Mt. Airy development plan addresses community concerns, adds affordable housing

Tom Beck
Posted 3/24/23

Developer Stuart Udis adjusted his proposed development plans for the former Fred's Mt. Airy Motors site to address community concerns and provide affordable housing.

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Mt. Airy development plan addresses community concerns, adds affordable housing


Editor’s note: Due to a reporting error, the Local’s March 23 print article about this development relied upon an outdated recorded meeting, resulting in incorrect information. The following report details the most recent news for this site. 

Developer Stuart Udis announced more details and renderings for his planned project at 208 E. Mt. Airy Avenue at last Tuesday’s East Mt. Airy Neighbors meeting, which show 12 of the original 24 townhomes replaced by an apartment building containing 18 dwelling units and 18 parking spaces. Udis also announced his intention to purchase and subsequently donate the adjacent community garden, via an easement, to Neighborhood Gardens Trust, a land trust dedicated to preserving and supporting community gardens and other shared open spaces across the city.

The presentation came on the heels of a July meeting last year, which showed initial, conceptual plans for the project. During that meeting and after, the development team received “significant feedback” from nearby neighbors, said the development team’s attorney, Stephanie Magnana.

“We were able to take those comments into consideration,” Magnana said, “and redesign the project.”

Condensing 12 of the townhomes into an 18-unit apartment building, Udis said, allowed for the property’s rear setback, which borders Sydney Street, to be doubled from 20 feet to 40 feet. It also allowed for the elimination of a rear circulating driveway and for a retaining wall, which was a point of contention for Sydney Street neighbors, to be tiered instead of being completely vertical. Each tier is between four and six feet high, and as a result, the top of the wall is now 16 feet further away from the Sydney Street properties than it was in the original design. 

The project’s reconfiguration also addresses another initial point of concern for neighbors, which was the lack of affordable housing. More and smaller units, Udis explained, mean a lower price tag for each. 

“There are more housing units now than in the original application,” Udis said, “but that was necessitated by the desire for greater setbacks and more affordable housing units.”

Marlana Moore, land preservation manager for Neighborhood Gardens Trust, said that her organization has been “happy” to work with Udis on managing the community garden.

“We are very hopeful that during the construction…the impacts on the garden will be minimal,” said Moore. “Hopefully as new people move into the new development it'll be very beneficial to the garden.”

Nearby residents praised Udis for his responsiveness with the revised design.

“We've been talking with [Udis] for quite a while about our concerns, and he's been amazingly responsive,” said Gloria Rohlfs, a Sydney Street resident. “Moving the building back to 40 feet from 20 feet and doing the terraced walls with more green space was in response to our concerns.”

Another Sydney Street resident, William Hall, echoed Rohlfs’ sentiment.

“Obviously condominiums aren't an ideal solution, but nothing's going to be perfect and this area is going to be developed,” he said. “As a very near neighbor, I wholeheartedly support the proposal as we're seeing it.”

The development team needs variances for two reasons. The first is because of the developer’s intention to construct two detached buildings in an RSA-3 zoning district, which only allows for one. The second is to build multi-dwelling units.

The apartment building will require its own variance. 

EMAN plans to hold a follow-up meeting, with a vote, on March 28. The development team is scheduled to go before the ZBA on April 5.