Baha'is Seek Parking Lot Expansion at 1223 Central

The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) on Mar. 4, 2008, will hear an application on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States to expand their parking lot at 1233 Central St. from 57 to 71 off-street spaces. The property is subject to a special use permit granted in 1972 that limited space numbers and required certain landscaping.

The applicant asks to expand the lot to within approximately 9.6' from the side lot line along Asbury (27' is now required), and approximately 3' from the north property line (5' is now required), and wants to be allowed to remove the hedge and fence along the north and west sides of the parking lot, required by the existing ordinance, and replace them with unspecified "new landscaping features."

The item is application ZBA 08-04-V(R); the meeting starts at 7:30 in Council chambers at the Civic Center.


UPDATE: This variance request was turned down by the ZBA. See CSNA member DebWeixl's post below. Than you, Deb, for attending and reporting on this!


I attended the meeting on Wed. night. The ZBA rejected the application because it did not meet specific criteria. I am not sure what will happen going forward. The ZBA seemed inclined to let the City Council consider modifications - that is not their role. Maybe the Baha'i will go back to the drawing board. The variance they sought was not to the zoning that now exists; it is a request for a variance of a specific ordinance that was adopted by the Council in 1963 that governed the construction of the office building and parking lot, and that required very specific set backs, fencing and landscaping. The application was to expand the lot even closer to the lot line than permitted under existing zoning.

I am in Evanston Terraces. We have a full view of the lot and building. Neighbors in the single family homes on Chancellor and Asbury submitted petitions opposing the expansion altogether. They don't want anything done, and no changes in the "park-like" environment that surrounds the lot. The Baha'i indicated that several fir trees would be taken down in any event because they are diseased and they drip sap on the cars.

My feeling is that there has to be some room for compromise - it cannot be all or nothing. The reality is that parking is in demand in the area. I think there could be a better landscaping plan connected to the lot expansion (maybe fewer cars, more hedges and flowering trees), and I think the Baha'i have shown over time that they care about their property. This is the first dialogue anyone in my complex has had with them. It is a good start. Their request to expand the lot would move their "fence" (a new living fence) to be a continuation of the fence my association has along the north edge of the property. We hope to talk more so they can address their needs. Our concerns mostly addressed the reality of construction - noise, parking, timing, etc. I think with everyone working together, we can maintain an important part of our community - a mix of low rise offices, single family homes and other residential, full growth trees, nice landscaping - and adapt to the reality of Central Street today and how it has changed from 1963. It is important to us all.

I attended another meeting last night about the request from the Baha'i for a zoning variance so they can expand their parking lot. Ald. Tisdahl was in attendance too. The Baha'i have new graphics/art to show the appearance of the lot. Some old growth bushes and trees will be removed - in fact, no matter what happens, most of the firs along the boundary of the current lot will go because of disease and damage they are causing to the cars, the street. The arbor vitae fence, as proposed, will be dense and will start at about 5 feet. It can take about 10 years to get to 10-11 feet, which would shield the lot from the homes just west and north of the lot. Most of what will be seen (esp in winter) is the building itself, and Evanston Terraces (when viewed from the north/west).
After the last zoning hearing, it was clear that the trees, and the shielding of the lot, were issues - and a general unease with making an exception to an ordinance. Ald. Tisdahl suggested that some of the current bushes and trees, or new ones, could be planted along the north side of the lot on Chancellor, to provide for more shielding. The Baha'i will call Paul D'Agostino about this. There were only two neighbors present (it was a stormy night) - folks in my association are less affected because our trees, hedges are not affected on the east side of the lot. It seems to me that the project will be a go unless there is real opposition mounted, and especially if the city will not allow the Baha'i to plant more trees at the north side, or possibly in the parkway on Asbury. I will keep everyone posted. We are concerned about noise and maintenance and lighting, and the Baha'i are committed, it seems, to maintaining the property. I am not sure of all the timing, but am in touch with Ron Gould, the property manager and Ald. Tisdahl.