The bill that would change the zoning of the former Edison High School parcel was introduced by Seventh District Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez. “The school district still owns it, but there is a pending sale,” Gregorski said. The cost of reusing the building, which is in a state of disrepair and has asbestos issues, is prohibitive, he said. Because the building is on the National Historic Register, any developer would have to go through a historic review process if any federal funding is used, Gregorski said. But otherwise, since there is no local designation, the building can be torn down.
Staff recommended the commission approve the zoning change, with a provision that the developer sit down with the commission to work on improving the project design. City Council could vote on the bill as soon as Thursday.
Commissioner Nilda Iris Ruiz, who grew up in the area, said that there is a great need for senior housing there, but she, like other commissioners, were not thrilled with the drive-thru restaurant part of the equation. She also said she knew about environmental problems at the building that would make reuse expensive, and noted that the area is starting to pop with commercial activity, and this development could help that along.
Both she and Trainer suggested the developer hold meetings with the community. “It seems like it would have a huge impact on the community,” due to its size, Trainer said.
Trainer asked if any studies had been done looking at the cost of reusing the historic high school. Gregorski said school district officials told him this was the case.
One community member suggested that reuse of the building, a neighborhood landmark, might be possible with grant money. An aide for councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez said that in a series of community meetings, community members also wanted to know, at first, whether the building could be reused. The council woman does not think that would be feasible through either public or private development, he said. What everyone at the meetings agreed on is that something has to be done with the building, he said, as it has been vandalized and is used for illegal activities.
After the meeting, Planning Commission Executive Director Gary Jastrzab said that the developer would need water department, zoning and other approvals to move forward with the project. He is also hoping the commission can convince the developer to amend its plans a bit. “There is an opportunity to do something better here,” he said.
Unless the city's new zoning code is in place before the developer is ready to move forward, persuasion is all the planning commission will be able to use. Once the plan has been adopted, a development of this size would trigger a design review process, which will give the commission more teeth, he said.