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City Council greenlights University Place Phase 4 plans » Sandpoint Reader

By Zach Hagadone
Reading Staff

Sandpoint City Council at its regular meeting on November 2 unanimously approved a trio of demands from Derek Mulgrew, who is developing Phase 4 of the University Place housing project as a planned unit development containing 227 housing including duplexes, townhouses and apartment buildings.

Mulgrew appeared before the Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission in late September with his application to rezon the 14.5-acre property from a single-family residence to a multi-family residence, a combined preliminary and final development plan from the PUD and a plan modified preliminary.

The commission voted Sept. 20 to recommend approval of the applications with 16 conditions — most of which the developer said were reasonable, including additional open space requirements, which Mulgrew and his team addressed with a plan of the revised site presented on November 2 to the council.

Among the conditions were that the exterior walls – or at least parts of them – on the south-facing facades of the four apartment complexes proposed for the southern part of the development be soundproofed due to their proximity to the train tracks that cross North Boyer Avenue. “Product that looks like a single family home but is still attached.”

A screenshot of the University Place Phase 4 development project. Courtesy image.

In addition, the commission recommended that a “linear park” trail along the northern stretch of the property be extended to connect to North Boyer, as well as the expansion of a proposed 8,000 square foot open space planned for the corner of East Ebbett Way and Herring Avenue to create “a central neighborhood park”.

Mulgrew’s revised site plan “incorporated” those elements somewhat into the final plan, planner Amy Tweeten said, including a newly identified “tot lot” – aka, a children’s play area – the elimination of a neighborhood commercial structure previously in favor of a paved “pump track” for use by cyclists and other wheeled recreational users, and the extension of the North Linear Trail to North Boyer Avenue.

Tweeten in his presentation to the board said, “It appears that some of the open space conditions have been addressed with the revised open space plan, but additional information is required.”

Councilor Jason Welker agreed that the open space plan needed more work and that the terms should be amended to put in place more detailed “just what we get” descriptions for the code waivers requested by the developer.

Specifically, Welker proposed removing two conditions and integrating them with another related to open spaces, noting that the plan will include a children’s play area with structures approved by city staff, the asphalt pump track to be approved by Parks and Rec. staff, a paved cycle path linking North Boyer to the south end of the property and a dog waste management plan to cover the entire site.

Council members unanimously approved Welker’s amendment.

“I hope to include more robust language about investing in these open spaces,” Welker said, stating earlier that, “I’m personally very excited about this development.”

One of the waivers approved by P&Z commissioners and advisers was to allow building heights to exceed the 40ft multi-family residential limit – townhouses would be allowed to rise up to 45ft and multi-family buildings would be allowed to rise up to 48 feet.

The developer also called for a reduction in the minimum lot size for townhouses, as the current minimum is 3,500 square feet, although he said “there is no way to really build a efficient adjoining multi-family product” on this size of plot.

“It’s not a condo,” he said, adding that building taller on a smaller footprint helps reduce construction costs, and by offering the units fee simple, it “allows for a diverse range of financing options that would otherwise not be achieved if it was a condo.

“It opens, and I think it hits, a different price,” Mulgrew said.

As has become the norm when City Hall considers any housing development, the notion of “affordability” emerged as a key part of the deliberations.

Mulgrew said the apartments are targeted for what some might call “affordable housing”, although he admitted he disapproves of the term because “it’s way overused”.

On the contrary, he said the development as a whole is intended to be a cohesive, planned project, unlike anything yet built at Sandpoint, with options aimed at first-time homebuyers, empty-nesters, downsizing and people who may have moved to the area for work but are not yet ready to commit to buying a home.

Mulgrew characterized duplexes and townhouses as a “product that looks like a single family home but is still attached.”

Williams Homes chief operating officer David Little also addressed the council, representing the company that is partnering with Mulgrew to build the homes. He said University Place Phase 4 offers “niche ownership.”

“We really don’t have a fresh new product [in Sandpoint] this has the architectural style and movement that these units all have…at a price point that will allow us to attract that first buyer on the townhouse side and perhaps a rental occupant in the rest of the community,” said he declared.

Board members were overwhelmingly positive about the Phase 4 project.

Councilor Andy Groat told Mulgrew: “I sincerely believe that you are here to humbly ask for a good product.”

Councilor Justin Dick also praised the project: “I really like the variety of housing that is expanding, as well as the amount of inventory,” he said.

Council chair Kate McAlister, who said that although she was “in conflict with this because I’m really an advocate for low pay”, said she was “very excited about this project”.

Still, echoing previous comments she made to the board, McAlister added, “We really need something for people making $45,000 and under. … I hope that will be an answer, because we are losing our young people.

With unanimous approval of the applications, Mayor Shelby Rognstad congratulated the developers.

“It’s an excellent project,” he said.