Mercy project clears zoning approval

The redevelopment of the former Mercy Hospital site cleared a major hurdle on Wednesday night when the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals approved a compromise that allows for an urban feel for the project and room for potential future widening of Arsenal Street.

The city and COR Development Co. unanimously agreed on a compromise for a 10-foot front yard setback for the two commercial buildings along Arsenal Street and two apartment buildings on Stone Street, plus a 10.5-foot setback for another residential building on South Massey Street.

The city’s zoning requires for a 20-foot setback.

Zoning board members expressed satisfaction with the agreement.

“The applicant has compromised as much as possible to make it more reasonable,” board member Patricia Phillips said before voting.

The Fayetteville developer is proposing 108 apartments in three, three-story buildings each containing 36 units along Stone and South Massey streets and about 29,000 square feet of commercial space in a pair of two-story buildings along Arsenal Street.

Plans call for the buildings to front on Arsenal, Stone and South Massey streets and all of the parking will be in the interior of the site, mostly screened from street view. A community center will be built fronting on Sherman Street, with the center made available for St. Patrick’s Church functions.

To make the variance work, COR eliminated about 1,000 square feet of space for the two Arsenal Street commercial buildings and reconfigured the project’s parking lot.

The developers want to create “an urban feel” with the buildings built at the beginning of the sidewalk along the three streets. A margin containing grass would then be created from each of the sidewalks to the streets.

The city asked for the setback change in case the state Department of Transportation decides in the future to widen the 200 block of Arsenal Street, City Planner Jeffrey “JP” Polkowski said.

During the meeting, Catherine K. Johnson, a legal counsel for COR, told board members that the developer plans to construct the two Stone Street apartment buildings first and may delay the South Massey Street building until “it gets it leased up,” Ms. Johnson said.

Now that the zoning board gave its final approval, COR is expected to go before the city’s Planning Board on Aug. 2 to further discuss the project’s site plan.

“We’ll keep at it,” Ms. Johnson said.

The developers met the Planning Board in June when the developers learned they were going to be required to complete a traffic study. Much of the discussion is likely to focus on the results of the traffic study.

Zoning board members learned on Wednesday that the traffic study determined the project would not have a significant impact on traffic in the neighborhood.

City Engineer Justin L. Wood said on Wednesday that his office just received the report on Monday and has not had time to analyze it yet, so he had no comment.

Construction is slated to start by the end of the summer at the Mercy site. Before work begins, the City Council is expected to give final approval for the site plans on Aug. 15.

By Craig Fox, Watertown Daily Times