Planning Commission dings parking ramp proposal
The city of Rochester's Planning and Zoning Commission held no punches in its bruising of a city-proposed building project as the commission recommended denial of the city's applications for a six-level downtown parking structure.
The proposed project, a mixed-use parking facility at East Center Street and First Avenue Southeast, planned several integrated features with the neighboring development, Broadway at Center. The structure included private parking for the Broadway at Center hotel, skyway level connections and commercial space for Broadway at Center.
The structure would provide more than 540 public parking spaces in addition to 90 private spaces for the Broadway at Center project. It also proposed to build a covered archway over the train track that runs parallel to First Avenue Southeast.
The city of Rochester is the owner of the project. It was designed with consultant Collaborative Design Group of Minneapolis.
In comments during a plan review Wednesday evening, city planning commission members said the parking facility failed to meet standards described in the Destination Medical Center Development Plan and the city's own Downtown Master Plan.
"It's not enough," commission member Wade Goodenberger said. "When we look at the DMC plan, the Downtown Master Plan, even though they're not adopted design standards, they all suggest we need to go further than this, especially for a project being put forward by the city."
Bill Hickey, Collaborative Design Group principal, said the designers had worked with the city to try and meet the design standards laid out in the DMC plan, the Downtown Master Plan and the city's other guiding documents.
The planning commission responded with dings to the plan's streetscape design for failure to create an active street-level experience for pedestrians, its failure to meet interior site design standards and its height — the DMC plan calls for parking structures to be limited to four levels.
The city parking facility was planned at six levels above ground, with the possibility of private development on top of the structure that could add another ten levels for about 100 multifamily housing units.
"With as much money as the city has spent on all of these development plans and design standards and everything, to put this forward as a project that supposedly meets those is a huge stretch," Goodenberger said.
Planning commission chairman Michael Walters held similar concerns. The city ramp would dedicate some ground-level space to loading docks and a service alley along First Street Southeast for use by the neighboring development, creating lanes that might be difficult for pedestrians to cross, he said.
"We are dedicating an enormous amount of street space to give loading bays to someone else's property," Walters said.
Goodenberger put forward three motions to recommend denial of the city's incentive development plan conditional use permit. Together, the motions recommended denial of the parking ramp, the possibility of multifamily housing above the ramp and a parking facility as a use at the site per the city's Downtown Parking Overlay District.
Each of the three motions were approved by the commission by 5-3 votes: commissioners Goodenberger, Walters, Paul Sims, Regina Seabrook and Brittany Wilson were in favor. Commissioners Kraig Durst, Thomas Hill and Steve Sherwood were opposed to the motions. Commissioner Lindsey Meek abstained from voting on the three actions.
The city's applications for incentive development will move on to a Rochester City Council review and could still be approved by that body, though the council would do so against the recommendation from the planning commission, which is an advisory body.
"If the city can't meet kind of the baseline it set for itself for parking ramp design, maybe this isn't the location for a parking ramp," Goodenberger said. "Maybe they should look elsewhere and look for a different type of development on this site."