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Another dumb project is back again

The long-defunct Saving Center on Watt is a prime example of the County's neglect of our community. They let a building just sit there and decay until some guy walks up to the building counter and asks for favors that will enable the site to be developed for a quick profit - usually for an out-of-area corporation that sees our community as an easy mark. That's good for the developer, but not so much good for the community. Yet when that point is made to the County, the usual clap-back is that "something is better than nothing". OK, we get it. The County doesn't care about our community.  The County panders to whichever developer shows up. And the usual way that is done is to have the project considered by the Community Planning Advisory Committee (CPAC), typically on very short notice. That way the appointees on the CPAC can be dismissive of any public comments and recommend approving the developer's wish list. And, in the event that public concerns cannot be easily dismissed, the developer is allowed to come back and try again later.

If you gleaned from the above paragraph that this is not our first rodeo, you are right. Our Newsroom Elves have been there and seen that over and over again. Tomorrow, they'll have yet another chance, because the Arden Arcade CPAC is meeting at 7:00pm at the Swanston Community Center (2350 Northrup Ave) to hear how wonderful it will be to have a 4-story self-storage facility where the Saving Center is. The details are here.

A zoning map showing various land-use designations like residential, commercial, and business areas.
Should a 4-story self-storage building replace the Saving Center (the red cross-hatched area above)?

Yes, it is the same self-storage facility we wrote about in August 2022. Only this time, the developer has listed the desired favors, without which the project cannot be built as intended (i.e. are essential for making money). Not approving those favors means the poor-old Saving Center will remain as a forever eyesore (because the County has no vision and doesn't really want to listen to the community). What are those favors, those rules that need to be broken to make the developer happy? The County calls them "deviations", which is a synonym for "variances". The developer doesn't want to comply with standards for setbacks (separation from adjacent properties), parking spaces (12 vs the required 43), shade in the parking lot, or a masonry wall to protect the adjacent church on Whitney. Though you might have to comply with those standards, this developer wants to be excused.

The problem is that state law doesn't allow for "variances" to be approved unless there are extraordinary circumstances present at the site that would prevent a property owner from being able to develop the property the same way other property owners get to. Examples include heritage trees, Indian burial grounds, steep slopes, unusual soils and so forth. The Saving Center site on Watt has no such special circumstances. It is a flat, fully-urbanized site with no vegetation (except a few weeds) and a building that has been rotting there for years. The variance section of state land use planning law does not apply at the site. To approve the developer's requested "deviations" would be a clear violation of state law because 1) the parcel has no special circumstances that would authorize a grant of variance from development standards and 2) approval of the requested variances would grant the property owner a special privilege.

That's unlikely to stop the CPAC, though. Over the years the CPAC has routinely approved deviations/variances when no special circumstances existed and has thus routinely granted special privileges to developers. It's how they roll. And they get away with it because their decision process really isn't transparent - meaning hardly anyone knows about them - and there is no enforcement other than the courts, going to which costs beaucoup bucks and usually fails. 

Bottom line: replacing the Saving Center with a 4-story storage building is a dumb idea, especially when rules have to be broken to make it happen. Is there anyone out there in social media land who is willing to get that into the record at the CPAC meeting? If so, we salute you!


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