Condos may go back to drawing board

East Lawrence developer Bo Harris may have to start over.

After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and public meetings, developers of a project along the 800 block of Pennsylvania Street in East Lawrence may have to submit new building plans to the city.

The original proposal – already recommended by city Planning and Historic Resources commissions – will go before the City Commission today.

“If we make substantial changes to that plan that’s in everybody’s interest, that plan will have to go back through the process,” Mayor Mike Amyx said. “That’s one of the real sticking points here.”

Substantial changes – such as the density of the project or the height of the proposed buildings – would likely violate both the Urban Overlay District already recommended for the project and the legal guidelines the neighboring historic district requires.

But those changes appear to be the only way both Harris and the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. will sign off the condominium and commercial development.

“It looked like it had something for everybody,” ELNA President Janet Good said. “But if there are any serious changes done, it will have to go back through the whole process.”

The original plan that already gained recommendation called for a development with 54 residential units in five buildings coupled with retail and commercial property.

Last month, the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. backed proposals to limit the development to 35 housing units and limit what kinds of retail will be allowed there. Weeks later, it appeared Harris and the association had reached a tentative agreement on the scope of the condominium and commercial development, moving the 54 units into one building on the north end of the block and limiting the commercial development there.

That agreement would likely require a taller residential building on the north end of the block, creating an unbalanced multiuse development.

Still, East Lawrence leaders said that the compromise was a good one, something that both sides could finally agree upon.

“Everything we’ve asked for will only serve to make the Harris project that much more successful,” East Lawrence resident Nicolette Proudfoot said.

Proudfoot is also president of the Old East Lawrence Preservation Alliance, which originally petitioned against the density of the project.

But in daylong meetings Monday at City Hall and elsewhere, neighbors and Harris learned from city staff that any such changes would violate the urban district guidelines and would likely violate laws surrounding the historic district on the east side of the block.

“That’s clearly conflicting with the (urban district),” Planning Office Director Sheila Stogsdill said.

Now, former ELNA President Ed Tato, who has been handling some negotiations for Harris, said he’s not sure what city commissioners will decide on today. The two sides are still talking, he said, trying to avoid restarting a project that has been in the works for more than three years.

“There is more agreement than people realized, but it’s still not done yet,” Tato said. “I imagine people are going to be talking up until” the commission meeting, which begins at 6:35 p.m. today, he said.

Harris did not return several phone messages left at his office Monday.

But all sides maintain that the agreed-upon changes would likely mean a restart of the project.

Good said she thought Harris would agree to send new site plans back through the city process if it meant the end of the neighborhood’s density concerns.

“I think he’s willing to respond to these issues,” Good said. “It has a lot of value.”