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County refuses approval

Amanda Gray | Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Dec. 21 public hearing of the St. Joseph County Area Plan Commission (APC) did not approve final site plans of nearby development Legacy Square, leaving some students wondering if they will have off-campus housing plans for the 2011-12 school year.

Legacy Square is a development to be located at the corner of Notre Dame Avenue and Sorin Street. The development has been in the planning phases since 2007, where the plot of land was rezoned from Single Family (SF2) zoning to Planned Unit Development (PUD) for more freedom and creativity of development not falling under the SF2 zoning.

The final plans were sent to a public hearing, where the APC voted against giving the plans approval, halting construction and causing concern for students who had signed leases at the development. The final site plans, according to the APC, do not fit the original intention and use of PUD zoning.

According to its website, the APC is a group of 15 members appointed to oversee the planning, zoning and subdivision of land within the county.

Junior Allie Hamman said she began looking at Legacy Square early on in the fall semester. She said students who had signed pre-lease agreements were sent e-mails from developer Robert Cimala just after Jan. 1.

In the e-mail, Cimala said he is working on changes to get the plan approved, and the development built, Hamman said.

“I’ll probably live there, if it’s still feasible,” she said. “It’s a nice location. There are a lot of if’s — like if it’s built on time.”

Hamman said she was initially attracted to the project because of the new buildings and furnishings.

“There are no issues with previous tenants to deal with,” she said. “It’s also not like living in an apartment building or house. You have your own space.”

Cimala was present at the APC hearing along with his lawyer and several people in his defense. Speaking against the development was Northeast Neighborhood Reviltalization Organization (NNRO) attorney Dick Nesbaum, NNRO President Tim Sexton and Northeast Neighborhood Council (NENC) President Bill Stenz. Sexton is also the University’s associate vice president for state and local public affairs.

The site plans did not have to go to the public hearing, council member Karl King said. The executive director of the APC, who normally approves or denies site plans, decided to send the plans to the public hearing because there were such strong feelings within the community on either side of the issue.

The APC, after hearing from both sides of the debate, voted unanimously against secondary approval, with King abstaining from the vote because of conflicting interests.

“This plan is not creative or innovative,” Nesbaum said. “It is more of the same. This is a negative impact on the neighborhood.”

Nesbaum said the APC’s job at the meeting was to look for consistency in the plans from their original proposal to the final site plans.

“The fact of the matter is they aren’t even close,” he said.

If the project isn’t completed by next year, Hamman said she’s unsure if she will live off campus.

“I’m torn. I’ll probably just stay on campus,” she said. “It’s just easier. It’s so hard to find a new place, especially this late in the year. I’ll have to talk to the other girls I’m living with to see what we want to do.”

James A. Masters, the attorney representing Legacy Square, said the plans accomplish the intent of the PUD ordinance.

“To our knowledge, there are no requirements left to fulfill [to receive approval]. All that is required is the commission’s approval of the final site plan,” Masters said.