I wanted to like it. I really did. Even I, who finds much of Riverside’s new residential construction distasteful, absolutely agree that the vacant Henninger site is in sore need of redevelopment.
But not this way. The developers’ scheme was so out of synch with Riverside’s new Central Business District zoning that it would have required five variances, nearly all of them substantial.
What a building it would have been: Four stories tall instead of three, offering 20 units instead of the permitted 18, shaving 5 feet off the required 10-foot setback, providing 30 parking spaces instead of the required 43 and narrowing the underground parking ramp by 7 feet, making it too narrow for two-way traffic.
One would have to ask: Why did the village bother to revise the Central Business District zoning if it will essentially roll over for every developer who comes along?
If the village board had followed the lead of the Zoning Board of Appeals and essentially offered carte blanche to the developers, Harry Liesenfelt and Nick Mlade, the team might have been immersed in working drawings by now. Instead, one hopes they have either sent his team back to the drawing board or sent them packing in favor of partners who are more sensitive to the unique ethos of doing business in Riverside.
And let’s be honest, that can be a tall order. The stereotypical slick developer who carpetbags his way in, slaps up the biggest building he can and stops only to pocket his buck before heading out of town is not going to be welcomed here. At least not in the Central Business District, although I would argue that the village has done too much to make residential developers welcome, based on the varied quality of spec homes mushrooming up around town.
However, in voting down the Henninger project, this village board has shown that they will not be seduced by developers’ vague promises and that they will consider the greater good of Riverside when considering proposals for the central business district. And that’s good news for constituents.
Careful observers would note that the trustees seemed as annoyed by the developers’ coyness and way of sidestepping direct questions as they were wary of the project’s specifics.
For example, Trustee Kevin Smith dealt with the developers’ protests of economic hardship unless the building was allowed to have 20 units instead of 18 by pointing out that the site is not a single lot with an inherent defect that the village should ameliorate. Rather, it is a parcel of lots that was assembled, so the onus is on the developers to find a use for the land that complies with the zoning, not the other way around.
Smith and other trustees were visibly irked by the potential building as having a Longcommon Road address, despite its vast frontage?”and main entrance?”on Burlington. The developers repeatedly insisted that the project’s address was provided by a village staffer, seemingly oblivious to the rising tide of irritation this inflexibility caused among the trustees.
The address was not the largest issue on the table, but it exemplifies the trustees’ apparent view that potential developers need to meet the village halfway when it comes to hashing out project details. A more acquiescent demeanor on the part of the developers wouldn’t have changed the trustees’ votes because the proposed building was simply too large for its site.
However, the outcome might have been closer had the developers answered questions with detail?”actual numbers, not vague platitudes?”and a forthrightness that made it clear they viewed the village board as part of their team, not just an obstacle.
According to Trustee John Scully, there had been no real exchange between the two sides during the months since the design was first presented. He indicated that he would have been more favorably disposed to the project had the developers ever “checked in” with staff or tried to gauge whether they were on the right track instead of showing up with finished presentation drawings and pronouncements of “we need this, that and the other thing.”
Any wannabe developers in Riverside should take the hint: Be open, be transparent and?”most of all?”be willing to engage with the village as a partner.