If all goes as planned, the Bank of America building on Carolina Way and Pine Street will be no more.
At the February Planning Board meeting, members considered the conceptual plans presented by Jeff Weller of Summit Architecture regarding the Highlands Parkside Center.
“The plan is for the current building to be demolished,” he said.
Weller went through the steps to hopefully get B2 Conditional Zoning (CZ) for the .977-acre property, which is currently zoned B3, to construct a commercial/residential building with a parking deck in its place.
Weller said they are requesting the zone be changed to B2 CZ so the new building can extend to the edge of the sidewalks which will be on three sides of the parcel including the existing Pine Street and N. 4th Street sidewalks and a new brick sidewalk to be laid along the north edge of the property along Carolina Way which will border a small parking lot.
B3 zoning requires a 25 ft. setback from the property lines which would mean the design would be grouped in the center of the parcel and would end up resembling a strip mall with parking around the building.
“The B2 CZ zone would enable the parcel to be much more functional as well as allowing the frontage on N. 4th Street as well as the park-side to be pedestrian friendly,” said Weller. “Through the years, the development of this side of Highlands downtown area on Carolina Way has been widely developed similar to the B2 requirement, which is on the north side of the property. On the southside of the property the zoning is B1. To better blend into the location and the surroundings, the ordinances associated with B2 CZ would allow the property to better support the primary downtown business district.”
At the meeting he said currently there is not transition in zoning. It’s B1 on the part side, B3 on the bank side of Carolina Way and developed with B2 aspects on the north side of Carolina Way.
Plans are for the property, now owned by Pine Holdings, LLC, includes seven business spaces ranging in size of 1,600 sf. to 2,000 sq. ft. on the lower level of the building and seven apartments ranging in size of 1,600 sq. ft. to 1,800 sq. ft. on upper level, or one 6,000 sq. ft. residential unit, as well as a two-level parking garage with the top level accessed by Carolina Way and the bottom level accessed from Pine Street.
The recent Comprehensive Plan identified this area as a good spot for mixed-use with both businesses and residential units like what exists across the street on Carolina Way.
A total of 59 parking spaces are required so planned are 30 spaces on the upper parking deck, 15 on the lower deck and 14 in the parking area along Carolina Way.
Asst. Town Planner Michael Mathis said according to the master plan for the project, the built upon area will make up 68.6% of the overall lot. As per 8.41 of the UDO, when approved as a “Special Nonresidential Intensity Allocation,” nonresidential uses may be permitted up to a maximum of 70% built-upon in up to 5% of the balance of the watershed which is outside the critical area.
“The master plan for this project meets the standards of the UDO. The recommendation is to approve the Conditional Zoning Request consistent with the town’s Land Use Plan,” said Mathis.
The Planning Board was for the plan with Chairman Brad Armstrong saying “To me this is exactly what we need for this property,” but concerns brought up by Highlands Motoring Festival representatives Chairman Mark Chmar and Steve Mehder were taken into consideration.
The issue revolves around the ingress/egress point of the lower parking garage which is on to Pine Street and into the park.
Highlands Motoring Festival Chairman Chmar and member Medher both thought the idea was great and shows how a valuable piece of property can be put to a great mixed-use but worried an aspect of the design could hamper future events in the park.
“How the park is used is vital to me and more than just us, but last year we gave $81,000 to three local human-needs charities by putting on a first-class festival that has now attracted people from around the country who have never been here before. But the devil is in the details and one of the details is that lower parking garage that exits on to Pine Street – the park street.
“We use the park for the motoring festival but it’s also used for the art and crafts festival, the concerts on Saturday nights, Christmas and Highlands Food & Wine, so if the only ingress and exit to that lower level of the parking garage is on to Pine Street, that forever changes the character of the park and how it can be used.
“I would say it’s impractical to say that from now on and forever, if someone wants to use the park that area has to be blocked off, if that’s the only exit provided,” he said. “I would love to see the project, but I would love to see it with a different solution to the parking. I wanted to bring it up early so it’s not a surprise in the end and everyone then realizes this is a problem.”
Though it will take some reworking and consideration due to the lay of the land, Weller said the owners are three young men who love Highlands and who are very community-minded.
“We will certainly look at options to get that out of there,” said Weller.
In the end the board voted unanimously to recommend B2 CZ for the parcel with conditions.
“We recommend approval of the Conditional Zoning with the additional condition that either there is a second point of ingress/egress for the lower parking deck that would not require exiting on Pine Street during events or an operational covenant be applied that says those spaces [in the lower parking deck] can’t be utilized during town-sanctioned events with a strong preference that this be accomplished with the first part of the statement,” said Armstrong.
Making the lower level of the parking garage inaccessible during town-sanctioned events could mean 2-6 days at a time during various times of the year depending on the event.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper