The Planning Commission suggested that the owners of an apartment complex in Sharon Heights find a way to save some of the 62 heritage trees slated for removal as part of the property's renovation, and the owners listened, returning on Feb. 10 with a new plan that earmarks 42 for destruction instead.
The complex, Sharon Green at 350 Sharon Park Drive, has 459 trees on the nearly 16-acre site. Representatives for the owner, BRE FMCA, said the property would end up with 206 more trees than it has, as the owner would plant mature replacements in addition to building a new two-story recreation center and 2,000-square-foot leasing office, and making improvements throughout the complex that include a new dog park, bocce ball court and barbecue courtyard.
The changes would increase building coverage on the site to 40 percent, which is 10 percent over the amount allowed under city code.
BRE told the commission the improvements were necessary, citing as an example the cramped quarters of the current leasing office, which shares space with the clubhouse, fitness center and maintenance department. The new leasing office would be more visible to prospective tenants.
Some commissioners, however, were unconvinced that such a huge leasing office was truly necessary, particularly given that the complex -- with monthly rents ranging from $2,700 to $5,200 -- has an occupancy rate of about 96 percent.
BRE countered that while the occupancy rate is high, so is the turnover of tenants.
Commissioner Vince Bressler said he thought the renovations would drive rents even higher, thus forcing people to move out. He noted there appeared to be a disconnect between what current residents really wanted and what management had planned.
"I'll be the one person up here who wants to do something up here to force reconnection," he said.
Commissioner Katie Ferrick questioned why it wasn't possible to follow the recommendations of the Environmental Quality Commission, which reviewed the proposed tree removals in December. The EQC unanimously suggested that the plan be redesigned to preserve more trees and that the applicant guarantee retention of a set number of heritage trees on site at all times going forward.
According to BRE, the site's layout renders alternate designs infeasible. At most, only two additional heritage trees would be saved, at detriment to other aspects of the plan, such as complex access and building accessibility.
Residents on nearby streets had raised concerns about trash collection during construction; as a result, BRE and Recology came up with a plan to relocate curb-side pickup from Monte Rosa Drive and Sharon Road to locations within the apartment complex as well as dedicated uncovered parking spaces near the entrance for garbage collection.
The commission voted 5-1, with Mr. Bressler opposed and Henry Riggs absent, to allow the project to proceed to the City Council for final approval of the conditional use permit and heritage tree removals.