Two major Jefferson Avenue developments won city Zoning Board of Appeals approval, allowing the East Side project to move ahead as proposed.
"This is a benefit to the Cold Spring area," said the Rev. James Lewis, chairman of the zoning board.
The approvals represent the first large-scale commercial projects to be considered for zoning variances since the city's recently enacted Green Code went into effect.
Developers Nicholas Sinatra and David Pawlik intend to build a pair of mixed-used buildings on vacant lots at 1166 and 1140 Jefferson Ave. The buildings will offer commercial and retail space as well as affordable housing. People Inc., the region's largest social services agency, is also involved in the project.
The buildings are twice the width allowed under the new zoning code.
Several people spoke against granting zoning variances for the oversized buildings, arguing the proposed three-story structures are substantially larger than permitted under the Green Code zoning regulations.
"The design is not in accordance with the new zoning code," Daniel Sack of Lancaster Avenue told the Zoning Board.
"These buildings are much, much bigger than they should be," added Catherine Faust, an architect who lives on Highland Avenue.
Approving these projects, others argued, could set a precedent for the rest of the city, establishing an expectation that buildings larger than permitted in the Green Code will be approved.
Virtually all of the objectors, however, came from the Elmwood Village or other neighborhoods outside of the Jefferson Avenue area.
The one speaker from a nearby neighborhood, Terrence L. Heard, spoke in favor of the project.
"We need the development. We approve of the project," said Heard, who said he lives on nearby Southampton Street and is speaking for neighborhood residents.
Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen, who represents the Ellicott District, also spoke in favor of the zoning variances to allow the proposed buildings.
He is not aware of anyone in the surrounding community objecting to the project, Pridgen told the Zoning Board.
Three of the four Zoning Board members present Wednesday voted for the projects. The fourth abstained, citing a potential conflict because she may be working on a project of her own with one of the developers, she said.
Board members said the vote on Jeffeson Avenue does not set a precedent because it is based on specific buildings in a specific neighborhood with specific characteristics.
The $20 milion project now goes to the Planning Board, which previously signaled it would support the plan, provided it got zoning variances.
The Brown Administration views the project as part of an ongoing plan to revitalize Jefferson Avenue, a once-bustling commercial strip that, in recent years, has been marked with vacant lots and boarded-up buildings.