Jan 242011
 

A controversial Pilates studio will lower its Magazine Street facade and provide a handful of additional parking spaces in a nearby lot during peak hours, but those concessions were voluntary and all that upset neighbors can expect, city officials told a crowd of more than 100 people Monday evening.

Romney Pilates, which caused a furor among neighbors in December when construction began on the third story of its new building across from Whole Foods, has secured state fire marshal approval to remove the front portion of that third story, dropping the front face to a height of about 36 feet in a camelback style, said District A City Councilwoman Susan Guidry and Michael Sherman, the city’s director of intergovernmental relations. Further, Romney will supplement the five parking spaces on its lot with five more in the lot about a block away at 5530 Magazine from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m., the Pilates studio’s busiest hours.

The studio’s owners, however, technically followed all the city’s procedures properly in their requests for size and parking variances, so the city has “no legal leg to stand on” to require any changes to the building’s design, Guidry said. To an audience of many neighbors concerned by either the influx of even more traffic to an area where parking is already difficult, or by a building design they say does not fit with the streetscape, Guidry said all she can really do is share in their frustration.

On the issue of public notice, however, Guidry said she and the mayor’s office are already in the process of researching changes to a decades-old law that required Romney to give notice to only the four immediately adjacent parcels of their plans. Drafting a new ordinance and taking it to the full City Council for approval should ideally take about three months, she said.

“We look forward to changing the rules that led to this situation,” Guidry said, adding later: “It should be automatic that notice goes out to the neighbors who would be affected.”

Guidry said she’s also begun exploring new regulations specifically for Magazine Street that could have prevented the Romney controversy or play a role in the rumored upcoming Walgreens acquisition of the old American Legion building nearby – another prospect that elicited expressions of dread in the Uptown audience Monday.

The meeting featured an hour-long period of questions from a very vocal audience and answers from Guidry, Sherman, and occasionally Erin Romney herself. For a full recap, click in the box below:

  • Kristine

    Fantastic coverage !

  • Courrèges

    This sounds like a reasonable compromise — Additional off-street parking during peak hours and a slight change in design to help alleviate neighborhood concerns.

    I am concerned about the solution to this problem being that neighborhood associations have more input into development. This can lead to essentially a “community veto” of any project, which can hinder virtually any development and leave vacant lots. It’s also unfair to property owners and developers who actually want to return land to commerce. It’s also troubling to me that the prior owner of the property had such an easy time keeping a blighted house on the land, and only now that the land is being put to productive use are people really complaining.

    I think there needs to be an open and streamlined process for projects such as these, one that doesn’t impose onerous or ill-defined restrictions on personal property rights but still allows community concerns to be aired. That isn’t going to happen if we just maintain existing standards and give more notice.