In January of this year, we reported about the fate of the building at 883 South Barksdale. This month, we update you with some answers to some questions we’ve been getting, and the latest on what’s happening with this property.
The original building was built in 1933 and housed the 8 til Late grocery store in the 1980s and Baker Brothers Grocery many years before. In our January issue we described how current developer Ahmed Saffarini had a plan to build four 1,500-square-foot condominium units on the property, and was preparing to demolish all but the exterior walls of the structure in order to begin work. The property was still owned at the time by Hamde Suleiman, and permits filed indicated Saffarini’s plans called for roughly $80,000 to renovate.
Saffarini noted in a 2013 meeting with the CYCA executive director and the CYCA board building committee chair that he was excited to do a development in Cooper-Young and intended to solicit feedback from the neighborhood on his plans, and would meet again with the CYCA after the internal demolition was complete.
What’s been happening since?
Nearly the entire structure has been demolished, leaving only the slab and the long front wall facing Barksdale. After demolition, work began in earnest on the interior of the four-unit plan and has continued until recently. Residents have noted that there have been stop work orders placed on the property, and in fact there have been. Two separate stop work orders were placed regarding the interior construction (despite which, work has continued on the interior of the building) and on electrical, mechanical and plumbing, and according to the Shelby County Building department a third stop work order was placed on construction pending an application to the Office of Planning and Development for a variance on the property.
Permitting has been somewhat unusual in that Mr. Saffarini filed for applications on the property listing himself as owner, despite that fact the aforementioned Mr. Suleiman still owns the property and there may be litigation ongoing between the two men (Mr. Saffarini mentioned this in a prior meeting with representatives from the CYCA). Three additional permits were issued despite citing a non-conforming building, without a site plan or renderings that allowed for the work to be done to repair the building, landscape the property and fix the parking lot so the building would be habitable.
Is building condos on the site permissible?
Possibly, yes. The CYCA board feels that the changes being requested should have been made through a Planned Use Development application or even a rezoning application as this property is not designated for multi-unit condominium, but rather for a single-family dwelling. In a letter from the CYCA board to the Office of Planning and Development, the board highlighted numerous concerns as follows:
1. Mr. Saffarini’s application for variance does not state what variations are being requested and does not document hardship or practical difficulty as required for approval by the Board of Adjustment.
2. Mr. Saffarini seems to be operating under the assumption that since the property has had a convenience store sitting on it for many years, it is grandfathered for the planned development in some way.
3. Per Section 8.4.3.B, with “removal of more than 25% of existing walls facing a public street … or removal of more than 50% of all the existing exterior walls” the property would be subject to the standards of the Midtown District Overlay in addition to Unified Development Code.
4. There are concerns with the setbacks on the property as well since there is a use variance request, not a re-zoning request. These do not appear to conform to setbacks for the R-6 district, which would require the property to be setback more than it is in its current state.
5. The site plan does not specify what streetscape/landscaping plate is being utilized.
6. The site plan does not show where residents will place their garbage as required by code.
7. Plans for parking on the property, according to Mr. Saffarini include six spaces, all fronting Nelson to the North, which meets requirements; however, the space closest to Barksdale would appear to be nearly unapproachable by car because of the existing curb and light post on the corner, and the parking lot proposed on the site does not meet the code requirement (specifically, section 4.5.2.C.2.d, which states: “All off-street parking shall be arranged so that no vehicle is forced onto any public street to gain access from one parking aisle to another parking aisle. All off-street parking facilities shall be arranged so that no vehicle is forced to back onto any public street.”).
What about the proposed design of the condominiums?
The design was adjusted slightly, after Mr. Saffarini received feedback from the CYCA, but does not appear to have satisfied many residents’ concerns about the suitability of the architecture to the surrounding neighborhood. When presented with the designs via email, Facebook, the CYCA website, and at area block parties, most were unanimous that the style is lacking in cues taken from surrounding homes and buildings and resembles modern suburban development rather than urban.
Mr. Saffarini visited the CYCA board offices on Tuesday, May 20, and requested assistance with residents’ concerns around the design. The board noted it could not make determinations about the design, only represent the residents’ desires, and that some members had already offered advice in this regard. The board also commented on its concerns around proper process, but Mr. Saffarini did not feel there were any issues in that regard.
What’s the most recent status?
Most recently, the Office of Planning and Development recommended rejection of the application for variance to build condominiums on the property.
An ambitious plan that strives to make good on a corner of the neighborhood where in recent years, only an ugly, empty shell and concerns about crime have existed is certainly welcomed by residents. If you wish to offer your opinion regarding the current plan, you may attend the hearing at the Board of Adjustments this Wednesday, May 28 at the City Council offices downtown at 125 North Main St. The forum is open to anyone who wishes to attend and/or provide comments.
– By Patrick Miller/Cooper-Young Community Association