Bellevue residents plan to attend every meeting until proposed development is ‘squashed’

Haley Parnell
Haley Parnell
Haley is a reporter for LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

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Bellevue residents that line the northwest intersection of Geiger and Berry avenues have been outspoken against a proposed apartment development behind their homes.

Residents say the three-and-a-half acres of land owned by the city isn’t geologically sound, would decrease their property values, and would cause noise pollution from the industrial site that the existing trees provide abatement from. The city says the development is just a “concept” with no drawings or set plans.

According to Bellevue Mayor Charlie Cleves, the developer Matthew Olliges with Vision Realty Group met with the council in an executive session at their last meeting, where he gave a presentation on the $20 million development.

“The developer did come and make a presentation to us after that (meeting). Just tell us, give us a basic outline,” Cleves said. “Just to test the waters to see whether the council had an appetite for it or did not have an appetite for it. What they liked, what they didn’t like.”

No vote was taken as it was an executive session.

Cleves said the developer first approached the city with interest in the property about a year and a half ago. Bellevue City Administrator Frank Warnock said during the June 14 council meeting that the city hadn’t heard from the developer after the initial approach for over a year because they were trying to purchase access to the site off Geiger or Berry Avenues. 

Approximately a year and six months ago, residents on Berry started having the developer’s realtor, Jon Amster, knocking on their doors inquiring about purchasing their homes for an access point.

A rough outline of the proposed development along Geiger and Berry Avenues. Image provided | Google Maps

Berry Avenue resident Rob Schiller, who spoke at the June 14 city council meeting against the development, told LINK nky that Amster initially knocked on the doors of the properties near the wooded side of Berry and Anspaugh Avenue, including his, which sits at the T-intersection of the two streets.

“He (Amster) stopped by a couple of times at my house—probably more than that,” Schiller said. “At least two times at five or six of these houses verbally. And that was for one season, and then they came back this summer and offered some of the people in writing.”

The letter sent to a resident on Berry Avenue from Amster. The resident’s name and realtor’s contact information have been blurred for privacy reasons. Photo provided | Berry Avenue resident

According to the letter sent by Amster, the developer “must first purchase a home that can be removed to provide access from Berry Ave to the three acres of land.”

The written offers are for $300,000 cash.

LINK nky reached out to Amster for comment but has not heard back.

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Schiller, who has owned his home for 23 years, said he has no intention of selling.

Geiger Avenue resident Lori Hart also spoke at the last city council meeting against the apartments and told LINK nky she thought that since the property landlocks their home, someone would have reached out to them; however, she said she first heard about the development about three weeks before the meeting.

Hart said she would have liked to purchase some of the land surrounding her property.

“If your property bumps up against this land, wherever it is, I think you should have first dibs,” Hart said. “I think we should have the first right of refusal.”

Hart said this land is one of the few places left in the city with trees and wildlife. Further, she said if this land were to be developed, it would cause more congestion in the area than already exists.

“It’s right next to the train tracks, so I’m really surprised that they would put a development like that in a congested area already,” Hart said. “I can’t imagine what traffic will be like and what the parking will be like for the folks on Barry and Geiger.”

Because the wooded area provides a barrier to the noise from the Bellevue Industrial Center on Colfax Avenue, Hart and Schiller said they are concerned about noise pollution.

“It’s (the land) a noise and heat abatement for the industrial complex, the highway, and the railroad,” Schiller said. “When they tear those 150-foot trees down and all that woods back there, you’re going hear nothing but noise and heat coming off that highway, and that industrial complex, and that railroad. It’s going to be harmful because you can’t put a privacy fence to replace 150-foot trees is not going to work.”

Another big concern the residents said is whether the land is geologically sound. Hart said the area behind her home where the apartments would go is at a different level than her yard.

“Has anybody tested the ground?” Hart said. “Has anybody tested it to make sure it can sustain this type of development?”

Cleves told LINK nky that the developer would have to construct a geological study to build on the property.

