From the ashes of the burned-then-razed Metz mansion is to rise an apartment building that would add 24 market-rate dwellings to midtown Omaha’s Blackstone neighborhood.
Area residents who hated to see the century-old structure fall now are focused on making sure its replacement fits the surroundings.
Some aren’t fully satisfied with the redevelopment proposal by co-owners Robert Chalupa and Larry Jensen. They want changes, including how close the proposed apartments would sit to the owners-occupied Blackstone Townhomes.
Others are receptive to the nearly $4 million plan that calls for up to $580,000 in tax-increment financing.
“We’ve got to put the past behind us and deal with the reality that an empty lot isn’t a good thing, either,” said Jim Farho, a member of the Blackstone neighborhood association and business improvement district.
Farho, who was among those who fought to save the old Metz house, said neighborhood leaders have had productive meetings with Jensen, a developer and contractor who signed on as a partner with the Mansion Flats LLC owners after the mansion already had been torn down.
Jensen earlier had been involved in an unsuccessful eleventh-hour effort to buy and save the mansion built originally for Arthur Metz of the Metz Brothers Brewing Co. It had been converted to rental units prior to the January 2015 fire that led to condemnation.
Chalupa’s Mansion Flats group bought the damaged property after the blaze, and Chalupa decided that clearing the site for future development was the most financially feasible option.
He later contacted Jensen about becoming a partner in the proposed 3700 Dewey apartment project.
Said Jensen: “Do I wish the house could have been saved? Yes. ... I feel like the Metz mansion was a landmark — we want to see this building be a landmark as well.”
Jensen, who has other rental property in midtown, said he was drawn to the project because of his past efforts and an ongoing penchant for preserving properties and pockets of architectural detail.
He said he is satisfied the proposed structure will blend with the Blackstone historic district that has seen a boom from the nearby University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Other large area employers include Mutual of Omaha and its Midtown Crossing campus and Kiewit.
As proposed at 3625 Dewey Ave., the four-level building would contain a ground floor of parking and three stories of apartments, most of them with one bedroom.
The secure garage level would contain 23 stalls, according to city documents. Two more would be outside and additional parking would be on the street. Rent would range from $975 to $1,100.
A main entrance would be on Dewey, near the corner of 37th Street. Amenities would include a shared mezzanine balcony, individual private balconies and green spaces for gatherings in the front, rear and side yards.
Jensen said the idea was to create a “turn-of-the-century” classic look in part by covering the exterior base of the building with large cut stone pieces. Upper floors would feature brownish-black brick reflecting the flavor of the Blackstone District. Other accents include ornamental light fixtures and terraces made with decorative iron.
Howard Duncan, an attorney who lives in one of the 16 Blackstone Townhomes to the east, said fellow townhome owners have expressed concerns about devaluation of their property, a potential parking squeeze and proximity of the apartments to the townhomes.
Rita Yasson, who has owned a townhome there for about 20 years, said she recognizes that something has to fill the spot. But she regrets that the apartments are going to be so close to the front doors of several of her neighbors in her complex.
“Why can’t we have a little more green space between buildings?” she said.
Jensen said developers are offering adjustments such as obscured windows (that only let in light) on the building side facing townhomes. He said that while the garage level would be built 5 feet from the property line, a modified plan has upper floors shrinking inward 5 more feet to provide extra space.
The Planning Board on Wednesday gave its endorsement to the plan and TIF request.
City planners said in a report that the site had been a “slight eyesore” and they now expect residential growth.
When Chalupa launched the move last year to demolish the Metz mansion, even some city officials were surprised. While neighbors considered the house a local landmark, a review by the Planning Department confirmed it had no historic status and was just outside the formal boundaries of the Gold Coast Historic District, which meant there was no legal basis to stop demolition.
If approved also by the City Council, construction on the apartments could begin in October and open during the summer of 2017.
Farho said some tweaks in the apartment design still might be desirable, but overall he finds the proposed apartment structure to be “an acceptable use of that land.”
He said he was looking at the positive impact. Visitors and potential residents would see a new project as investment and confidence in the area, Farho said.
“You’ve got to look through the lens of someone who has not been down here,” he said. “It will blend in.”