One step in the process toward renovating the Heritage House Apartments in Independence received significant feedback Tuesday night.

One step in the process toward renovating the Heritage House Apartments in Independence received significant feedback Tuesday night.

Citizens spoke in favor of and against a rezoning application before the Planning Commission, but members unanimously approved the application after an hour’s worth of discussion. The case now goes before the City Council for consideration and a final vote.

The applicant, Heritage Green Limited Partnership, had asked to rezone senior apartments at 660 N. Spring St. from high-density residential/planned unit development and general commercial to just high-density residential/planned unit development.

The correct zoning will allow the developer to move forward with proposed renovations for the 39-year-old structure. While interior and exterior improvements will take place, the building’s footprint will remain the same.

Steve Gragg, who has lived in the 400 block of West Farmer Street near Heritage House for more than 20 years, spoke in favor, saying the rezoning would allow a much-needed revitalization project to take place, in addition to raising area property values. Steve is married to District 1 City Council Member Marcie Gragg.

“I support the refinancing of this project,” Steve Gragg said, “and I believe that a multimillion dollar revitalization project by a well-known national company is a clear and positive step for my neighborhood.

“The rezoning of this property will allow this project to move forward and make a substantial investment in our older, historic neighborhood. In fact, much of our neighborhood and even our city’s historic capital is contained right within the walls of Heritage House – it’s in the people who call it home, the seniors who live there.”

Representing the developer, Brian Engel, an attorney with King Hershey Attorneys at Law, said notices were sent to neighboring property owners in late February, in addition to the publishing of a legal notice and a sign on the property itself.

Attorney Ralph Monaco, representing several nearby property owners, said he isn’t against the improvements themselves, but rather the process that took place. Monaco also questioned whether the property was actually a PUD prior to Tuesday evening’s rezoning.

“We are jumping away from the entire PUD process,” Monaco said. “There’s not been a public notice. There’s not been any due process procedurally provided to the community for those who live within 185 feet of this property. Despite the comment that it is a PUD, it’s not a PUD.”

City staff maintained that the property is a PUD. In 2010, Planning Manager Tom Scannell said, the Planning Commission amended the Unified Development Ordinance so that all R-18 and R-30 districts included a PUD.

“You can have a rezoning from a conventional zoning district to a zoning district with a PUD,” Scannell said, pointing to several examples the Planning Commission has recently considered.

Describing the area surrounding Heritage House Apartments as “a struggling neighborhood,” Brian Snyder, who owns the nearby Owens-McCoy House at 410 W. Farmer St., also had concerns about the PUD and about the surrounding property values.

Snyder and his wife, Sharon, held a private meeting with the developer last December to express their concerns, which they also forwarded in a four-page letter to the Heritage Commission. Snyder said he is concerned that a future developer could take advantage of the PUD and that Heritage House Apartments should receive a better density designation.

“This neighborhood needs help. Is this project going to help? It could. We hope it does,” Snyder said. “We want it to, but we want the neighborhood to be a part of it, and the neighbors to be informed about it.”

Scannell said any changes in a PUD must come back before the Planning Commission and City Council for approval, as well as a public hearing. Commission member Pat Campbell said he saw the case as a simple change in zoning.

“Any changes would have to come back. I think (Heritage House) has been a pretty good citizen for 39 years,” Campbell said. “The way I see it, I don’t have an issue with it.”