Neighbors get first look at Midtown Center plans: big grocery, pharmacy, 120 affordable units

While the details of an agreement between developer Lennar Multifamily Communities, Regency Centers and Africatown Community Land Trust for the Midtown Center project are still being finalized, neighbors got their first looks at early designs for the development as it moves toward its first design review just a few days into 2017.

The developers showed off a plan for a a horseshoe-shaped, block-long building that Lennar and Regency would fund and a smaller building on the south end of the block financed by the Africatown partnership with around 60% of the units created as affordable housing. Neighbors also heard about plans for a 30,000-square-foot grocery store included in the plan to be anchored by what was described as a local grocer. A representative said the project partners are not yet disclosing who the grocer is and are also not yet identifying the pharmacy chain lined up to move into 10,000 square feet of retail space in the project. There will also be some commercial spaces designed for smaller businesses, representatives said Wednesday night.

In all, the project will bring hundreds of units of new housing to the block:

Working in conjunction with neighborhood leaders, the preferred design includes a separate development on the southern portion of the lot which will provide neighborhood oriented retail, community office space and approximately 120 affordable housing above. The northern portion provides approximately 355 units over a variety of retails uses at ground level. The main corner at 23rd and Union is raised above the storefront, which is setback to allow for wider sidewalks, with the corner recessed even further to provide spill-out space and increased pedestrian activity at the corner. The two developments are linked by a pedestrian through block connection that provides interest along the longer blocks.

Brad Reisinger with Lennar told CHS at the Central Area Land Use Review Committee community meeting held to discuss the project before the Christmas holiday that the company plans to have the agreement with Africatown finalized after its first Early Design Guidance meeting, scheduled for January 4th.

Design review: 2301 E Union St

The plan would sell Africatown about 20% of the 2.4-acre property at 23rd and Union to give the nonprofit an ownership stake in the development set to further reshape the area around 23rd and Union. Regency is currently under contract to purchase the block.

When Lennar first began talking with Africatown CEO K Wyking Garrett, Reisinger said right away they realized there was the potential to meet each other’s goals through the project.

“I think we share the values of a lot of people who are seeing (the community) become less diverse,” Garrett said.

He said the site is a place that can move toward inclusivism and disrupt gentrification.

The development plan hinges on Central District zoning changes planned as part of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which the agencies involved are pretty confident will happen, but are unsure whether the changes will allow for 75 or 85-foot-heights. Early designs call for the seven-story building to be 70-feet tall, five feet higher than The Central Apartments across 23rd.

A four-story development option if zoning isn’t changed is “fading away,” Andy Hoyer, with project architect Encore said.

Priorities for the project include increased public safety, smooth transition between the single-family housing and future density, ground-level community gathering places, small businesses and affordable housing.

The two-building design with Africatown would include a walkway between the buildings with retailers lining the way and plaza area.

“We got really kind of intrigued by what this could be,” Hoyer said, adding there could potentially be a market in the space.

About 30,000 square feet of retail space is being planned for what the developers said would be a local grocery. Reisinger said the project partners are not yet disclosing who the grocer is, and are also not yet identifying the pharmacy that will move into 10,000 square feet of retail space in the project.

Other retail spaces will be available for small businesses.

At the meeting, some attendees said the area doesn’t need another grocery store. Many area residents also brought up parking and traffic concerns. The developer is planning for 482 parking spots for retail users and residents.

Many attendees also said they want to see the post office stay at that location where the federal service has had a long but fading history. Others want to see the building height lowered on 24th, which neighbors single family homes. A few people expressed concerns about security. A mix of businesses including more restaurants and a mix of daytime and evening businesses are desired by some. Others wanted assurance that there will be affordable housing for families.

While Lennar is still working with Africatown on the agreement, Reisinger said the goal is to build on the site as one project. The developers hope to start construction in the first half of 2018 with the first units opening in 2020.

Shopping center developer in deal to buy 23/Union block with Africatown as partner — UPDATE

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