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Renovated St. Mary auditorium to feature two levels of residential

Added parking solves problems

Council informally approves revised Solon Lofts & Commons plan

SOLON– It’s all about the parking.
It was a decidedly different tone as members of the Solon City Council considered a revised plan to renovate the old St. Mary auditorium into a mix of residential and commercial uses.
In January, after a terse exchange between developer Bill Wittig and Mayor Steve Stange, the council voted down a site plan for Solon Lofts & Commons citing the lack of off-street parking provided.
At a June 7 meeting, the differences were apparently all ironed out.
Council members gave their consensus informal approval of a new concept plan which included the exclusive use of an additional nearby lot for private parking. The revised plan also eliminated a second level of commercial office space, replacing it with residential condominiums.
The proposed rehabilitation project has been bouncing around between the city council and the Solon Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) since October.
Prairie Equity Group, of Iowa City, is now proposing to renovate the 1915 structure into 17 upper-level apartments with approximately 5,000 square feet of ground level commercial space. A gated parking area east of the auditorium was supplemented in the latest version by another lot at 213 S. Dubuque St., southwest of the building.
After a presentation to council members by Prairie Equity Group representative Al Wells, Stange offered some background.
Stange said he, City Administrator Cami Rasmussen and Wells gathered for a “very productive” meeting June 2, followed by a meeting with Wells, Stange and council member Mark Prentice June 4.
“We’re not talking about 48 commercial parking spaces like we were in the past,” Stange said. “My thought is that this is definitely doable.”
“I appreciate your willingness to continue to figure out how we could get it done,” he said to Wells.
“I appreciate your input, too,” Wells responded.
According to Wells, the new proposal meets the requirements for residential parking, but falls just short of the number needed for commercial tenants.
The parking lot east of the auditorium can fit 24 parking spaces to be used by the apartments, he said, while the lot on Dubuque Street will hold another 25 vehicles, 13 for the private residences and 12 for commercial tenants.
City code requires 2.2 off-street parking spaces per unit (bedroom) for multifamily dwellings (37 total) and one stall per 200 gross square feet of commercial space (26 spaces), or 63 total spaces.
Prairie Equity Group is proposing to provide 49, and is asking the city to approve a variance for the remaining 14 stalls.
“I feel we meet the requirements, we just need the variance on the parking,” Wells said.
Council members, when asked, spoke in support of the project.
“Tonight we’re just looking at if you support a plan like this,” Stange said.
“I think I’m willing to move ahead with it,” Prentice said. “I think they’ve made efforts. All along I’ve wanted to see something done to the building.”
Newly sworn-in council member Lauren Whitehead asked Wells if he thought there was a market for studio apartments in Solon.
“I think the trend is toward people wanting to live in the center of cities,” Wells said. “Solon is very desirable for younger people, retired people, single people, people 60 and single.”
“I’ve been supportive of this, mainly because it takes a building that adds a lot still to this downtown area, and redoing it is important,” Council member Steve Duncan noted. “You’ve come a long ways on the parking. I think this is a good plan.”
When asked by Stange if anyone objected to the plan, no council members spoke.
“Sounds like you got it,” Stange told Wells.
A site plan for Solon Lofts and Commons was expected to be on the agenda for the P&Z at a Tuesday, June 20, meeting.