Part of the process: Developer hopes new Victorian Estates project reigns second time around

Monday, September 25, 2006
Developer Chad Hartle, right, and consultant Robb McClary discussed plans for the new Victorian Estates, affordable senior housing that will be on a 14-acre tract near the intersection of Lombardo Drive and North Clark Avenue in Cape Girardeau. (Don Frazier)

When a low-income senior housing project planned for Cape Girardeau went before the Missouri Housing Development Commission late last year, commissioners soundly rejected the proposal.

The deal-breaker? A petition with 162 signatures from nearby residents who worried the 47 rental homes on Clark Avenue would reduce property values, increase traffic and even drive up crime in their peaceful neighborhood.

"It really broke the deal," commission spokesman David Bryan said at the time.

Artist's rendering of typical senior apartments that would be part of Victorian Estates. (Submitted photo)

Now Jackson developer Chad Hartle, with more than a little help from consultant Robb McClary, has totally re-worked the proposal in hopes of getting neighbors on board and securing $4 million in state tax credits toward the $5 million project.

The new plan, submitted to the city this week for replatting and rezoning consideration, is vastly different from the old plan. Under the original plan, Hartle wanted to bulldoze a 14-acre wooded area and build 47 single-family homes for low-income senior citizens.

The old plan would have connected the dead-end streets they live on -- Stoddard, Recardo, Georgia and Lawanda -- to a newly extended Clark Avenue.

But the new plan is for eight apartment buildings containing 60 apartments on the same land. The new plan also buffers the existing neighborhoods with a row of 10 duplexes and 14 single-family homes. Also, Stoddard, Recardo, Georgia and Lawanda will remain dead-end streets with new cul-de-sacs constructed for vehicles to turn around without having to use a private driveway.

And the changes seemed to have worked. Neighbors who were opposed are speaking differently than they did last year.

"I was really opposed to it last year," said Paul Ebaugh Jr., who lives at 1835 Recardo Drive. "I feel like everybody would love to have greenspace all around them. But this is probably the best deal the neighborhood's going to get."

What changed Ebaugh's mind is that his street will remain a dead end.

Ruth Juhlin, who lives at 1827 Recardo, didn't like the first proposal either.

"The newer plan still allows the privacy we have on this street," she said. "We've been told the single-family houses will be $150,000 homes. That will help keep property values up. ... Before, he didn't get enough input from the neighborhood."

That's a point with which Hartle fully agrees.

"I didn't communicate with the neighborhood as well as I should have," Hartle said last week. "It was absolutely my fault."

Hartle decided to revamp his plan, this time determined to make the residents feel like a part of the process. The first thing he did was bring on Robb McClary as a consultant in March. McClary had just resigned as Cape Girardeau's director of city inspections.

"Robb is an old friend of mine and I knew he had the expertise," Hartle said.

McClary took the original proposal and considered the neighbors' concerns. He asked Hartle: "What would it look like if everybody got what they wanted?"

McClary worked in the changes. Then he went door to door, talking to neighbors and explaining the new plan. McClary handed out surveys, showed artists renderings and said all of the responses they have received have been positive.

"I wasn't there to sell the idea," McClary said. "What they felt was lacking last year was that they didn't know what was going on."

Neighbors were even asked to be on a committee that would make suggestions as the project moved forward, especially in areas of landscaping and amenities.

"It was all Robb's brainchild," Hartle said. "And he's made it all work."

The two-bedroom apartments would rent for $336 a month for qualifying seniors who are at least 55 years old. The development would also include a community center.

If the commission grants the tax credits next month -- they only do one project per city each year -- Hartle said construction could start in June with a completion date of spring the following year.

And Hartle believes in the project.

"There's a big demand for affordable housing projects," he said. "And now that the neighbors are on board, I don't see why this scenario won't fly."

335-6611, extension 137

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