Archive for Thursday, June 28, 2007

Plant expansion site plan gets nod

June 28, 2007

Two and a half hours Tuesday into the De Soto Planning Commission's consideration of the site plan for the expansion of his plant, Engineered Air President Rich Rambacher threw in the towel.

"If I agree to your damn rustification joints, can we move this along?" Rambacker asked in response to architect and Planning Commissioner Richard Hemphill's suggestion on how the south, street-facing façade of the plant could be improved.

Although the comment brought a few smiles and chuckles in the room, Planning Commissioner Roger Templin explained the long deliberations were forced on planning commissioners. The application came to them with enough letter-denoted stipulations to get half way through the alphabet and more were added in the course of the evening.

"My initial reaction when I saw this was, 'This isn't ready to come to the planning commission,'" Templin said. "This was a work in progress when it came to us."

After planning commissioners worked through those issues, Rambacher and Engineered Air ultimately won approval of the site plan on a 6-1 vote with Michael Kroeger voting no. Company officials have said the completion of the new 100,000-square-foot stand-alone building north of 83rd Street and west of Kill Creek will allow the plant to employ an additional 175 employees.

The feature that needed the most work and the one that was the subject of Hemphill's comment was the façade.

Engineered Air officials and consultants have met with the city a number of times since the company won rezoning on 2.5 acres in front of its current plant on which the stand-alone building will sit. As a result, company officials sought to enhance the appearance of the street-side façade of the new plant through windows, vertical architectural elements and the use of a multi-colored texturized concrete with metal siding. The east and west sides were dressed up with windows and carrying the front concrete treatment for a short distance around the corners.

While the resulting front facade didn't technically meet the city's development standards, planning commissioners generally agreed it was a good attempt and a big improvement over the metal building that it will hide once built.

But planning commissioners clearly wanted to squeeze out more from the applicant for a building to stand near one of the city's key entrances. And, as Templin explained, the planning commission has a history of battling to dress up long street-facing buildings and didn't want to signal a retreat from its position.

It got its victory Tuesday when Engineered Air's construction consultant agreed to cover 10 percent of the building's façade with split-faced block to increase its masonry element. In other concessions to satisfy stipulations, Engineered Air agreed to put turn lanes at the entrance to the plant, include a few more mature trees in the landscape screening and to construct an interior sidewalk from the 8-foot sidewalk along 83rd Street to the new building.

In what he characterized as a scolding of city staff, Templin said the work planning commissioners had to do to get to something the could approve was a throw back to earlier years.

"It's been a long time since the city has come to us with an application with as many stipulations as this," he said. "We used to see this a lot."

He asked that in the future staff delay applications so those issues could be worked out before coming to the planning commission.

"This was a bad thing for use to try to engineer turn lanes and try our best to design facades," he said.

The planning commission's work didn't satisfy one observer. Kim Bedford, who lives immediately west of the expansion site, said it appeared the turn lanes on the north side of 83rd Street would extend to the driveway of her and her husband, Doug Bedford. That was something she said she had specifically requested not happen.

The meeting was the last for city planning director Kim Buttrum. After five years with the city, she will be moving to Texas with her husband, who will take a new job there with an engineering firm.

In other action, the planning commission:

  • Approved a change in phasing for the Arbor Ridge subdivision.
  • Approved a preliminary plat of the seven-home Eastates of Snowy Acres subdivision near 86th Street and Corliss Road.

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