By: Jodelle Greiner, The Brookings Register

The Brookings City Council has approved a rezoning and an initial development plan, with some minor changes, for The Lofts at Park Hill.

The four-story, mixed-use building will bring stores and apartments to Sixth Street at 12th Avenue. The building and its parking lot will cover about half the block, with the building facing Sixth Street and the parking lot extending south toward Fifth Street.

The process started Tuesday with rezoning the lots, which had seven homes and were zoned R-2, Two-Family District.

The applicant has proposed redeveloping the property into a 52,185-square-foot, mixed-use center that will be 48 feet high and have four stories. The ground level will have retail shops with some apartments, and the top three stories will be efficiency and one-bedroom apartments, for a total of 71 units.

A drive-thru for a ground-level business will be located on the east side, with an exit on 12th Avenue. The proposal includes 131 parking spaces, with 18 located under ground.

There will be an underground drainage system, and the building will have a 20-foot setback from Sixth Street and 21-foot setback from 12th Avenue. Fencing and landscaping will provide a buffer for neighbors in the southwest portion of the block.

Supporting housing, businesses

David Jones, James Drew and Rick Ribstein from the Alliance Group came forward. Jones explained the project and that it would help support downtown businesses and other nearby areas. He said the three commercial spaces were being looked at “seriously” by businesses. Jones said South Dakota State University officials had expressed a need for off-campus housing, helping the school compete with other universities.

The project employs local construction companies and local banks, generates property tax revenue and replaces old housing.

“We think it’s a good project,” Jones said.

Concerned neighbors

Joanne Anderson was concerned about how the number of units at The Lofts compared to the number of parking stalls, asking if they would limit the number of people who could live there, especially since cars will have to be off the street, due to snow.

Joann Perso said she loves the idea of upgrading Brookings, but “I think it’s the wrong idea.” She liked the improvements for Sixth Street, “but we need to stay away from Fifth Street” because it leads to Hillcrest Elementary School and the swimming pool.

Councilor Nick Wendell wanted to know if there was a discussion on how the mixed-use facility on Sixth Street would affect Fifth Street. Consultants have looked at the Sixth Street corridor, mostly east of Medary, said Mike Struck, community development director.

When the project originated, it was not intended to take the house on the corner of 12th Avenue and Fifth Street, but developers later felt it was necessary to take the extra land, Struck said.

The intent of the overflow lot at 12th and Fifth was to alleviate parking concerns, which exist all over town, City Manager Jeff Weldon said.

Rezoning split

The vote to approve the rezoning was split 4-3 with Mayor Keith Corbett, Dan Hansen, Mary Kidwiler and Ope Niemeyer for it and Wendell, Patty Bacon and Holly Tilton Byrne against.

The council then turned to the development plan for the building.

Struck said there has been a lot of discussion about what Sixth Street should look like: buildings should have landscaping and parking on the backside. He explained the setbacks and said there was a lot of discussion about the building’s height and how the height of the unit’s ceilings could keep them from feeling cramped.

He said the Planning Commission had approved the plan, but the council could change anything they wanted.

Jones explained how his group had worked with the city on the variances and admitted they had considered leaving the house on Fifth Street as a buffer to the south but got pushback. He suggested they could close the access drive from that proposed parking lot.

Traffic, parking concerns

Corbett said Fifth Street seems to be a recurring question and asked about not turning the corner of 12th Avenue and Fifth Street into a parking lot.

It would give them 1.25 parking spaces per unit instead of 1.5, Jones said.

Kidwiler said she liked the idea of closing the parking lot’s access to Fifth Street but liked having additional parking. She figured the students would walk to class so the traffic won’t be as bad as predicted.

Following an inquiry from Bacon, Drew said there are five units on the main floor on the west side, the other three floors have 22 units each. One unit on each floor is Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

Kidwiler asked if residents will have assigned parking so retail customers could park nearer the businesses and to help with traffic flow.

Drew said they’d talked about assigning tenants a parking space; but distance to the building would have to be weighed, as well. They didn’t want the lot to be too empty, as it might draw other SDSU students to park in the lot and walk to campus. They also considered how people were going to drive through the lots to get out and the use of the 18 underground stalls.

Tilton Byrne said it sounded like there was enough parking without the overflow lot. If the overflow lot was eliminated, could they develop the land later if it was needed?

It was possible, Drew answered, but not having enough parking could mean they’re not able to rent the units or people won’t visit the businesses.

Tom Becker said he has no problem getting in and out of the Sixth Street Center, but this is a different setup because most of the exits are on 12th Avenue and Fifth Street.

“This building will have significant impact on traffic in this area,” Becker said. He suggested having a professional come in and do a traffic study.

Becker pointed out that the drive-thru exit on 12th Avenue is too close to Sixth Street to turn left, so most people will turn right and go south to Fifth, increasing the traffic on that street.

Larry Fjeldos said traffic flow will change as the town changes. Taking out the parking entrance on Fifth Street might lead to people circling around the lots, which could be a “hazard,” he said. He wanted to gate the entrance so only outgoing traffic could use it.

Joanne Anderson said she had traffic safety concerns on Fifth and suggested one-way streets might be the answer.

“That drive-thru looks like an accident waiting to happen,” she said.

Orren Erickson said he was “really, really against anything going on Fifth Street.

“You guys are supposed to do the planning for this city to work good … Do your job,” he told the council.

His wife, Mary Erickson, said she’d like to see three stories, pushed back from the street like the Sixth Street Centre. With less units, they wouldn’t need to take out the house on Fifth Street for the parking.

“With the way Brookings is growing (and) the housing shortage … this is what we’re going to see,” said Kelan Bludorn, who was involved with The Lofts at Main.

They put in an overflow parking lot, which is “gathering crickets.” He wants to leave the house on Fifth Street.

Spencer Harwood asked how snow would be removed: truck it out or pile it in the parking lot?

Jay Larsen had other concerns: traffic flow, drainage and how everything flows, but especially safety.

“Why would we want density on Sixth Street?” he asked, pointing out it’s a main artery and an access route to SDSU.

Perso didn’t want the building to be four stories and wondered if a project like this with all that parking would flood nearby homes.

“We need a lot more addressed on this,” she said and asked the council to think it through properly.

Amendment passes

Niemeyer suggested an amendment with two points: not building the overflow parking lot until necessary and designating the project as a right turn in and right turn out on Sixth Street, meaning traffic would not cross the street either coming or going. He wanted to cut down on parking to get more green space.

Hansen said college students will park in the lot if there are open stalls and walk to campus, but if it’s mostly full, they’ll look elsewhere.

“Whole-heartedly support this,” Bacon said.

The council approved the amendment unanimously.

Unanimous approval

Then the council considered the project itself.

“I am excited about this opportunity,” Bacon said, adding it was discussed at the Affordable Housing Task Force. She admitted four stories was “a little daunting,” but didn’t see it adding to traffic. The plan does include an underground retention pond, but she wants special surfaces in the lots, as well.

The city is “going to have to go higher density in every neighborhood,” Bacon said.

Kidwiler said Sioux Falls is building higher, and SDSU has tall dorms on campus.

“The fact that it’s tall, that’s where we’ve got to go,” she said. “I’m totally in favor of this project.”

“I think this is the right direction to move in,” said Tilton Bryne, adding she’s “excited about the project.”

The council again voted unanimously to approve the project.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at jgreiner@brookingsregister.com.

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