After a five hour meeting Monday night, the city’s Landmarks Commission decided to deny further progress on the proposed Steve Brown apartment developments at 121, 123 and 127 West Gilman St.
Steve Brown’s plans for the area include the demolition of the 1960’s Highlander apartment complex, often referred to as “the big ugly,” the demolition of a three-story neglected house at 127 West Gilman and the relocation of the historically significant house at 123 West Gilman.
Dan Seeley, Community Manager for Steve Brown Apartments, said since the last Commission meeting in January, Steve Brown has made changes to their plans, including limiting all three proposed buildings to five stories.
The denial for the development project was based on a regulation standard which mandate developments in the historic Mansion Hill District have a volume that is “visually compatible” with the rest of the area.
The commission decided this standard was not met because the volume of the proposed developments is five times the average volume of the buildings surrounding them.
The commission also referred the decision to allow the demolition of both 121 and 127 West Gilman, based on an ordinance standard that demolition can be granted if a building is no longer economically viable to repair, given that the condition of the building is not the result of neglect by the owner. Additionally under the ordinance, the proposed replacement development must also be of “outstanding quality” to permit demolition.
The commission decided the current condition of the building is the responsibility of the current owner, Steve Brown, and the proposed development is not of sufficient outstanding quality.
Several community members attended the meeting to express their concerns related to the impact the development would have on the neighborhood. Some community members said the house at 127 West Gilman could be restored.
“None of the individuals who have been arguing for its restoration have been inside the building,” Seely said. “We appreciate their opinions, but all the individuals who have been inside the building, including the city inspector, are willing to disagree with individuals who want to restore it,” Seeley said.
Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, said the commission acted appropriately based on the city ordinance. She said not only do each of the buildings not qualify as visually compatible based on their volume, but because they are so close together they would be perceived as one development.
Zellers said she finds the proposal for demolition based on neglect of a building disturbing. Zellers added that she does not agree with the proposal to move the historic house at 123 West Gilman to a new location on Gorham Street.
“It’s got such an amazing history in terms of nationally in terms of fairness and equity in terms of gay and lesbian citizens that I am concerned when we start moving the pieces around the historic district, it disrupts the story to be told,” she said.
Steve Brown developers have the option to appeal the decision to City Council, in which case the council can overrule the decision.
Steve Brown representatives at the meeting indicated they would be considering this option.
“We still think its an outstanding project, we are excited about it,” Seeley said. “We are a huge stakeholder in the neighborhood. We own 20 percent of the Mansion Hill district and the downtown plan, zoning codes, speak specifically to removing these ‘big uglies’ and this is our opportunity to do that and we’re excited about it.”
[Screenshot via Google Maps]