The Aberdeen Planning Commission has finally recommended approval of "an upscale apartment complex" off of Long Drive near Ripken Stadium to be called The Residences at Fieldside Village.
The planned rental housing will replace what was originally going to be a condominium community that had stalled because of the economy and was eventually jettisoned by its original developer.
The go-head for the apartment project came during the commission's most recent meeting July 18, but not before plenty of debate about the relationship between the apartments and the owners of an existing condo building on the property.
Representatives of the developer, Southern Land, asked the commission last December for approval to change the original site plan for condo buildings into seven high-end rental apartment buildings with 89 detached garages, a 5,000-square-foot community center and other amenities. The commission initially tabled action so they could review the requested change.
The Fieldside Village project was originally planned in 2004 as a condo complex, along with mixed-use buildings to serve the Ripken Stadium area, but only one condo building was ever completed as the recession started in 2008.
That left 16 condo owners in the existing building "completely abandoned," as Southern Land's Ron Schaftel put it at the December planning commission meeting. Many of them had come to that meeting and expressed their disappointment and frustration about the original condo plan not getting built, as well as with the city in general.
The project changed hands as Southern Land bought the rest of the site in December 2010. Only a couple of condo owners came to last week's meeting.
The planning commission had wanted Southern Land to address some of the condo residents' concerns and better negotiate the divide between condo and apartment.
The commission spent almost 1 1/2 hours discussing the functioning of the condo association and the technicalities of condo ownership, as Rachel Hess, a lawyer focusing on condo, contract and homeowners association law, answered commission chairman Joe Swisher's questions on the project.
Swisher explained he was concerned in general about several HOA and condo associations in the city that "are not functioning very well."
Swisher said he thinks each of the buildings should be on its own lot, have its own financing and its own green space.
"You need to come back in and put each of these apartment buildings on a lot, assuming you are not going to build them all at once, have parking sufficient to our code and then build your next one," he said.
He applauded Southern Land for getting an agreement from the condo owners, but said he wanted a general agreement on an apartment building.
Swisher said he was not against the project; however, he was clearly concerned that it was changed from the original proposal.
"I am in favor of that project being built out and I think what you are doing with the buildings is going to be good," he said.
Hess said the functioning of the condo or HOA association should not make a difference.
"At the end of the day, everything is privately owned."
Commission members Karen Heavey and Mark Schlottman raised concerns about the parking, specifically, the absence of assigned, numbered spaces.
Commission member Lance Hersh retorted that he has an employee who would rather walk two blocks to his condo than drive an extra 40 minutes to work. Hersh argued for the project to move forward, if only for the sake of existing condo owners.
"When are we going to give them at least some type of relief for their property?" he asked. "This is not what they want, but this is a better solution than anyone's come up with lately."
"How many times do these property owners [from Southern Land] have to come out and how much time do we want them to spend to sit in front of us?" he continued. "They have tried to give every piece of paper we have asked for, but at some point there has to be some relief for the property owners sitting there and the property owner who wants to do business in the city."
Commission member Bill Braerman agreed, saying he did not think the condo vs. HOA discussion was relevant.
"What we have been harping on is technicalities between the homeowners and condos," he said.