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Proposed “Green” Development to Overlook the River at E. Kane Place

by Sonya Jongsma Knauss

A one-and-a-half lot, city-owned parcel on E. Kane Place could soon be home to a small, “sustainable, green building” development including a unique “strawbale” house. Julilly Kohler, Brady Street developer and community activist, is hoping to buy the property at 1152-1158 E. Kane because she’d like to live there. “Strawbale houses are perfect for this latitude,” she explains, pulling out plans for the potential development. “They’re made of renewable materials, and they’re so compact that they’re very fire resistant.” Strawbale houses have walls with an R factor of 40-50, whereas a house is considered to have good insulation with an R factor of 18. The straw bales rest on a stone or concrete platform and are covered on the inside and outside with stucco. The stucco allows plenty of room for artistic expression, and Kohler has been saving pieces of colored glass and dishes to create mosaics for the walls. She hopes to put a “green roof” on the strawbale house — which would be her home — a gray water system to recycle water used by residents for watering gardens. “My dream is to bring in a geo-thermal heat pump, and spread it among the buildings,” she said, in order to defray the high initial cost of setting up the system. Her excitement is evident as she explains how she has been working with La Dallman Architects on a preliminary plan for the area, which would include four single-family houses, one duplex, and a two- or four-family condominium, a lower density than zoning would allow. She met with East Village Association (EVA) members last year to present them with her ideas for the land. “We supported her plans,” said EVA president Shirley Ferguson. “She would actually be living there, not just trying to develop the property to make money off it. She would have a stake in the neighborhood.” Kohler owns the adjacent property, 1144-1148 E. Kane, which enabled her to have the first option to buy the vacant lot next door. (When selling a residential lot, the Redevelopment Authority follows a stated protocol that includes offering the land first to adjacent owners before putting out an RFP to the general public.) However, attorney Joseph Kaye recently alleged the city was behaving improperly in selling the lot to Kohler, who is the vice president of the City Plan Commission. In a letter to various city officials and local media, he referred to the lot as a “big buildable tract,” which means the city should have solicited bids. Kaye extensively cited e-mails he received from an open records request, including one from 3rd District Ald. Mike D’Amato that says “Let’s please get this done ASAP” regarding the sale to Kohler. When asked about his role, D’Amato said it sounded like he was simply doing his job. “What you don’t get in a small excerpt is that we had been working on this vacant property for three years. I think we owe it to the neighborhood and to any potential developers to get this done quickly… the e-mail reflects my desire to make sure we weren’t slowing things down.” Neighbors who had concerns about a previous plan to put in 22 units have looked favorably on Kohler’s potential development. The lot currently sits vacant in the midst of a dense urban neighborhood on the lower east side. The lot is not without its challenges. It requires some remediation due to contaminated industrial fill used to level the land more than 100 years ago, Kohler says. The adjacent lot which she currently owns has condemnable buildings she plans to take down (possibly salvaging and moving a small cottage) to make the development work. There would be underground parking, accessible by a road on the east end of the lot she already owns. D’Amato says the potential sale has followed and will continue to follow standard city operating procedure. “Nothing has been decided or completed,” he said. “It is simply an offer that will have to survive the scrutiny of the common council, the neighbors, and the EVA. At the end of the day, what’s important to me is that we have a developer who works with the neighborhood.” For her part, Kohler says she wants to do just that. . . . . . . . . . EVA-HistoricAward.jpg

Ald. Mike D’AMato joins acting Mayor Marvin Pratt in recognizing the East Village Association. EVA members Mark Behar and Susan Mikos accept the certificate recognizing the East Village Historic District as part of the National Register of Historic Places.

by Sonya Jongsma Knauss