The Planning Board granted preliminary site plan approval Thursday for Shun Cheng LLC to convert a four-story office building at 332 West Front Street to retail use on the first floor with nine apartments on three upper floors.
The vacant building housed the Tri-County Red Cross before the agency relocated to Westfield and was previously Gregory's Music Center (scroll down to see an ad from 1945).
Plans call for removal of metal panels from the exterior and restoration of the facade "to its former glory," architect George Sincox said. There will be space for three retail tenants on the first floor and each story above will have one 2-bedroom unit and two 1-bedroom units.
Board members questioned a layout for the two-bedroom units that had a dining room accessible from the kitchen only by passing through the living room. Other concerns were that a den in the 1-bedroom units and the dining room in the 2-bedroom units would be converted to bedrooms and lead to overcrowding. Sincox agreed to reconfigure the layouts to meet the board's concerns.
There was no provision for open space except a basement "community multi-purpose area," and parking will be off-site at a city parking lot on West Second Street. The tenants will have to obtain parking permits from the city Parking Bureau before certificates of occupancy will be issued.
Storage space was another issue that Planning Director William Nierstedt urged Sincox to address in the final site plan.
Board member William Toth raised the issue of rear windows being blocked if another structure was built behind the building, and suggested "light wells." Sincox agreed to incorporate them into the design.
With a number of proposals for apartments downtown, Nierstedt said several of the issues raised Thursday will recur, such as lack of parking, provision of open space and designs that could lead to overcrowding. Someone asked whether residents could use the roof as open space, which attorney Lawrence Vastola remembered as being called "tar beach," but Sincox said the pitch of the roof precluded its use.
The solution to conversion of space to bedrooms was not anything the board could control, but might be addressed through annual inspections, members said.
Before giving preliminary approval, the board also called for certain changes in trash disposal plans and confirmed that a building manager will move the bin outside for pickup.