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April 1, 2013

Council to vote on senior housing

No residential on ground floors, no retail guaranteed either

Logansport City Council will vote on an ordinance pertaining to downtown senior housing at its meeting today – one that states residential units wouldn’t be permitted at ground level and that elements of any developments’ exteriors would have to match those of the surrounding area.

The measure stemmed from council members’ and downtown business owners’ desires to maintain the commercial image of the downtown area. In order to preserve this image, the ordinance states any downtown senior housing development’s fenestration, or windows and doors, would have to fit in with those of surrounding buildings.

Arin Shaver, Logansport-Cass County Planning Director, said the ordinance states fenestration standards for a lot would be based on a percentage of the surrounding block.

“If it’s downtown on a storefront block, it’s going to have to meet storefront fenestration, which would mean 60 percent of its first floor facade would have to be windows and doors,” Shaver said, as it would complement the buildings already there.

Derek McGuire, owner of Fernbaugh’s Jewelers on downtown E. Broadway, said he supports the measure.

“Obviously it should fit in with the rules of downtown just like everybody else has to,” McGuire said. “With us being in business downtown, we have to follow certain codes. I imagine if they put [senior housing] in, they should follow the rules too if it’s going to be in the downtown area.”

Just because the first floor any future senior housing developments downtown would have to look like storefronts on the outside, however, doesn’t necessarily mean their interiors would have to be retail, as the ordinance would allow for the first floor to contain things like lobbies, cafeterias, exercise rooms and meeting areas.

Tom Partridge, owner of the Pear Tree Gallery on downtown Market Street, said he disagrees with the ordinance for this reason.

“I am not against senior housing downtown, but where I have an issue is if the senior housing site would fall on either Market or Broadway, I feel the first floor of that building should be only for commercial retail space,” Partridge said. “We are really hurting for good retail space in downtown Logansport. If they’re going to build something downtown on Market and Broadway, make sure they are also helping retail businesses downtown by including places ready to go for somebody wanting to start up a business.”

At a city council meeting in February, Councilman Bob Bishop dismissed the notion that senior housing would take up too much retail space downtown, saying he counted 10 vacant retail locations on E. Market Street and E. Broadway between Third and Sixth Streets. Partridge disagreed with this, saying many of these vacant stores are in bad shape.

Partridge said requiring retail space on the ground floor of downtown senior housing developments would not only benefit the downtown economy, but make it more desirable for senior housing developers as well.

“Developers probably don’t want to be in the retail leasing business, they just want the gravy of running senior housing,” he said.

Shaver agreed the stipulation prohibiting residential units on the first floor may deter senior housing developers that don’t wish to build commercial space and lease it out. It would all depend on how a development is laid out and built, she said.

Concerns have also been raised on the matter at a recent Logansport Planning Commission meeting regarding the possible difficulties that may come along with evacuating elderly residents on upper floors in the case of an emergency.

Indianapolis-based Crestline Communities recently received a pledge of more than $6 million in tax credits from the state to develop the former McKinley school at 1501 Meadlawn Ave. into a 38-unit senior housing facility, with construction slated to begin this September. Logansport Mayor Ted Franklin said the city is continuing to get looks from senior housing developers, particularly downtown, following a proposal from Cleveland-based NRP Group LLC for one that fell through last fall after receiving objection from downtown merchants.

“Although there’s nothing imminent, we keep getting looks for senior housing,” Franklin said. “I don’t know why senior housing is the driven issue here, but there are so many people looking at senior housing in Logansport and they all want downtown.”

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or mitchell.kirk@pharostribune.com.

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