Germantown aldermen unanimously approved the $90 million TraVure development after nearly two hours of debate Monday, giving the developer a green light on one of the most fervently opposed projects in the city in recent history.
Developer Ray Gill of Gill Properties may now move forward on the first three phases of construction, including infrastructure, two hotels and office building, both five stories, and multi-deck parking garage on 10 acres just east of Kirby Parkway on Poplar.
The opposition was fierce, leading alderman Rocky Janda to say he was concerned at the level of unresolved vitriol.
“I felt good about everything we had done. Now I don’t know,” he said after several residents expressed concern. One even made an accusation that the planning staff was allowing an illegal parking garage in the development.
“I am concerned that if we don’t approve it, there won’t be any commercial building going on if the neighbors are against it,” said Janda. “What else can we do?”
Most of the complaints came from residents of Nottoway, the gated community to the east. They complained about light coming from the parking garage.
The light is measured from the front yards of the residents’ homes, based on what a six-foot tall person could see over an eight-foot wall.
Cameron Ross, head of the city’s economic and community development director, said the light would not be visible or reduced to such a negligible foot-candle level as to be a non-issue.
Resident Greg Fletcher was direct, saying it made no sense to measure the light from the ground when it will be seen from the second and third stories of the homes.
“If that is the standard the city intends to apply in T4R (Smart Code) zone, woe to any Germantown resident anywhere who happens to own property next to a vacant property,” he said, calling the argument “utterly illusory.”
Gill’s initial TraVure proposal had 12 deviations from Germantown’s SmartGrowth code when he presented it to the planning commission last summer. He eliminated them all by working with neighbors to find compromise, including extensive changes to the lighting in the parking garage and adding a 25-foot no development space to another 25 feet of landscaping to buffer the project from Nottoway.
He later added a wall to shield the parking garage from homes to the east. Nottoway residents who can see the development from the south side said nothing had been done to screen the light in their vision.
Ross said the city would not issue a certificate of occupancy unless the developer had adhered to the tenants of the plan. But to be sure, aldermen amended the motion to say the developer would provide, at his expense, additional screening on the south side.
The motion before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen was to approve the outline plan with the stipulation that a traffic signal at TraVure Drive and Poplar, which Gill said is central to the project, will be authorized by city administration and can be revoked at any time.
If the light is approved, it would not be turned on until at least 60 percent of the office tower is occupied.
Under the proposed motion, the decision on the light would be made by city administration. Gill’s spokeswoman Brenda Basar objected, saying other government entities left those decisions to a licensed engineer. Doing otherwise would inject politics in the issue, she said.
The alderman agreed and voted to add city engineer to the motion.
The plan and subsequent Phases 1-3 were all approved on 5-0 votes.
Alderman Forrest Owens, who voted against the project in December when it was before the planning commission, praised Gill’s team for the amount of compromise before and since.
“I felt like the residents of Nottoway had some valid concerns and were not outrageous. I think the developer did a good job on compromise, but I thought more compromise could be done. Since then, Mr. Gill has come back and compromised more on the landscaping.”
Work will not begin immediately, Brown Gill of Gill Properties said, because project needs on infrastructure and the hotels had not been bid.
“We had no idea what would happen here,” he said as well-wishers, including Fletcher, shook his hand as he walked out of the council chambers.