Highrise could bring lawsuits

Developer ready to go to court if neighbors sue

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SHAWN GUST/Press Greg Hills, principal of the real estate development firm Austin Lawrence Partners, describes features of the proposed high-rise project on Lakeside Avenue Thursday during a design review commission meeting in Coeur d'Alene.

COEUR d'ALENE - The Colorado developers proposing to build a highrise apartment complex in downtown Coeur d'Alene are one step closer to making the project happen.

Neighbors of the proposed 14-story building slated for the corner of First Street and Lakeside Avenue, however, say they're still prepared to fight the project in court.

"I think it's unfortunate," said Greg Hills, principal of the real estate development firm Austin Lawrence Partners, out of Aspen, Colo., on the possibility of his project resulting in litigation. "As we say, we've tried to play nice in the sandbox and be sensitive to their issues."

Hills, in Coeur d'Alene Thursday for the second of three meetings with the city's Design Review Commission, said the company is prepared to handle a court case if that's where the project ends up, but he would prefer to continue working with neighbors to mitigate as much impact as possible if the building is built.

"I really feel people don't win when they go that route," he said of timely and costly litigation.

As far as the Design Review Commission, members said Thursday that the proposed project passes the city's building guidelines. That means the developers could get their final stamp of approval from the commission when they come back for their third and final meeting, tentatively scheduled a month from now.

"I'm not sure our job is to referee whose property rights come first - that's somebody else's job," said Mike Patano, commission member. "Is the proposal consistent with the guidelines we have? In my view, they are."

Neighbors showed up Thursday, as they had during the first meeting in August, to voice support or opposition to the project at 201 N. First St., a spot commonly known as the Mudge Building.

Those who oppose the project say the highrise will block their views of Lake Coeur d'Alene, as well as light into their building, and decrease their property values. They said the commission is charged with protecting their property rights, too.

"I lose everything, everything, and I don't think that's right," said Bev Twillmann, who owns a neighboring condo and would lose a significant portion of her view. "You're affecting a lot of people who bought for the view, that's the bottom line."

The building would be 173 feet tall with around 60 units to rent and buy, ranging in monthly rates approximately $1,200 to $3,500. At the August meeting, the commission and neighbors asked the developer to reduce the building's mass at the bottom, moving it away from its northern neighbors. The developers did by adding two stories to the proposal.

By making the building taller and skinnier, it should open up the views for neighbors, the developers said, while the roof of the building will be landscaped where the building steps up in height to enhance the sight for neighbors looking down on it.

An estimated $20 million project, it would have retail shops on the ground level. The developer purchased the property in April.

After the August meeting, attorney Scott Reed said the proposal would go against regulations established to protect property rights by causing an economic loss for existing neighbors "in excess of a million dollars," and that he was prepared to take the issue to court.

Reed, who was not at the meeting, reiterated that position to The Press Thursday.

Harold Damiano, resident of the Coeur d'Alene North condos to the north, said the group is prepared to go to court over the issue. The city's comprehensive plan says it will strive to protect people's property rights. By allowing vistas and views to be taken away from them, it runs counter to that pledge.

"Be prepared for it," he told the developers of litigation. "That's our position and we're going to stick with it."

The city's building guidelines allow buildings up to 220 feet tall.

The issues neighbors have with the building's size is a city zoning issue, Hills said, not the developer's, who is exercising his own property rights.

"We want to play by the rules, we're not expecting to have an exemption to the rules," Hills said. "On the same token, we didn't set the zoning."

If the design meets building criteria, the commission cannot deny the application, though commission member Mike Dodge said it is the commission's responsibility to consider neighbors' property rights, too. If the commission approves the design, the applicants, called One Lakeside LLC., would then apply for building permits. The commission's decision can be appealed to the City Council, but the council, like design review, can only judge whether the proposal fits the city's building guidelines.

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