Sunday, August 14, 2011

From 1996: Developer Sues Commission Over Zoning Plan

The following article is from exactly 15 years ago today, published on August 14, 1996. It was written by Bill Daley.
The article refers to the first of several lawsuits over Russo's high-density housing developments. Russo would eventually go on to build Woodgate Estates Condominium on Washington Street. He then submitted 4 successive plans to develop 200, 200, 180, and then 156 units on George Street. Each one was rejected by the Planning and Zoning Commission. He sued to overturn the decision, and in the courts won approval to build. Many of those units have been built. George Street connects with Washington Street just uphill from the Home Depot, the new apartments are behind the Sagamore Apartment complex.
The photo, from Google Earth, shows the apartment complexes on September 11, 2010

Developer Glen Russo is challenging in Superior Court the planning and zoning commission's decision to alter lot specifications in multi-family zones.

Russo is president of Randback Inc., a company that owns 23 acres at 207 George St. in an area zoned for multifamily use. He wants to build Woodgate Estates there, a 71- lot subdivision of single-family homes.
The commission's July decision to alter the zoning regulations regarding lot size, coverage and frontage requirements within this zone means only half as many lots would be permitted now, Russo said.

"They changed the rules unfairly," he said Tuesday. "You buy a property under a set of rules and the city changes the rules. It's unfair."

The lawsuit claims the change greatly depreciates the value of the propery and increases the cost of a building lot to such a degree it would prohibit moderate- and low- income families from purchasing a lot. Commission members acted illegally, the lawsuit alleges, because there was not a proper zoning- based reason to make the change.

Russo's plan for Woodgate Estates was rejected by the planning and zoning commission in January 1995 after commissioners claimed the site plan was rife with flaws. The decision was applauded by about 30 neighbors who turned out against the subdivision plan.

Since then, Russo said he's been working on retooling the subidivision plan to meet the city's wishes, especially regarding the access road.

This new plan was 90 percent complete, he said, and now the "city has knocked the goal post back."

City Planner William Warner said the zone change was not aimed at Russo's property but at the half- dozen multifamily zones around the city.

Commission members, he said, don't want more high-density single-family developments. Warner said the commission is concerned about the costs associated with single-family housing, such as educational expenses and demands on city services which outweigh property tax yields.

Warner said the change stemmed from the commission's earlier decision to raise the minimum size of residential lots in the R-1 zone from 5,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet. Members asked to look at other zones which allowed small lots, and that meant the multifamily zone.

Even with the change, Warner said the minimum lot size in a multifamily zone is one-third of an acre, the smallest lot size allowed anywhere. Warner dismissed claims the zone change was exclusionary of low- and moderate-income homeowners. "The city has done more than its fair share in providing all types of housing," he said.

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