Front Row: Greenville Design Review Board, January meeting

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While not quite a full house attended, the first Design Review Board meeting of the new year offered several interesting items on the agenda.

First up was the Design Review Board Neighborhood Panel. As usual, several items involved single-family home remodels. While important to the individual homeowners and contractors, they don’t really hold mass appeal so I won’t bore anyone with those details.

However, a couple of applications heard during the informal review are worth mentioning.

 

Multifamily development of three units at 420 Grove Road

 

This application was part of the informal review section of the agenda. Informal reviews are just that – no vote is required; applicants can bring their project (in some cases, it’s a requirement) before the DRB for feedback before formally filing or going before another board.

On this project, city staff said that the parking proposed for the three units is inadequate and the colors are too bright. The DRB added that the windows on the side and front façade should be revised along with the “porch-type element on the front.” Overall the project needs to fit more into the single-family neighborhood, the board said. The applicant was not present at the meeting, and the board agreed with city staff that the design needs more work before a formal vote is taken.

 

Multifamily development of 61 units at Wade Hampton Boulevard and Brookside Circle

 

This application is for a new three-story townhouse development called Highview Towers. Each unit has a brick option and a two-car garage with additional parking for guests. Sidewalks will be throughout the development. Ryan Homes would be the builder, and the applicant said that the townhomes would be similar to a project at Verdae. DRB members said they would endorse as long as the applicant provides unified materials in the project.

After a short recess, the Design Review Board Urban Panel took their seats to review two items on the regular agenda and two additional items to review informally.

 

Renovate exterior of Keys Building at 307 E. McBee Ave.

 

This application is to renovate the former Keys Printing Building (next to the American Roadside Burger restaurant), which has been vacant for more than seven years. Both the building that butts up to Church Street and the adjacent printer building are in desperate need of a facelift.

City staff said parking will need to be brought into compliance as much as possible and paint colors for the remodel must be approved via a paint board sample (a new city requirement by the city for all projects). A landscape buffer must also be added between parking and the sidewalk.

Doug Harper, president of Harper Corporation, told the panel that he and his business partner, Steve Navarro, bought the building and want to “bring it back to life.” Harper said the building may look like an eyesore now, but it’s a hidden gem on the inside with great character.

Two residents from the nearby Davenport condos on McBee Avenue spoke in favor of the application, saying that the renovation is much needed. One gentleman said he was a little concerned about the railings along Church Street that are coming apart from the building. Harper said they will look at them and see what can be done. The DRB agreed that the renovations are needed and approved the application.

 

Proposed billboard atop the Keys Building on McBee Avenue.
Proposed billboard atop the Keys Building on McBee Avenue.

 

Replace an existing billboard with digital on the building at 307 E. McBee Ave.

 

Same project as above, just a separate application for changing out the existing billboard that sits atop the Keys Building and replacing it with a digital billboard. City staff said City Council has already approved a preliminary agreement to allow the digital billboard, and the application is for a recommendation from the DRB on which of two billboard designs is best.

Billboards of any kind are usually controversial within the city, and digital billboards especially are met with resistance. This one was no different. Since the final decision on the billboard’s future is up to City Council, DRB members refrained from providing input on the sign itself.

Michael Kerski, planning and development manager for the city of Greenville, said anyone who wants to object to the digital billboard should go before City Council at the second hearing on the matter. No date has been set; just check the agenda that is posted each week, he said.

Harper said the overall billboard size would be reduced by about 37 percent with the installation of the new digital billboard. The billboard was grandfathered and provides a financial package that makes it work to renovate the building, he said. The digital billboard will be state-of-the-art and can be programmed to dim and turn off at night. As part of an agreement with the city, it would also display community service announcements such as Amber Alerts, festivals and storm warnings.

Hal Stevenson, an urban sign specialist and Sign Crafters vendor, also spoke and said the billboard is similar to one in Columbia that was a great improvement to the area.

During public comment, Wade Kent, who represented the Davenport condos HOA, said residents support the renovation of the building, but “strongly object” to the billboard. Dan Parker, who represented homeowners at McBee Station, also objected to the billboard, predicting it would produce direct light intrusion into homes on the second and third levels at McBee.

The DRB encouraged those opposing the billboard to go before City Council and deliberated a bit about the two different designs, finally deciding on an exposed truss option billboard along with the condition that city staff approve the colors.

 

Rezoning to modify Renaissance Place

 

Next up were two informal reviews. The first was a design that’s been before the DRB several times: an application by Betsch Associates for a rezoning to modify the commercial portion of a development at North Pleasantburg Drive.

The project is called Renaissance Place, and the new design no longer contains a Goodwill store and restaurant pad sites. Two office buildings, one of which would be a dentist’s office, are all that remain. The applicant wasn’t present, but the DRB commented that the overall design seems fine and recommended approval to the Planning Commission.

 

Rezoning 9.32 acres for NorthPointe

 

The application discussed was to rezone 9.32 acres at Stone Avenue, Wade Hampton Boulevard, North Church Street and Column Street into a planned development to ready the site for the mixed-use project called NorthPointe. Plans include 285 multifamily units, 30,000 square feet of commercial space, 100 surface parking spaces and a six-story, 665-space parking deck.

City staff and the DRB expressed concern about the landscaping and screening on the rear of the Harris Teeter building slated for the site. Relying strictly on landscaping, trees and shrubbery is not enough, DRB members said; instead, they would like to see additional “design articulation,” pointing to Cabela’s on Woodruff as an example of a store that “looks good on both the back side and front.”

More discussion occurred on pedestrian access – one of the biggest concerns expressed in neighborhood meetings. Tori Wallace with Central Realty said that SCDOT has taken more of the land than originally anticipated for the redesign of the Wade Hampton/Stone Avenue intersection, but plans still include sidewalks throughout the project and a 5-foot buffer from the street to the project. The project will include 16 crosswalks throughout, she said, along with a median and crosswalks at Wade Hampton.

DRB members also expressed concern about parking in the parking garage, the two bottom floors of which are to be free and available for retail use. The upper floors of the parking deck will be key-carded and available access-only to residents. One DRB member asked: What would keep residents from parking in the retail space? The answer: Nothing, really, but apartments will only be accessible from the top floors, which will be more secure, providing incentive for residents to use those parking spaces.

Two outparcels included in the planned development were also discussed: the former Capri’s restaurant location on Stone Avenue and two buildings that contain a frame store and music shop on Wade Hampton Boulevard, all owned by Central Realty. Wallace said these would probably end up being light retail, as the area lacks the parking to support restaurant use.

The DRB said it wants to see more design work on all buildings, including the apartments. More articulation is needed at the street level along Wade Hampton Boulevard as the design “still looks like a big box and needs more variation in height and materials,” said one member. The entrances don’t stand out and need to be more emphasized, said another DRB member.

The DRB said it wants to see more revisions to the design before it goes to the Planning Commission.

I followed up with Rece Morgan at Central Realty, who said they will work on the recommendations and design and will probably postpone the formal Planning Commission review slated for Jan. 21. Morgan said they will be back before the DRB at the Feb. 4 meeting and then hopefully present at the February PC meeting. All in all, it puts the project behind schedule about 30 days.

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