Commerce Center Development Project

I've been seeing a lot of pictures of this building in my FB feed lately... 

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It's what Erin Blasko of the South Bend Tribune calls a "massive high-rise," proposed for development on what is now the parking lot of the Commerce Center. Despite all the (great) coverage, it's not super easy to know what's going on with this proposal -- so I decided to give a quick summary.

What is being proposed?

The Commerce Center

The Commerce Center

Dave Matthews (of Matthews LLC) is a local developer who has shaped much of the East Bank Village (and the greater SB area more generally). He wants to build a "massive high-rise" on what is currently just the parking lot of the Commerce Center (he currently owns the Commerce Center and the lot). The high-rise would house 240 residential units (apartments), and would have a Martin's grocery store and a pharmacy on the first level. It would also require a large parking ramp (current estimates have it topping the Commerce Center by something like 30 feet), that would be built above ground -- nestled between the high-rise and the Commerce Center.

The relevant lot is between Lasalle and Colfax, just west of the East Race River. 

The relevant lot is between Lasalle and Colfax, just west of the East Race River. 

Why doesn't he just go ahead and build the high-rise?  

Well, because he can't. For two reasons: (1) there are currently zoning restrictions on the lot that wouldn't allow him to build such a massive building, and (2) the East Bank Village Master Plan has language suggesting that buildings of this sort shouldn't be built in the neighborhood (even if a zoning workaround is legally feasible).

So, Mr. Matthews has asked the South Bend Common Council to approve an special exception in this case, so that he could re-zone the lot as a PUD (a "planned unit development"). This would allow his office to basically come up with their own plan for the space (which would later have to be approved -- possibly by the Common Council (I don't know who all has to approve PUDs)), essentially bypassing the current zoning procedures and processes.

 What are the pros and cons of the current proposal for residents in this area and the surrounding neighborhoods?

Pros: 

  • Groceries. We all know how badly we need a grocery store that is accessible (hopefully walkable from) downtown.
  • More residential development (which may lead to lower rent prices over time) .
  • This would likely be the first step in developing the area between The Pointe and Howard park (the riverfront area), and we'd likely see something in the next few years go in on the Ole' Sand Pit.
  • Matthews LLC has a history of investing in the community and the neighborhood, and moving forward with this project would continue that history / relationship (which has largely been beneficial to residents in the area). 
  • GROCERIES OMG! 

Cons: 

  • Height. Residents at The Pointe would have a towering building put up right next to them. Shadows would be a concern (as they were when a 9 story high-rise was proposed for the Ole' Sand Pit a few years back), as would the significant changes to the skyline and feel of the neighborhood.
  • Precedent. The East Bank Master Plan is a document that took time and effort to produce. It had mechanisms for public input, and lays out a vision for this area (which is supposed to be a sort of "Riverfront Arts District" type place). Having the Common Council vote to allow the site to be re-zoned would sidestep both this Master Plan, as well as the procedures we have set up for zoning. 
  • Height...because twelve stories (!)

Where could things go from here? 

The most pressing issue is what the Common Council will do next. So far as I could tell, the Zoning Committee (which met yesterday) is going to forward it on to the full Council for consideration at the next Common Council Meeting (which I believe will be held on November 14th). I'm not sure whether they will forward it with any recommendation (favorable, not-favorable, etc). Public comment will be heard at that meeting, and anyone wanting to have a voice in the process should give their input (in person, at the meeting, or by calling or writing an email to their Council-person(s)). 

Obviously it's up to you what you want to say. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that there are multiple ways to support this project. Here are just some of the positions one could take: 

  1. I support the project fully, as is. Please vote to re-zone as a PUD and let's get this high-rise built! 
  2. I support the project, but would like to see it go through the proper zoning channels, and would thus ask the Common Council to vote down the request to re-zone the area. 
  3. I support the project generally, but not the height. Please vote no so that the height issue can be fully addressed via the proper channels / procedures. 
  4. I support the project only if the height issue is resolved. Vote no, so that we can make sure the project is in line with the East Bank Village Master Plan. 
  5. I do not support the project at all. Please vote no. 

Again, it's up to you how you'd like to weigh in, but know that these next couple weeks are the time to do it. After that -- you may not get the chance to do so.