W. Johnson St. project faces zoning hearing but Mt. Airy neighbors group still opposed

 WMAN members and Nolen Properties representatives met again late last week to discuss a development on West Johnson Street. (Queen Muse/for NewsWorks)

WMAN members and Nolen Properties representatives met again late last week to discuss a development on West Johnson Street. (Queen Muse/for NewsWorks)

Members of the West Mt. Airy Neighbors (WMAN) neighborhood group and representatives from real-estate company Nolen Properties continued discussions about the potential development of a new apartment building on West Johnson Street.

More than 40 people attended the Wednesday night meeting which was held in the community room of the Presser Senior Apartments, 101 W. Johnson St.

Ongoing discussions

It marked the fourth such gathering in recent months during which residents and developers sought consensus on Nolen’s plans to build a modern, five-story apartment building in an open space between the historic Nugent and Presser buildings.

Nolen is seeking feedback from neighbors ahead of Wednesday’s hearing with the city Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), at which they plan to file an appeal to three zoning refusals.

Richard Sudall, managing director at Nolan, said the company is waiting for the financial market to improve before starting construction on a building at the rear of the property. In the meantime, it wants to build the five-story building on the front of the property.

Lingering local opposition

Some residents said their primary opposition comes from the belief that it will negatively impact the neighborhood’s quality of life. They were most fiercely opposed to the building’s proposed height and scale, as well as diminished green space.

Residents from McCallum St. — which is directly across from where the proposed building will be — said the building is just too big for their liking. Sudall responded that the company is only one trying to make the most financially feasible decision for the property.

“We’re looking for a win-win situation between two groups with very different bottom lines,” shared one attendee.

Approaching consensus?

The sides seemingly moved closer to agreement at Thursday’s meeting.

In an effort to address neighbors’ concerns, Sudall offered to increase the setback from 25 to 50 feet, creating a greater distance between the building and West Johnson Street. To appease height concerns, Sudall was amenable to reducing the height by one story.

David Plante, civil engineer with Ruggiero Plante Land Design, also introduced plans for a stormwater rain garden which would be flanked by trees in front of the proposed building.

The proposed changes garnered some positive reaction, but WMAN members voted 15-5 in opposition.

Brian Hester, who serves on WMAN’s zoning committee, said board members will conduct a separate vote before drafting and sending recommendations to the ZBA.

Several residents said they plan to attend Nolen’s hearing before the ZBA, which will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.