Mr. Collins may, in the median future, want to recoup      portions of his investment through the sale of units as part of a Condo   Development as was originally intended.

If, as is probable the median income is $ 58,000 to $ 60,000 with a disposable        income on average of  $ 17,550 most leasing tenants may well qualify for      mortgages in an amount that would allow for sale of the properties at some future        point. This may well assuage some of the long term concerns of residents.

The upscale nature of the apartments would go a long way to insure tenancy of      longer-term renters and those renters that would care more for the condition of the property negating some of the angst of the single family residents. Nothing will            allay everyone’s fears but to present the issue that there is something to gain             (eventual property owners and better neighbors) should help the process

2. Density and increased Traffic

It would seem one of the predominant issues is the increase in traffic incumbent    upon the development of 376 dwelling units ( 12 existing new + 364 proposed).          This represents an increase of 144 units over the existing 232 apartments. Using            the numbers provided by Collins et al the existing units require .5 parking spaces    per unit while the proposed units require 1.66 per unit. One would assume the requirements are reflective of the probable number of automobiles in each unit.            Clearly then there are currently 116 vehicles existing and 624 proposed. So there      will be a five fold increase in vehicles with the development as presented. Additionally there seems to be (from the drawings) approximately 672 spaces   within the complex providing only 48 spaces for visitors and guests or about .13           spaces per unit. Obviously any overflow would have to be on Newport Avenue             which in many ways is over parked now. I would suggest that Mr. Collins needs    to address this issue directly. The traffic study that was done according to the    presenters indicated little or no change to the traffic which seems contra-indicated             by the numbers above.

If Mr. Collins could negotiate with the Senior Center, Norfolk Health and Wellness Center, Farm Fresh, Kroger’s, and Malcom Van de Water for combined use of a van or Jitney transport to and from these areas as well as a location such        as MacArthur Mall the concerns of some residents could be calmed a bit. It may    even be that several existing residents of single family homes might see this as an    advantage beyond what exists for them today. If such negotiation is not possible it    might be possible to work with HRT for a limited service vehicle to provide the      same service. If, as was said, a significant marketing effort will be undertaken for retired families this provision would have even more merit. In any regard there is benefit to the current residents in any proposed transportation improvement.

On a second issue. The fact sheet provided shows no increase in the number of      residents.  Using their numbers there are 232 apartments occupied by 500-600        residents. Using a mean between the numbers of 550 residents we would see that    232 apartments are occupied by 2.4 people per apartment. Using the same figures the proposal shows that the newly built units would be occupied by 1.46 people           per unit. This is not very rational and perhaps Mr. Collins should be a little more         reasonable in constructing his fact sheet when it comes to the number of people to    be served by the new units.

With 1.75 people per unit making  658 people resident we could easily say that      would yield $ 11,515,000 (658 x $ 17,550) in possible disposable income. Some           percentage of this money will find its way into the economy of Wards Corner.     That having been said whatever reasonable percentage is applied to this should      help in the process of trying to attract some anchor tenant or new construction of           retail space in and around the Granby/Little Creek area.

Coupled with this is the obvious increase to the City of Norfolk of $ 4000,000 or more in property tax revenue.  While not a direct benefit there is some reasonable            expectation that home owners taxes will not need quite as much of an increase in the future.

Finally there is impact on the use and services provided by the Health and Wellness Center. Recently, for financial considerations they reduced the usage of    their facility from 7 days per week to 6. An increase of 658 high median income            families should increase their membership and provide income for future    expansion of services regardless of the Norfolk City budget process. I wouldn’t think it to become totally self-sufficient but there would be less need for City    money if even 20% (131 people) were to join the membership. There may be             plans for an exercise facility in the proposed construction but it would seem           superfluous to add that since a more than adequate facility already exist within        two blocks of the site. Residents would obviously benefit from expanded hours and more programs.

3. Building Scale, Bulk and Mass

As was expressed in the presentation the buildings are, in this iteration, only three stories high. A rendering as if from Hariton Court as to the view of those        buildings would go a long way to reduce feelings of “just more apartments.” The         view now is not as pleasant as it could be if care in rendering a multifaceted           façade (ala Bolling Place) were provided. Perhaps a deeper setback with more trees of size and ornamental plantings would be something that could allay fears         of only seeing walls across the stream.

As was said the change in Newport Avenue is significant and must, in a     reasonable market, positively affect property values for the whole of the    neighborhood. It could be suggested that more discussion with Malcom Van de            Water take place to research the option of his redoing the east side of Newport to either match or complement the west.  It might not be necessary to undertake as     extensive a building plan as Mr. Collins  but rather to address only the area            fronting on Newport.  The maintenance of that area has always been well done             and seems to continue in that way but the buildings are of an age and style that     might be due for a change.

As we semi-discussed the façade fronting Newport could easily reflect subtle        difference from structure to structure. Such things as different roof lines, different     setbacks, different colors, different siding options, etc… This might eliminate a             little of the bulk and “row house” look that exists now.  The buildings are much             nicer than what exists but I would suggest that since they are to be new      construction anyway that as much variance as is possible without soaring           construction costs would enhance them even more.

As a conclusion I would offer that much of the negativity that has existed has come from expecting one thing and then being told something else. Mr. Collins is to be commended for his willingness to listen to the community and make provision for what he hears. No one likes to be forced into things so if these semi-benefits could help in any way he might more easily “sell” his concepts without seeming to force people into something that is based only on his business problem of having the property and not realizing enough income from it.

These are just ideas and concepts that arose during the meeting. If there are any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Sam Ross

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