John Mayberry doesn't mind if a Walgreens pharmacy is built in his Point Breeze neighborhood. There had been a gas station on the proposed building site of South Braddock and Penn avenues for years, and he and other neighbors have had no problem with the commercial-residential mix of the block.
But when the plans by the Paradise Development Group called for leveling three 100-year-old homes to build the store at least partially on zoned residential land, the neighbors planned to oppose the zoning change needed to do so. When they found out they'd never get the chance, they really got steamed.
"We opposed their original plan and they knew that because we made our complaints to the zoning board and the planning commission," says Mayberry, author of parkplaceblog.com. "They were going to work out a compromise and came to the next public hearing with a slightly altered plan, one that didn't require a zoning variance."
The altered plan, which Mayberry says goes against the spirit and intent of the original zoning ordinance, places the building completely on commercially zoned land. But now the three house sites will be used as a driveway that contains an entrance to the store and two lanes leading to the drive-thru window, which remains on the commercial side of the property. According to the developer's plan, the driveway, with its entrances in a residential neighborhood, will also be the main conduit for delivery trucks to reach the loading dock.
Because a driveway is a permitted use for residential land, says Bob Reppe of the city's planning office, a variance is not required. Reppe also said there is precedence for Paradise's plan and everything the company is doing is legal.
Brandon Miles and Dale Greco of Paradise Development say the company has worked very hard to alleviate the concerns of the residents by completely containing the business on commercial land, even in the original plan, and by reducing the number of parking spaces from 44 to 34 in the new plan. The only thing that will be on the residential property is a paved driveway, a sidewalk, an eight-foot cedar fence and a "rather large" landscape buffer to shield the residential area from the commercial area, Miles says. There will not be a main store entrance on the residential lot, he points out.
Miles disputes another point of Mayberry's description, saying the store's drive-thru lanes are accessible from the paved driveway on the residential side, but the lanes themselves will be completely on the commercial property.
And the special exception, Miles says, has nothing to do with the residential property. Any developer must get a special exception for a drive-thru window on commercial property.
As long as the driveway is a permitted use that meets all requirements of the zoning code, says city planning's Reppe, the city is obligated to issue the exception. There will be a hearing on the matter, but to block the exception, according to Reppe, opponents must show the driveway is not a permitted use. Simply not desiring the driveway is not legal grounds for objection.
That, says Mayberry, is not right. Under both the new plan and the old, homes that had been a buffer between the commercial and residential areas of this block will be torn down. Their former owners had chosen to live next to a commercial district, Mayberry says. But the rest of the neighborhood is losing that buffer zone.
"If they [Paradise Development Group] are successful," says Mayberry, "this block would go from a residential block with a commercial edge, to a commercial block with a residential edge. It would start tipping the neighborhood in the direction of future commercial encroachment."