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Not surprisingly, Highwoods Properties and its minions have launched a pre-emptive strike against the Friends of the Plaza group, which is trying to gather enough signatures to force a referendum on Highwoods’ proposed office building at 47th Street and Broadway.

A mailer that hit the boxes of frequent voters Monday urges people to “Decline to Sign” the petitions being circulated by opponents of the building.

It’s a full-color, very professional-looking piece, measuring six inches by 11 inches. It opens to an 11X12-inch inside page of facts, figures and photos.

Not surprisingly — again — some of the facts, figures and photos are misleading.

Consider:

:: The mailer says the proposed building would be seven stories.

Fact: It would be seven stories, but on top of a three-level parking garage. The height would be 163 feet, approximately as tall as the 12-story Townsend Place condos across Broadway. Each floor of the new building would be significantly taller than the customary 10 or 12 feet.

:: The piece says that “the proposed building conforms to the Plaza Plan.” That’s a reference to the Plaza Urban Design and Development Plan — approved by the City Council in 1989 — which essentially limits commercial development to the west and northwest parts of the Plaza.

Fact: The plan did not conform until a few weeks ago, when the old and new city councils adopted a resolution amending the plan. As for the actual ordinance that would rezone the Neptune site from residential to commercial, it is in abeyance while opponents are gathering signatures. Resolutions are not subject to referendum; ordinances are.

:: A photo of the Neptune Apartments, which would come down if the plan goes forward, and the Townsend Place condos was taken from the north side of the Plaza, from 46th Terrace, which could give the casual observer the impression that the Neptune is west of Broadway.

Fact: The Neptune is east of Broadway, and that is the most significant issue in this debate — office-building encroachment east of Broadway.

Below is the photo in the flier, and below that is the view that the vast majority of people have of the Neptune and Townsend Place as Plaza visitors stand or walk along 47th Street.


So, what we’ve got, already, is a campaign of misrepresentation and duplicity. But what else would you expect?

After all, it’s not J.C. Nichols Co. any more; it’s Highwoods, a commercial office building developer and leaser out of Raleigh, NC.

***

This afternoon, the City Plan Commission heard testimony on a related matter — a proposed “overlay” to the city’s overall zoning ordinance.

Vicki Noteis, a consultant to Friends of the Plaza, said the overlay ordinance, proposed by Councilman Ed Ford as a sop to opponents of the high rise, would put a three-story limit on the core part of the Plaza.

However, she said, two big loopholes would accompany the concession. First, if Highwoods wanted a variance from the three-story limit, it could go straight to the City Council and bypass the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment. Second, 15 percent of the total retail space in the core of the Plaza — about 135,000 square feet — would be exempt from the restriction.

Theoretically, then, Highwoods would be free to build a 135,000 square-foot building, perhaps eight stories or more, wherever it wanted on the Plaza.

Noteis said the Plan Commission did not vote on the proposal but, instead, continued it and instructed the opposing sides to try to come to an agreement on it.

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