Fane tower supporters left Monday night’s meeting in full glum after the city’s design panel recommended against approving three of four Fane requests for exemptions from zoning that could kill the project. Opponents left in full euphoria, in the belief that a nail, possibly the final nail, had been hammered into the tower’s coffin. Jason Fane, who sat a row in front of me, bore the repulse without revealing any emotion on his stony, craggy face.
A rejection is a rejection, but if a recommendation is just a recommendation, then the Downtown Design Review Committee’s rejection may be far from fatal. This in spite of the fact that, unlike its queasy demurrals of last month, its rejection on Monday was emphatic, and included a thumbs-down on the tower’s conceptual design.
So that’s the big question. Does the DDRC or the I-195 commission have the final say over the tower’s design?
Sharon Steele, of the Jewelry District Association leading the opposition and the Building Bridges group that’s suing Fane, insisted at Monday’s public hearing that the DDRC, not the 195 commission, has that authority. Maybe she is correct, but Mayor Elorza’s veto of the bill to raise the height limit on the land (overridden by the city council) was based in part on Fane’s refusal to offer the city that authority – an authority that was not Fane’s to offer.
Some hope may reside in a statement by Fane’s lawyer, William Landry, regarding the requested waiver from the requirement in Section 606.A.2 of the zoning regulations that “building height and massing shall relate to adjacent structures.” It’s hard to believe, but he seemed to say that factors other than height and massing play a role in deciding whether the tower relates to the height and massing of its neighbors. Like what factors? He did not say. He said it could not be that you could never have a 550-foot-tall building, but that it was the DDRC’s responsibility to “determine whether the proponents have adequately made [the tower] relate to the surrounding buildings.”
Huh? The council did raise the height limit of Parcel 42 for the tower, but I do not recall that it also amended 606.A.2 to permit other factors to bear on whether the tower’s height and massing relate to the height and massing of adjacent structures.
I’m no lawyer, so maybe I’m overlooking some legal concept hiding in plain sight, but then logic has not been a keystone of support for the Fane tower thus far. For example, it has been asserted that zoning requirements take precedence over the requirements of the comprehensive plan. And yet the purpose of zoning is to fulfill the comprehensive plan. So shouldn’t the latter trump the former?
As for whether the DDRC trumps the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, we’ll have to wait and see.