Redesign revs up plan for West Dodge project

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Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 11:17 am, Tue Mar 25, 2014.

A long-delayed commercial and housing project to be built on what's left of Blumkin family property northwest of 122nd Street and West Dodge Road has revved up again.

Grading and other site preparation on the now-vacant 27 acres just west of Costco could begin this year, said Bob Begley of Lockwood Development, which intends to develop the site.

As proposed, an apartment complex, a three-story office building, a 10,000-square-foot bank and a 5,000-square-foot retail area would occupy the area. Construction of structures would wait, Begley said, until tenants are secured.

Also on the project site — referred to as the second phase of Candlewood Hills commercial development, which is anchored by Costco — is a walking trail, a new access road and a drainage corridor that feeds into a so-called wetlands.

It was largely discussions over how to deal with the government-protected drainage corridor and wetlands that held up the second phase, said Blumkin lawyer Larry Jobeun. Ultimately, the site plan was redesigned so as not to disturb them.

While the resulting commercial layout was downsized — less office and retail space and a less substantial north-south connecting road — it is as good as could be without continued debate and negotiations, Jobeun said.

Finally, he said, the big dirt lot off of West Dodge appears ready to be transformed.

“We're hopeful to eliminate that dirt pile soon,” he said.

The saga of Candlewood Hills dates to 2006 when the Omaha Planning Board swiftly endorsed a plan for a large, multiphase commercial development to be anchored by Costco.

In 1948, the site had been purchased by Rose Blumkin, founder of Nebraska Furniture Mart.

After Mrs. B died in 1998 at age 104, the land was held by four trusts that benefit the families of her four children.

Costco was erected after the Blumkin “big house,” as the family called it, was torn down in April 2007. Trees and farm buildings around the big house also were cleared.

Today, a chunk of property in front of Costco along the West Dodge frontage road remains vacant and available for tenants.

Developing the second phase — the western 27 acres — has been tougher.

Jobeun told the Planning Board last week that the area could not be built as originally intended largely because of the drainage corridor and wetlands that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claims jurisdiction over. (He said the corps considers it a “Water of the United States.”)

The drainage ditch runs south-north and feeds the triangular wetlands formed when the man-made Lake Candlewood was dredged in the late 1990s. The swampy material was laid out at the future project site to dry out, recalled Jay Noddle of Noddle Cos., who was heavily involved in the early stages of the commercial development.

Fed by storm water drainage, plant life grew to become what now has been designated a wetlands, Noddle said. “Before we knew it, plants were growing,” Noddle said. “It's crazy.”

Jobeun said much time has been spent seeking different ways around the protected corridor and wetlands. He said it would be more time-consuming and costly to continue to battle.

The corps project manager involved in the discussions was unavailable for comment Friday.

To preserve the corridor and wetlands, a once-proposed main south-north road through the property has been removed from the layout. A smaller road closer to Costco now is to connect Burt Street to the campus.

Discussions with Costco about that road caused further delay, Jobeun said.

Jobeun and the developer also met with neighbors in the Lake Candlewood residential area, who were concerned about increased traffic. Jobeun told the Planning Board that he'd work further with area residents and city engineers on improvements.

The Planning Board gave the green light to the redesigned project, given certain conditions, including sidewalks and confirmation of walking trails. The redesign now goes to City Council, and Jobeun is confident it's moving forward.

“We tried to make the best of a tough situation,” he said. “It hasn't been an easy road.”

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