Down-Zoning Of R-5 To B-1 A Welcome Development


As readers of this blog know, we view adding more multi-family residential (a/k/a condominiums and townhouses) structures to the Park Ridge landscape along the lines of trying to put 10 lbs of spuds in a 5 lb bag.

For one thing, residential density exponentially increases the demand on our antiquated and overburdened sewer system and other infrastructure. For another, Park Ridge’s identity is substantially tied to its single-family residential character. And if you need a third reason, residential property in Crook County is taxed at a lower rate than retail/commercial.

So we were not unhappy to read in yesterday’s on-line Park Ridge Herald-Advocate that owners of 111 S. Washington Avenue are seeking to down-zone that property from its current R-5, high-density multi-family status back to the B-1 retail and office status it held prior to 2007, when it was rezoned in anticipation of its acquisition and inclusion in a 168-unit condominium complex on what had come to be known as the Executive Office Plaza (“EOP”) site.

That rezoning was the subject of heated debate before both the Planning & Zoning Commission and the City Council, not only because of the change to R-5 but also because the developer – Norwood Builders – asked for and got an additional 8-unit variance over what the site could hold, even at the R-5 level. Those extra units could have put an estimated $600,000 of extra profit in the developer’s pocket without any commensurate benefits to the City treasury.

The tactic the developer used to get this extra bump was promising to make 50 of those 168 units as “senior housing,” although they would require only 1 “senior” (55 years old or older) resident per unit and allow an unlimited number of non-senior residents. Just that promise alone was enough to bring out some support among a particular “senior” faction that seems to embrace anything “for the seniors” in much the same simplistic way that another particular faction embraces anything “for the kids.”

Several years ago a citizen task force rewrote the City’s zoning code. Whether a reflection on the final work product or on the subsequent economic times, however, that re-write does not seem to have made the process that much clearer, or reduced the number of variances being sought.

For the past 10+ years, multi-family residential has been the low-hanging fruit throughout suburbia, with Park Ridge no exception. Meanwhile, retail has lagged – despite some ambitious projects like Uptown Redevelopment, which originally was discussed as retail-centric but almost immediately morphed into the TIF-financed, multi-family residential project that has saddled the City with tens of millions of dollars in bonded debt while sucking around $6 million out of the City’s General Fund to pay the debt service costs.

That’s one big reason why we welcome the idea of a Mariano’s and/or Whole Foods locating in areas that otherwise might prove alluring to yet more multi-family residential developers. Hopefully, the current City administration won’t impede those two retailers the way then-mayor Ron Wietecha and clueless then-city manager Tim Schuenke seemingly did to Walter E. Smithe, which back in 2001-02 was reportedly looking to acquire what was then the “reservoir block” from the City for its triumphal return to Park Ridge after leaving several years earlier when it could not negotiate a satisfactory deal for more space at 25 South Northwest Hwy.

In tough economic times with increasing drains on local government treasuries, there is a strong temptation for those local governmental bodies to embrace anything that provides an opportunity for additional tax revenue. Too often the Sirens’ song of multi-family residential proves irresistible to our public officials. And too often, like those hapless boats in Greek mythology whose sailors fell under that spell, we end up on the rocks with residential projects that don’t provide a net-gain to the community as a whole.

Like, perhaps, Brickton Place? Or The Residences of Uptown?

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