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Some see Suzuki as prime for density

If the city-owned Suzuki property could be a considered a pie everyone has wanted a piece of it.

The school district wanted to acquire the land for future expansion while others wanted it preserved as open space. Some wanted to develop affordable housing on the property and the city said it would like to sell the land to pay for a new court and police facility.

This week the Suzuki task force, a committee convened to propose recommendations to the council and city for the land’s use, released a list of recommended actions for the property’s surplus. While the recommendations try to balance many of the competing visions for the property, one thing is certain – members of the task force want the Suzuki pie to be big.

Topping the list of recommendations for the 15-acre property on the southeast corner of Sportsman Club Road and New Brooklyn is a zoning amendment that would allow up to 3.5 homes per acre on the land. Currently, the property is zoned R-2, which allows for two residential units per acre.

The task force also recommends the city wait on selling the land until ordinances promoting affordable housing are developed. These low-income development incentives, coupled with revised zoning, could allow for more than 80 housing units on the property, greatly increasing the amount of money the city could receive on the final sale.

“Are we over extending on that property?” asked council Chair Bill Knobloch during the presentation of the task force’s recommendations. “The numbers you are talking about, that’s density.”

City Planning Director Kathy Cook made it clear the list of seven recommendations provided by the task force were non-binding, and any action on rezoning would require a council-approved amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan.

“That is a complicated process and there are other implications of increased density and its impacts that the council will have to consider,” Cook said. “I think zoning increases are always controversial, that’s why the comp plan and rezone process have public outreach element.”

The decision to sell the land to pay for a new court and police facility was decided before the task force convened, Cook said. The job of the five-member group was to find the most economical way to sell the property while preserving community values. While the members recommended more density, they also included a number of suggestions to incorporate green building, promote low-income housing and preserve some green areas on the parcel.

The preservation of a pond along the southern portion of the property and the inclusion of trails to provide a pedestrian corridor to Bainbridge High School and Woodward along Sportsman Club Road made the list of seven recommendations.

Task force members also recommended waiting on the Inclusive and Innovative Housing Ordinances, which are still being hammered out by the city’s Planning Department. If passed by the council before the sale, the ordinances would allow for a total of 34 affordable-housing units on the property. The remaining 49 units available under R-3.5 zoning would be market rate. Those affordable-housing units would be managed through a Community Land Trust, Cook said.

Also recommended is the development of a request-for proposals-process that would allow the city to have some say in what kind of development ends up on the Suzuki property. A scoring system would allow the city to rank potential developments based on a number of factors, including green construction, affordable housing and bid price.

While the task force’s recommendations requires some waiting time on legwork being done in the city’s planning department, it also noted the it would be wise for the city to wait on selling the property in the current market.

The amount of money the city could receive for the land has not been publicly released. In a 2007 budget document submitted to the ratings agency Moodys, the property was incorrectly listed as a cash asset worth over $3 million.

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