Cookie-cutter. A product.
These are some of the phrases used by members of the public–which included two Town Council members–when Pulte Homes presented their updates to an 18-unit townhouse project on Maple Avenue Monday night.
Despite reservations, and a "no" vote from a member of the Planning Board, the board conditionally approved Pulte Homes to be named the new developer for the already-approved Maple Aveune Townhouse Project on Dec. 12. The project now has to go before Town Council–which serves as the town's redevelopment entity–to either be fully approved or to recommend changes. If the council were to request changes, the project would again return to the Planning Board.
Part of the Epstein's Project site–which includes the DeHart Street parking garage and 40 Park luxury condo development–the former parking lot across from the 14 Maple Ave. building (home of the and , among others) was approved to be developed into the townhouses in 2008.
However, as Steve Santola, with Woodmont Properties (part of the firm that controls the Epstein's redevelopment project) noted early in the over-three-hour hearing on Dec. 12, "We were not planning to move on this until at least 2013."
James Mullen, the attorney representing Pulte Homes, said his client was ready to break ground immediately upon approval.
While the project has already been approved for three years, Pulte is seeking a number of changes to the existing project, including facade changes and reductions to the size of townhouses.
Mullen said homes that had previously been approved at 3,000 sq. ft. would now be about 2,500 sq. ft., with one narrow home in the second of four unit blocks stretching from Maple to Macculloch Avenue being about 1,800 sq. ft. This reduction would represent a 12 percent building area reduction, as well as a 14 percent impervious surface reduction, he said. A center green space would be increased from 70 to 90 feet. A wall separating the townhouses from bordering DeHart Street would be reduced from 300 feet wide to 150 feet, and from nine feet tall to five-and-a-half feet. Lofts that had previously been approved in the fourth floor living space have been eliminated.
The main concern among Planning Board members and residents that emerged from the meeting were the aesthetic changes made to the project, specifically fronting historic Macculloch Avenue.
Planning Board member Joe Stanley said the revised plans had a look of a "slap up a building" mentality.
"What had been approved (in 2008) ... there was a lot of thought, a lot of effort to make it distinctive," he said. "[The revised plans are] a giant step backward. I don't like it. It's not in character."
William Mikesell, the board planner, however defended the altered plans saying the townhouses on Macculloch Avenue–with ground level doors–looked more like an apartment building to him, while the revised plans seemed to give each townhouse a clear identity.
However, what seemed to be a change to aesthetic, including a more streamlined roof among the four Macculloch Avenue units had several audience members upset.
"When we talk about this as product, it's hard for us who live here to hear our homes referred to as 'product,'" said councilwoman Rebecca Feldman, who spoke from the audience. She noted the new plans looked more like a "product," however, "like a slice of bread.
"Think about what they mean three-dimensionally," Feldman said. "Something has been lost in this change."
Councilwoman Alison Deeb, whose Fourth Ward the project is located in, said she felt more attention should be focused on the Macculloch Avenue side of the project, not on Maple Avenue.
"The Macculloch side is the important side for me; it's one of the premier places in town," she said. "Maple is more the central business district. Otherwise, I'm elated to see something move on this. It's been a black hole for at least four years."
Mayor Tim Dougherty, who sits on the Planning Board, noted the board was not in the position to turn down the revisions. "They meet the requirements," he said. "They're buying an approved project."
Despite reservations from some members, the conditional approval was granted, with Joe Kane the only member voting against it, noting he had also voted against the original plan in 2008.
"This is the third site plan approved for Pulte," he said. "We have a big empty lot sitting behind the courthouse and we haven't seen anything."
It now will be brought before the Town Council at a special redevelopment meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, at .
"We think it really does keep in character with this area," said Mullen, the attorney for Pulte. "We're excited to get started right away. We're ready to move and make this happen."