• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Concept plan for former auditorium approved

Developers reduce number of apartments, add office space

SOLON– A plan to renovate the former St. Mary Catholic Church auditorium into a mix of commercial and residential uses has been approved by the Solon City Council.
Council members voted 4-0 in favor of a revised concept plan for Solon Lofts and Commons at a special meeting Dec. 14, but included a requirement that developers work with the city’s engineer and building inspector to follow the appropriate building codes for varied commercial uses.
An initial concept plan, presented Nov. 16 by Prairie Equity Group, LLC of Iowa City, was voted down by council members, citing concerns over parking and housing density.
The first plan proposed 16 residential apartments on two levels with lower-level commercial units. The city requires 2.2 parking stalls per living unit, or a total of 36 spaces.
An adjacent, gated parking area, included in the site plan, provides only 24 spaces which would have required a variance.
The revised concept converted the second story to commercial office use, reducing the number of apartments to 10 and the number of parking stalls required to 22.
The revision was originally submitted for consideration at a Dec. 7 council meeting, but with only three council members present, the item was tabled.
Council member Mark Krall was absent from the work session Dec. 14, but City Administrator Cami Rasmussen related his opinion.
“He would like to not rush into approval,” Rasmussen reported. She said Krall supported undergoing a visioning process to set specific development standards for Solon’s downtown.
“There’s some interest to develop some additional criteria for Main Street,” she said.
The city is considering a contract with MSA Professional Services, the firm that helped author the city’s updated comprehensive plan, to assist with the task, she said.
But it would take three to four months to complete the process, she added, and developers have already invested expense in preparing and revising their plan.
“They’ve gone around the circle once,” Rasmussen noted.
When Mayor Steve Stange brought up the issue of compliance with guidelines for density in the comprehensive plan, Rasmussen said City Engineer Dave Schechinger considered the proposal high-density residential, or having more than eight living units per acre.
Bill Wittig, representing Prairie Equity Group, suggested those were standards used for single family districts, not mixed-use commercial zones, which allow apartments but don’t address density.
Typically, Wittig said, cities do not apply the single family densities to mixed use projects. The second story commercial will all be office space, leaving only the third story lofts as residential, he said.
“Just since the last meeting, there’s been an inquiry about second-floor office space,” he said. “We have may have somebody that’s about half the second floor.”
Wittig specified there would be no restaurants in the building, although he indicated there may be a coffee shop in the lower level.
Originally, the developers had expressed an interest in financial assistance from the city, but at the Dec. 7 meeting, Wittig said the request had been significantly pared down.
Prairie Equity Group may apply for any available Tax Increment Finance programs available, he said, but will mainly ask the city to participate in efforts to obtain a workforce housing tax credit.
If Prairie Equity applies for the funds, he said, the city will be asked to join in the application, which would carry a $10,000 fee.
He clarified there would be no low-income housing in the building because of the finishes planned for the lofts and the rents that will be asked.
“I don’t mean to offend people that would be advocating for low-income housing,” Wittig said. “But it just isn’t going to work in this project.”
It might take longer to lease out the building with the second story converted to office space, he said, but only by about six months.
“I’d like to see something done with the building,” council member Mark Prentice at the Dec. 14 meeting. “And I’m not opposed to the concept you have here.”
Prentice still had reservations and wanted to be able to pull back if major changes were made to the plan, but expressed general support.
But he also expressed concerns about financial assistance. “I certainly wouldn’t get your hopes up on any funding from the city,” he said.
“We’re not having high expectations,” Wittig said, adding the group felt comfortable the project would qualify for a workforce housing tax credit.
Council member Lynn Morris thanked the developers for addressing the parking and said she liked the idea of the commercial, but said she was struggling with the overall vision for the downtown.
“I appreciate your effort to try to do something with a building that needs to have something done to it,” she said. “We need to work on our vision, our plan. Where are we? How do we want to move forward?”
Council member Steve Duncan offered his support for the project.
“I like the concept. I always have,” Duncan said.
With no further questions from the council members, Mayor Stange asked for action and Duncan moved to accept the concept plan as revised.