The North Park Planning Committee has lost track of how often apartment developers apparently realize they’ve built condos at the end of construction and come to ask for a map that divides the apartment building lot into unit-by-unit pieces.
But they’ve voted no every time, hoping to send a message to the planning commission that the developers are cheating.
“North Park has been consistently voting down these tentative maps to send a message, and it hasn’t been heard,” planning committee chairman Rene Vidales said last week. “These developers are deliberately doing this to avoid community input.”
Maggie Roland, who guides developers through the approval and permit process, said it’s true that developers use the last-minute change to condos to get through the development permit process quickly.
“The process to get permits for a condo project slows down so drastically, no one does it,” she said. “People stopped presenting to the planning groups because [they think], Why should we do all this work when they’re going to vote no?”
The planning group is trying to figure out how to get the message through to the city planning commission — and found a way when past group member Vicki Granowitz spoke at the last planning commission meeting about the issue.
Roland said the unintended outcome of the “no” votes is that the planning group demonstrates that they are against condo ownership: because those no votes could block the change from apartments to condos, she said that the nays make it appear that the planning group opposes condos and the chance for people to graduate from renters to owners, who are usually more involved with community organizations and efforts. Thus, she said, the planning group loses its chance to be heard on the project.
“Those ‘no’ votes don’t serve the community,” she said. "It looks like [the votes] are against condo ownership."
With condo buildings, the developers are required to present their plan to the group’s subcommittee, take their input, and consider adjusting the design, then return and present it to the whole group. Often they are asked to return with a revised plan. While the planning groups’ input is advisory rather than an order, the developer can choose to ignore it. But they have to show that they took it to the planning group, whatever the outcome.
Doing that can easily add six months to the permit process, Roland said. But if the developers say they’re building apartments, their approval process is ministerial, and they don’t have to get community-group input…until they declare the project to be condos, and then the only thing that goes to the planning groups is the tentative map that divides the lot into individual units.
“We’re not allowed to talk about anything but the map,” said group member Dionne Carlson.
Vidales said there are apartment-to-condo developers who come to the planning group to present their plans.
“There are some that want to be a good neighbor and they present to us and ask for feedback, which they often incorporate into the plan,” he said.