By Mike Kruzman /

A proposed townhouse development for the site of the old Lindbom Elementary School in Brighton is going back to the City Planning Commission.

City Council returned to meeting in person, Thursday night, with roughly 60 people in attendance at the Community Center. Most were there for a public hearing and Council discussion on the proposed West Village development at the former Lindbom site.

The planning commission unanimously approved its preliminary PUD plan in February 2020, but last month recommended City Council deny approval by a 6-2 vote. That was based on the belief that the plan did not meet part 6 of the City’s PUD zoning ordinance which states it must be consistent with the goals and policies of the master plan.

West Village would be comprised of 140 three-story townhouses with a pool and clubhouse on the site. This is the fourth attempt by a developer to get something built at that location, which is troubled by underground contamination and the school in a decaying state. Manny Kianicki, Vice President of S.R. Jacobson Development, said the contamination makes it very difficult to find buyers for homes. Their proposed townhouses would be for renters-by-choice, which he believes is a project that would work. The townhouses would be higher-end and rent for $1,950 to $2,600 per month.

Much of the hangup with the planning commission was around the language on “moderate mixed residential density” which could allow up to 25 dwelling units per acre to support downtown if the project is adjacent to downtown. This led to a semantical argument on the word “adjacent” and how literally it should be interpreted. The 10-acre site is not literally adjacent, except that Councilmember Jon Emaus, Thursday, pointed to roughly 40 pages of the master plan where the Lindbom site was specifically designated as “downtown housing.” Councilmember Jim Bohn pointed to an earlier section of the plan however that seemed to contradict that, leaving him to believe that the planning commission can’t consider it so. This led City Manager Nate Geinzer to comment on how looking at pieces of the master plan, and not the document as a whole can be a challenge. He offered a strategy of adding all the pieces together and then trying to determine which way the master plan is leaning towards. Kianicky noted that their proposed density is 13.31 units per acre, which is a little more than half of the 25 that could be allowed with a favorable interpretation.

Another change that manifested between the planning commission and City Council meeting was with roof heights and structure. Kianicki previously believed they were within regulation by measuring to the midpoint of the roofs. Brighton, however, measures to the peak, which is something that Kianicki claimed no other municipality does. Since Brighton does, though, Thursday he presented an option for flat roofs that fall within what Brighton’s ordinance allows.

Kianicki also proposed adding 18 parking spots in two new parking areas. This would bring the development to 506 total spaces, or 3.6 per residence.

During the public hearing, a large majority of residents were still against this project. A lawyer representing a portion of them discussed a petition against the PUD which requires any passing vote for it to be by a supermajority. Councilmember Jim Muzzin said that he and all of his colleagues on the council were aware of this.

Multiple residents thanked Kianicki for the presentation, agreed that something needs to be done at the site, but also still felt firm that this wasn’t the right project. Mary Jo Mead asked City Council to imagine how they would feel if 140 three-story homes went up in their backyards. She said if it was 70 homes, she’d be more interested, but 140 was a monstrosity. Kianicki commented on how they need to have 140 units to make the project work. He said it wasn’t because the owner paid too much for the site, but more that all the factors of demolishing the school, dealing with the contamination, and the factors of running the site deem it so.

Several neighbors in the area also questioned a traffic study that Kianicki said shows traffic impact will be minimal, and even less than what was generated from Lindbom. Many did not believe that traffic from an elementary school that picked up twice a day but wasn’t operating on weekends, holidays, or during the summer could be heavier than what 140 residents with potentially 2 vehicles each would cause. Janice Parrish proclaimed “We’re screwed!”

City Council went into deliberations following the hearing, with Muzzin confirming that just because it came with a recommendation to deny doesn’t mean it can’t go on.

Bohn sits on the planning commission and said he feels, in retrospect, that they got the original 9-0 vote in favor of the project (in February 2020) wrong. When it came up in June, he said they corrected their mistake, and got it right, as he felt that the 6th condition of the PUD ordinance was not met.

Kristoffer Tobbe spoke appreciation for Jacobson’s passion with the Brighton community and said he values their partnership. Noting this is a big issue with lots of concerned residents, he was the first to suggest sending it back to the planning commission since there have been changes made from when they last saw it.

Renee Pettingill said they have a planning commission for a reason and that she agreed it should go back to them.

Emaus was in agreement and said this was a difficult topic to consider, knowing that as a member of the council, personal feelings should not be involved. He said he believes the developer has bent over backward on every issue except density and that he’s still not certain if 13 units per acre is appropriate.

Mayor Pro-Tem Susan Gardner said she believes it’s time to do something, but that they don’t want to “just do anything to do something.”

After giving all others a chance to speak, Mayor Shawn Pipoly agreed that it should go back to the planning commission so that they can look at the revisions.

A motion to remand the proposed agreement to the planning commission for consideration of amendments to the heights of the buildings, the parking spaces, the increased green space and related drive, and the appropriateness of density passed 5-2. Muzzin and Bohn voted against it.