A city board approved a new two-story apartment in the Ocean Park neighborhood despite frustrations expressed by residents and some hesitance by board members.

The developer is combining two lots, one on Lincoln Boulevard and the other on Ashland Avenue, to build a 10-unit apartment with an underground, 20-space garage.

A handful of residents spoke at the Architectural Review Board (ARB) meeting and several more wrote letters, complaining that the project was too large for the neighborhood and that traffic would become even more unbearable.

City planners were careful to note that the traffic impacts and scale of the project don’t fall under the ARB’s purview — the ARB is tasked with evaluating aesthetics of the design.

Still, one board member outright voted against the project because of its scale and others expressed concern before voting for the project, noting their hands are tied.

“Generally, I think the design of the project is nice,” Boardmember Amy Rothman said before casting the lone dissenting vote. “It was very helpful for me to see the model. I still feel that this project, the scale, and the massing, is too large for this particular site so I’m not supportive of it.”

The apartment complex is set back behind buildings on both streets, with a long driveway connecting to Ashland and no frontage on Lincoln. Many residents expressed concerns about pedestrian safety around the driveway.

Boardmember Kevin Daly made an amendment to the approval, requiring the developer to change some aspects around the driveway to make it appear narrower.

Overall, he said, the design was a substantial improvement over versions the board had seen in the past.

“We had encouraged previous applicants to pursue a strategy that’s very much like the one that’s being presented tonight: A small village of buildings,” he said. “I think it is still a lot of units. I think there are very unique characteristics of this site, in that they were able to calculate the square footage of the site, and then included the drive area, which obviously you can’t build on. But I think, in spite of that, we just really have to take that in stride.”

Boardmember Therese Kelly liked the design before and liked it even more with the improvements, noting that the ARB could not make a decision on the density of the project.

The project did not require approval from City Council because it worked within the current Zoning Code, which regulates land use throughout the city.

Residents can appeal the ARB’s decision to the Planning Commission, but the commission, too, will be forced to observe only the aesthetics of the project, rather than the density.

Chair Lynn Robb, who lives not far from the project, lauded the architect’s work but called some of the issues that fall outside of the ARB’s control “troublesome.”

She noted that the board would have a shot at shaping the outcome of similar projects in the future: An ARB subcommittee is dedicated to working on the new Zoning Ordinance. City Hall has been working for two years to create a new Zoning Code. It’s currently with the Planning Commission. Council will have the last shot at it, likely later this year.

“These kinds of lots need to have some language and reference made to them in the new Zoning Code because I think that the ways in which the calculations have been made for this site, though they’re all within the Zoning Code, they don’t serve the site,” Robb said, “and they don’t really serve the city, and they don’t serve the neighborhood.”

dave@www.smdp.com

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