Zoning Change Approved For Proposed Depot Apartments Project

NORFOLK — A controversial housing project aimed at renovating a historic Norfolk property is a step closer to reality.

Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning broke a 4-4 tie with a ‘yes’ vote at Monday’s City Council meeting to approve a zoning change that would allow Vandelay Investments to turn the vacant Depot building into apartments.  Moenning says the chance at historic preservation is what urged him to give the zoning change the OK.

“This is a building that has a lot of history,” Moenning said.  “I think the proposal that’s come forward really lends itself to a repurposing that can lead to new energy or new activity in the neighborhood.”

The zoning now shift from I-1 industrial to R-3 multifamily residential.  But a group of councilmen, led by Jim Lange, thought the safety and noise risks associated with putting housing next to a rail yard were too great.

“I see no place that that makes any sense,” Lange said.  “It’s one of the poorest planning decisions… it’s just incomprehensible in my opinion.”

The yard does not have a through track and is used rarely as a place to store or switch cars.

Moenning says he sees past the concerns and envisions the project helping fight the town’s housing shortage and possibly spur the growth of a mixed use district.

“It’s an innovative project, it’s creative, it’s something that we haven’t done a lot of but I think its time has come,” Moenning said.

The Council voted 7-1 to approve the first hearing of the project’s final planned development.  It will need to pass two more votes to give the developer the final green light.

The Council voted 7-1 to authorize an application for a Nebraska Department of Economic Development grant seeking $500,000 of state money to help the project.  Developer Ben Conover says the project will include 10 or 11 high-end apartments.