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Reverie project begins Planning Board review

A formal public hearing on Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.'s controversial Elmwood Avenue project may still be at least a month away, after the city's new Green Code takes effect.

But that didn't stop several dozen people from packing a room in City Hall on Monday night - just in case they had a chance to voice their opposition before the city Planning Board to a proposal that they say would destroy the character of their neighborhood and violate the city's new land-use law.

Those in attendance did not get that opportunity. Board members heard only a preliminary presentation from Ciminelli and did not take any public comments.

But officials did take note of the crowd, reassuring them that they would get their chance. Those opportunities will include not only the Planning Board, but also the Zoning Board of Appeals, as well as through community meetings held by Councilmember Joel Feroleto.

"The board welcomes your comments, but it is the public hearing process that really is the point at which we can take in your informed questions and comments," Planning Board Vice Chair Cynthia Schwartz told the audience.

The meeting came days after Ciminelli radically changed its plans for the $40 million project, temporarily abandoning one of the two buildings and withdrawing its applications for demolition permits until the Planning Board can rule on the proposal under the Green Code.

The remaining four-story building, known as Reverie, would include 51 apartments, 123 parking spaces and 5,600 square feet of retail space, with a courtyard to break up the facade and provide access to the parking ramp in back.

A pair of secondary buildings on Potomac and Ashland would have another 12 apartments, for a total of 63 units.

The developer still intends to come back to the second, larger building - called Arbor - but will now wait until after the first one is open.

"It certainly will be revisited at some point in the future. It's just a question of when," said Ciminelli attorney Adam Walters of Phillips Lytle LLP. "We certainly hope that when Reverie is done and successful, it will show what new development can be like on Elmwood."

On Monday, attorneys presented the revised plans for Reverie, submitting a packet of materials about eight inches thick for the Planning Board to review.

Those materials will be available for review in City Hall, but officials also expect to post them online within two days, so that members of the public can examine them. The hundreds of pages contain not only the site plan, but also an environmental impact review.

No public hearing has been scheduled yet.

Walters said he did not anticipate anything until March. He said the developer plans to hold meetings first with community members to solicit more feedback, which would be incorporated into the plans and the environmental review.

But members of the crowd expressed skepticism about Ciminelli's willingness to solicit feedback.

A decision is not expected before March or April.

Besides Planning Board approval, the project would also require four variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals, for density, setbacks and height. That's at the core of opposition by neighbors, who fought hard for over a year to ensure that the Green Code limited new developments in the Elmwood Village to three stories.

Walters said he hoped to be on the March 15 agenda for the ZBA. Ciminelli hopes to "get a shovel in the ground this summer," he said.

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