Streetlights Residential is trying to redevelop the corner of Oak Lawn and Lemmon Avenues where a Shell gas station and a Pizza Hut sits next to the original Eatzi’s. Their first go-around was a blah building that didn’t have a lot going for it.
The second visit saw a much improved Oak Lawn Avenue frontage that reimagines the original Melrose Theater that once sat on the site. It was after that meeting when I spoke to StreetLights that I congratulated them on the new façade but wanted the same care taken with the rest of the 240-foot apartment tower. They said they were working on it. At last night’s third visit, they hadn’t moved a brick since last time – which is disappointing.
To review, StreetLights’ plan is for a 240-foot “T-shaped” tower containing 297 apartments with ground-floor retail space along Oak Lawn Avenue. They’ve visited the Oak Lawn Committee in May and June.
After last month’s meeting I wrote, “In my book, there are four things that still need working out. First, the already-mentioned 7-story garage. Second, the skin of the building above the new façade still needs help. Third, the orientation of the parking lot entry from Eatzi’s needs to be aligned with the road. And fourth, a bit more explanation on traffic flow for deliveries, moving vans, etc.”
The 75-foot tall podium parking garage is untouched. The skin above the façade is unchanged. The parking garage orientation is unchanged, but they did show traffic flow for deliveries – simply adding pathway arrows to existing illustrations. One question came about whether large semi-trucks can make the corner from Oak Lawn Avenue onto the alley entrance to serve Eatzi’s. StreetLights’ answer was they’d have to look into the turn radius. (In one hysterical moment, StreetLights doubted whether that large of a truck was used – then an audience member pointed out you could see the trucks in their own pictures. Oops!)
Both during and after the meeting, OLC members lamented the size of the parking structure and its visual impact on Lemmon Avenue. The person they were lamenting to was new District 14 Council Member David Blewett who’d attended the meeting to get the lay of the land (he’s presenting to the group next month).
Anyway, as you can see above, the yellow square is the back of the building that will be seen coming down Lemmon Avenue towards Oak Lawn Avenue. It’s a flat, unimaginative surface punctuated by a few windows and car holes.
I think the two-thirds above-ground parking and one-third below needs to be flipped. I think the bump-out on Lemmon Avenue needs to be sliced off, freeing up a more generous and less concrete sidewalk. I think what remains of the podium would benefit from a more articulated exterior, perhaps taking a page from the stage doors of the past. Architecture needs to look good from all angles.
What’s annoying is that even though there is OLC membership pushback on the size of the parking podium, it’s never made it into their follow-up letters to StreetLights. Ditto height. Ditto height in this particular location “north” of Oak Lawn Avenue where no building comes close to this height.
It’s funny — when Toll Brothers wanted to build a high-rise in Mansion Park, there was a sub-committee assembled to discuss the project’s encroachment into its surroundings. Here, the OLC has asked for landscape plans, traffic studies, community outreach updates, and affordable housing. Not once have they tackled the larger issues of height and building envelope. It’s a mistake not to have this serious discussion.
And I will say that when StreetLights was asked about their affordable plans, they fluffed the answer. When asked about specific numbers or percentages, they hemmed that they’d meet the city’s requirement and that all projects like this result in a custom plan. Fine. But surely they know roughly what’s up – it’s not one percent nor 20, but certainly, they know the range of other projects and could have certainly given a fuller answer. Instead, they appeared evasive.
During the conversation on community outreach (seeking support from neighbors), the developer was caught out for a second time by people who say they weren’t notified. I call BS. They knocked on doors, posted flyers, met with 20 different neighborhood/HOA groups. It’s not a job taken lightly and their response rates (both positive and negative) reflect that.
And here’s the thing. If you’re a tenant and not the property owner, you don’t get called – no one knows who you are – and when the city sends out zoning case ballots, they’re similarly not sent to tenants. OLC president Hilda Rodriguez asked for a show of hands from those against the project – she didn’t ask who were property owners. She also didn’t hear the murmurs in the audience from those commenting they weren’t within the notification area but didn’t like the project so raised their hands anyway. You can’t take an accurate tally if you don’t know who you’re counting.
And no, I’m not stumping up for the project, my desire is accuracy and validity.
And that was it. One project again this month. All in all, it was a meeting I could have missed given the lack of new information presented. But you know what? Reading the OLC’s letters to the StreetLights, they delivered the weak tea that was asked for.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.