GHENT NEIGHBORHOOD LEAGUE MEETING, JULY 17, 2007
Board members present:
Sharon Plawin, First VP, acting president
Mason Andrews, immediate past president
Kevin Halista, board member
Dennis Russell, board member
Susanne Williams, board member
The meeting took place for the first time in the media room of Blair Middle School. After some discussion after the meeting about the height of the room and its poor acoustics, Sharon Plawin and Susanne Williams — prompted by Kevin Halista’s comment about the school’s detention room — looked at that room and found it to be smaller and more conducive to our meetings than the media room.
The meeting started at 7 p.m. With only five board members present, the GNL board did not have a quorum.
1. PROPOSED RELIGIOUS HIGH SCHOOL FOR COLONIAL AVENUE, PROPOSED ZONING AMENDMENT
The Talmudical Academy of Tidewater, represented by the academy’s rabbi, and Charles V. McPhillips, an attorney with Kaufman & Canoles, wants to buy the property at 612 Colonial Ave. for use as a religious high school for up to 60 students.
The property currently is occupied by CCG Systems, a software and fleet services company that reportedly has outgrown its space; previously, it was the site of the “Coffee, Tea and Sympathy” coffee shop/restaurant.
The applicant wants to turn the building into a Talmudic academy (grades 9 to 12), with a cap of eventually 60 students. The school is to be a day school (i.e. no boarders), with projected school hours to be between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., and some extracurricular affairs until 10 p.m. Although the site only has 12 marked off-street and three or four on-street parking spaces, there probably will not be much demand for student parking, since most of the students, who currently are being schooled at the congregation’s Ghent location about a mile away, live in the neighborhood, McPhillips said; most of the parking thus will be for staff.
Jordan Slone, who recently moved to Ghent, “is the moving force behind it,” he said. Jordan E. Slone, chairman of The Harbor Group International, a multi-billion real estate investment company headquartered in Norfolk, recently moved to the Mowbray Arch area of Ghent.
The application requires a text amendment to the city’s HC-G2 zoning ordinance for Ghent, which does not allow any educational uses, as well as a special exception. — “We ask for your support,” said McPhillips, who anticipates that the application will be on the Norfolk Planning Commission’s Aug. 23 agenda.
The proposed text amendment, if approved, would make it easier for future applicants — upon the granting of a special exception to this application — to establish schools throughout the HC-G2 area (between Olney and Princess Anne and Colonial Avenue and Hampton Boulevard), which currently are not permitted uses.
Since the GNL did not have a quorum, acting GNL president Sharon Plawin said she would convey the information to all board members and get back to the applicants within a few weeks. Susanne Williams asked Mr. McPhillips for a copy of the proposed text amendment.
2. PROPOSED GARAGE EXPANSION BETWEEN REDGATE AND RALEIGH
EVMS/SENTARA, represented by architect Barry E. Moss, partner in Tymoff+Moss Architects; Mark Babashanian, EVMS; another medical center representative and Jim Gildea, Norfolk Planning Department, wants to add an eight-story, 850-space garage expansion to an existing four-story, 1,800-car garage between Redgate and Raleigh avenues. The proposed brick addition, flanked by two towers, would be about 70 to 75 feet in height, possibly the height of the Jones Institute on Brambleton Avenue. The garage would allow for a reassignment of staff parking spaces from other, more southern Medical Center parking locations. Exit/entrance lanes would remain on Raleigh through the existing garage.
The application already had been heard by the Norfolk Design Review Committee earlier this month and Mason Andrews, committee member and immediate past president of the GNL, already had asked the applicant to seek ways to lower the proposed building’s height; the applicant at the time said he was willing to set back the top floor by a few feet.
At the July GNL meeting, Mason asked the applicant again for ways to scale down the building physically and visually. Barry Moss said that the following ideas were not workable:
– An increase in height of the existing parking garage to allow a scaling down of the proposed addition would not work because the old garage does not support this structurally
– An exemption that Barry Moss already requested from the mandated 20-foot set-back from the street which would permit a lowering of the proposed building height was not approved; Barry Moss said he would try again.
– A reduction in parking spaces would mean an increase in the already steep, 12-percent slope of the garage ramps.
The applicants, which had not yet contacted the West Ghent Civic League and the Ghent Business Association, agreed that it may be wise to do so.
EVMS/Sentara officials said that in spite of Norfolk’s plan for Light Rail, with a planned terminal at the Medical Center, the 850 garage spaces still are a minimum number to accommodate the center’s expected 10 to 15 percent growth over the next five to 10 years. — It would take about a year to build the addition.
The applicant was asking the GNL for approval for an interim amendment to the Medical Center Master Plan. As explained by Gildea, this is part of a public planning process, but not a public hearing. — The application is expected to be on the Norfolk City Council’s September 2007 agenda.
The proposed eight-story building would dwarf existing buildings in the HC-G2 historic district and any other existing building in Ghent along Colley Avenue but may alleviate parking problems around the medical complex. Not known yet is the immediate impact this proposed building may have on surrounding residential properties in the city’s historic HC-G2 district for Ghent (i.e. between Olney and Princess Anne roads, Colonial Avenue and Hampton Boulevard).
Since the GNL did not have a quorum, acting GNL president Sharon Plawin said she would convey the information to all board members and get back to the applicants within a few weeks.
CRIME IN GHENT
Officer W.B. Routon of the Norfolk Police Department said that Colley Avenue and the Ghent neighborhood experienced an increase in June 2007 in evening larcenies from autos (seven in June) and night-time property crimes at local businesses: Thanks to additional car, bicycle and foot patrols, these crimes went down although commercial property crimes ended up moving to Wards Corner.
The homeless problem currently has two “hot spots:” The 1200 block of Granby Street and the Princess Anne/Monticello intersection, he said. The police department is working with Hampton Roads Transit to re-affix no trespassing signs at bus shelters.
Also affected by the homeless problem is Colley Avenue, where the homeless — particularly after Sunday church services — can be found with the intent to solicit from churchgoers, Officer Routon said.
Adjournment: 8:30 p.m.
Submitted by Susanne Williams