McDowell filed suit against the city in December, alleging that a 2003 amendment to the city code restricting the height of buildings within a 100-foot band north of Riverside Avenue unlawfully infringed on his rights as the owner of a property within that band. McDowell says he wasn't notified of the change, and that therefore a decision by the city's hearing examiner last May to deny McDowell a building permit was illegal.
The city's settlement of the suit doesn't involve an exchange of money but allows McDowell to build his project and leases to him a piece of city land on the east end of downtown for 99 years. It also requires McDowell to provide certain public amenities to the Peaceful Valley neighborhood, to mitigate the height of the building, which residents there have been fighting for more than a year on grounds that it would dominate the skyline, cast shadows and disturb their neighborhood's titular peace.
With neighborhood activists complaining that they've been left out of the conversation and McDowell professing reluctance to meet with them, city councilwoman Mary Verner offered a motion Monday night stipulating that should the city settle, McDowell must make a good-faith effort to negotiate with Peaceful Valley residents over which public benefits they want to see the project offer. Currently, that means lighting of the sidewalk leading up the slope to Cedar Street and some form of public art. The talks, which are non-binding and don't guarantee a consensus, would be facilitated by city staff.
McDowell says he welcomes "proactive, constructive criticism" and says if the neighborhood can come to an agreement on how to spend the money he planned to spend on art and the staircase -- say, on benches and chess boards instead -- "well, hey, no problem."
Many Peaceful Valley residents remain skeptical. "We will let actions speak for themselves," says Lori Aluna, who along with other residents is considering filing a counter-suit against the city. "There is currently no process to set this meeting up. As always we are groping though the dark in hopes of moving things forward."
McDowell says he intends to extend an invitation to the neighborhood in the next three weeks to begin discussions.