Will the Chase Bank Building on Hillcrest Finally be Redeveloped?

Jim Strode’s plan to redevelop the old Chase Bank office tower on Hillcrest Avenue cleared its first hurdle at the conclusion of a two-part public hearing before the University Park Planning and Zoning Commission on July 12.

With a close vote of 3-2, the commission recommended Strode’s proposal to rezone the parking and O-2 office district to a mixed-use development, but with a few caveats.

Requirements include an increase in the parapet height at the top of the parking garage to minimize visibility of SUV-sized vehicles and, should the building use glass for the tower, a reflectance factor of no more than 20 percent.

“Trying to please everybody isn’t an easy thing,” Strode said. “I think they all have concerns because this has been a tough property. There’s been a lot of wounds still open over there.”

The proposal will go before city council at a public hearing on Aug. 16. [Corrected from print version, which had the hearing on August 2.]

Strode’s conceptual plan for “Park Plaza” features a 127,880 square-foot mixed-use development that could include office, retail, and restaurant tenants. The proposed structure would be nearly double the height of the current building from around 72 feet to seven stories at 119 feet, and would include three levels of above-grade parking and four of sub-grade parking. The design depicts a plaza area, which Strode hopes will extend the community feel.

“We want to do something iconic,” he said. “We want it to be the nicest building on the block … I’m trying to make it nice. It screamed a plaza at the end of Snider Plaza.”

But it’s no secret the now vacant building owned by Strode has been a point of contention among most University Park residents. And this go around was no different.

At both meetings on June 14 and July 12, Strode’s plan for the almost 1.7-acre site wasn’t met with unanimous community approval. Residents and neighbors flocked to the public hearings to express their support or opposition.

The most repeated concerns from those opposed to the plans touched on different aspects of its design, such as the height and the reflective aspect from the glass design. Some even compared it to a skyscraper and downtown’s Museum Tower. Other concerns included changes in weather patterns, an increase in traffic to the area, and that the height would set a precedent for taller buildings in UP.

According to Strode, the design is only in the concept-stage and nothing is finalized.

“We all come out of those meetings as developers or people trying to get things zoned,” Strode said. “You don’t hear the good stuff, you just hear the potential snags.”

Supporters of the plan remarked on the benefit of additional parking that could be made available for purchase for employees of Snider Plaza, deterring them from parking in nearby residential areas. Others emphasized the current aesthetics of the building, using terms such as “eyesore” to describe it.

Regardless, a common theme resounded in all the comments, whether for or against: something has to be done.

Despite voting against the rezoning proposal, commission chair Bob West agreed, saying at the July 12 hearing, “The worst thing we can do is nothing.”

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