Neighbors concerned about University Heights projectAugust 6, 2021
By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
JASPER — Several local residents living near the proposed site of a new apartment complex on the southeast side of Jasper expressed concerns about the project to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals Wednesday.
The University Heights project, which will have units consisting mostly of studio apartments and some two-bedroom units, will be built on the corner of Third Avenue and Meridian Road near Vincennes University Jasper. The board was set to approve three aspects of the project Wednesday: allowing the multi-family dwelling to be built in a B1 zone, approving parking standards at the property and approving an ingress and egress from the property. Only the first was ultimately approved.
Residents expressed concerns such as how zoning changes will affect their property values, increased traffic on the potential egress on Cohere Avenue, destruction of the natural habitat and increased noise and pollution.
Cal Lynn, who lives on Hill Court, said one of his main concerns is the increased traffic on Cohere Avenue, which he said will disrupt his otherwise quiet neighborhood and be potentially dangerous.
“We live in a very quiet little court back there,” he told the board. “You’re going from six households to 80. There’s going to be cars going up and down that road all the time … How would you like this in your backyard, literally feet from your back door?”
Janet Schmidt, who lives in the same neighborhood, said she is concerned about how well the property will be managed and maintained. She and other residents mentioned other complexes in the city that are in need of paint jobs and are surrounded by overflowing trash.
Others were concerned about the fact that the property will be three stories high, preferring duplexes or townhomes to be built in the area instead.
“I think everybody here understands that there’s going to be a development on this, somewhere somehow, over the years,” said Mark Henderson, who lives on Miller Lane. “But just the size of it has kind of surprised everybody.”
Ultimately, the board approved the special exception that will allow the property to be built in a B1 zone. Chairman Josh Gunselman explained to the residents that although having a multi-family unit near their homes may not be preferable to some, other properties such as a daycare center, a liquor store, a conference center or a bowling alley could be built in that B1 zone without even getting permission from the city first.
The board, however, chose to table the variances concerning the property’s parking and ingress and egress option. Currently, the plan is to allow one-and-a-half parking spaces per unit, or one per bedroom. Developer Ruger Kerstiens assured the board it would be more than enough spaces for the property, but some board members were still unsure.
“The last thing I want is a parking lot going unused, but I don’t know if this is quite enough either, especially if we limit that there’s no parking on Cohere Avenue,” Gunselman said. “And if there are no spaces for visitors … I don’t know anybody who never has a friend come over.”
Gunselman’s main concern, though, was having an egress on Cohere Avenue, he said. Vice Chairman Dan Buck expressed concern, too.
“The traffic coming out of 80 apartments onto one lane, “I’m having trouble with that, as well,” Buck said.
Other egress options, such as Meridian Road, were considered but ultimately deemed unfeasible either due to topography or dangerous traffic.
Several residents urged the board members to visit the area themselves to see how it will affect them before voting on anything else regarding the project. The two variances will be further discussed at a future board meeting.
When the project was introduced in April, Kerstiens explained how the project will ideally increase enrollment at VUJ by adding more housing near campus, as well as provide affordable housing for other Jasper residents and spark development on the southeast side of town.
The board also:
• Approved a variance from the city’s Unified Development Ordinance to Gerald and Marla Haas to construct a shed in their back yard.
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