Residents continue negotiations with developer on condominium

A controversial condominium and commercial development proposed for East Lawrence may get the neighborhood’s blessing after all.

Members of the neighborhood confirmed Monday that negotiations are ongoing between the developer, Harris Construction Co., and key members of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. to allow the project to move forward at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets.

Mark Kaplan, a member of the association, said he was hoping an agreement would be struck that would allow the project to move forward, but in a way that would not have as much impact on existing single-family homes in the neighborhood.

“I think we have gotten the developer to sit up and take notice,” Kaplan said.

Bo Harris, who is leading the development group, said he was pleased that the neighbors had submitted ideas for the project, but he said it was too early to say whether he would make the suggested changes to the project.

“I can tell you that we’re studying it right now,” Harris said. “We’re having the architects look at it to see if it is all feasible.”

He hopes to know whether the changes can be made before an Aug. 8 City Commission meeting.

City commissioners ultimately must give approval to the project. Neighbors have objected to the portion of the project that would build 54 condo units in five new buildings along the west side of Pennsylvania Street between Eighth and Ninth streets.

The neighbors’ suggested changes would allow the 54 units but would consolidate them into fewer buildings and use some of the space for a small pocket park. The fewer buildings, though, would require one large building – perhaps as tall as five stories high – on the northern end of the block to house the majority of the condos. That building also would house commercial space.

The neighbors also are asking Harris to contribute to a project to create a historical monument, recognizing the neighborhood’s rich history as a settlement for freed slaves. Harris also said an agreement could include provisions that would limit particular types of commercial establishments in the project.

Neighbors previously have complained that the project would create traffic and parking problems, and that the number of large buildings were too close to existing single-family homes. Harris has said the project – which he has discussed with the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. since 2002 – would be compatible with the existing east Lawrence neighborhood. He’s been unwilling to reduce the number of living units in the project because he said that likely would make the project financially unfeasible.

Some neighbors said Monday that the proposed agreement does little to address their concerns.

“Everything seems a little bit iffy to me,” said Nicolette Proudfoot, who lives in the area and has fought the project. “It seems like a lot of people in the neighborhood are saying that they had better take what they can because the City Commission will probably approve it anyway.”

The 54 condos would be built on property that currently houses the Lawrence Bus Co. garages and are used as storage lots for broken buses and spare bus parts.

The project also includes renovating the four-story Poehler Grocery Wholesale building east of Pennsylvania Street to house 74 living units. It also would renovate four old industrial buildings east of Pennsylvania Street to house a mix of retail and office uses. Neighbors haven’t objected to those parts of the plan.