Originally Published on: 2017-03-01
By Gloria Lloyd
A developer has downsized a plan to build a 26-home subdivision off Robyn Road to 19 houses after the Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended denial of the original plan.
Benton Homebuilders is proposing to build detached villas that would sell for $700,000 to $900,000 — and potentially up to $1 million — on 24 acres at 12322 Robyn Road that are currently vacant.
The developer is bringing a concept plan for the 19-villa revised proposal to the planning panel, which will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 1, at City Hall, 3939 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
The panel recommended against the 26-home proposal when it met Feb. 1, agreeing with nearby residents that houses packed into small lots do not fit in with the neighborhood.
“I feel that what you’re proposing is a real quality product, it just isn’t what everybody wants, which is one house to one acre,” new planning panel member John Martin told the developer at the February meeting.
Since the project was shot down by the planning panel, it would have had to gain a supermajority of six of eight aldermen to be approved by the Board of Aldermen.
Due to steep hills on the property, the developer believes the only way to build houses on the land is through special zoning that allows houses to be built close together on a wider expanse of land, with the unbuildable areas counting as green space and common ground and factoring into total acreage.
The grading on the property falls 60 to 70 feet from front to back and side to side, requiring a series of 10-foot retaining walls adding up to 50 feet, engineer David Volz said.
Because of those hills, the detached villas are clustered on lots that are primarily a half-acre or 0.6-acre.
“These are upscale, luxury homes,” developer William Levinson said. “We envision creating a living environment where people can walk their pets, they can leave to visit their grandkids. Part of our market is going to have a second home somewhere — they live here part of the year and somewhere else part of the year.”
But the neighbors who packed the City Hall chambers to speak against the proposal said the houses don’t fit in with theirs.
Echoing the concerns of the 20 speakers, neighbor Cathy Friedmann said the lots were simply too small for Sunset Hills.
“Mr. Levinson says he envisions people looking out on wooded acres, and it’s going to be wonderful,” she said. “But those people aren’t envisioning that. They’re envisioning three lots crammed onto one acre.”
As far as the idea that cluster zoning is the same in the end as one house per acre, “that dog don’t hunt,” Sunny Creek Lane resident Carlin Scanlan said.
“The fact is that existing zoning regulations in Sunset Hills are meaningless — homebuyers beware — and to me that is a symptom of a third-rate community,” she said. “And I know you don’t believe you live in a third-rate community, and I know I don’t.”
The comprehensive plan is full of “promises to the community,” including a commitment to the character of Sunset Hills with one-acre lots, commission Chairman Terry Beiter said.
“Is there a way to do this with less density?” panel member Steve Young asked. “That’s what I’m hearing from the residents: There’s too many in that area.”