“Nobody is going to loan a developer money and have them build something on unstable ground,” Cleves said. “They’re going to make sure everything is checked out first. And SD1 (Sanitation District) is going to make sure every bit of the water runoff is taken care of.”

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Cleves added that it’s the city’s responsibility to ensure the developer presents them with a viable plan so they know the development will work. He said it’s not currently a space you can do a lot with.

“It’s in terrible shape, and it’s got a lot of slip surface,” Cleves said. “It’s not some big empty lot.”

Schiller said the developer should “do his due diligence and look at the feasibility and geological suitability of the land” to ensure the development will not affect the foundations of the houses on Berry and Geiger.

Owner of Towne & Country Realty House Leslie Blair told LINK nky that nearly one-third of the homeowners between Berry and Geiger are in their retirement years, which is a concern of hers.

Blair said 29% of the homeowners directly affected by the development are either senior citizens or disabled. Of the 20 homes on Berry and 18 on Geiger, nine are on the homestead exemption, with a minimum age requirement of 65, and two are on disability exemptions.

“Many of them have lived in their homes for a long time, too,” Blair said. “It’s upsetting and disruptive, and development would certainly devalue their properties and lower their quality of life.”

Blair said she spoke with a “seasoned appraiser” and said the development could cause them a 15% devaluation.

“So, if you were sitting on a $200,000 home after development, the new lower value is $170,000,” Blair said. “Devalued by $30,000 easily, if not more.”

Hart told the city council on June 14 and LINK nky that she was concerned about the development decreasing her property value.

Since the last city council meeting, a petition has made its rounds on social media asking people against the development to sign it. The petition has gained over 730 signatures, but Cleves said they’re not all Bellevue residents.

“Anybody can sign it,” he said. “Somebody showed me this one guy is from a foreign country; he signed it.”

Schiller said he signed the petition. One of the other reasons he said he signed was to protect the ecosystem that lives on the land, including a bat and lizard population.

Cleves said this type of development is in agreement with the city’s comprehensive plan. A comprehensive plan contains a map of future land uses for a planning jurisdiction. They are typically updated every five years, though Bellevue’s plan was updated in 2022 from 2008.

The land use for the three-and-a-half acres changed in the updated plan from “recreational open space” to “special development area.”

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Image of proposed land use from Bellevue’s 2008 comprehensive plan showing the area as “recreational open space.” Photo provided | Bellevue’s 2008 comprehensive plan
Image of proposed land use from Bellevue’s 2022 comprehensive plan showing the area as “special development area.” Photo provided | Bellevue’s 2022 comprehensive plan

“There were a lot of changes made to the whole city,” Cleves said. “And they were to do with everything from putting development to what size a street has to be.”

Though Cleves said the development is still in its early stages, residents like Hart and Schiller are already considering a potential conflict of interest in Cleves voting to approve or not approve the development because Amster is Cleves’s son-in-law. Cleves said at the June 14 council meeting that he was unaware that the developer was using Amster as his realtor. 

“There was nothing sinister about him doing this,” Cleves said during the council meeting. “I didn’t know he was going to ask Jon to do this. I just figured he had his own real estate guy. It just turns out his real estate guy is my son-in-law.”

In the case of a split vote, the mayor is the deciding factor. Should the development make it to the city council for a vote and it ends in a tie, Cleves said he would ask the ethics board about him casting a vote.

“I am going to self-declare and ask the ethics board what their view is on it,” Cleves said. “I will get a ruling from them.”

Both Hart and Schiller said they plan to attend future city council meetings to follow the progression of the development.

“I will probably be going to every city meeting until I know it’s been squashed,” Hart said.

Schiller told LINK nky that they need as many people as possible visible at meetings to show the city how many people are against the development.

“It’s funny, I haven’t found anybody for it,” Schiller said.

Though residents have been outspoken against the proposed apartment complex, Cleves said the city must keep growing to cover increased expenses.

“The city needs development,” Cleves said. “We’ve got to keep growing. Our expenses keep going up and up and up.”

Cleves said the city has to create extra income for things like increased fire and police costs.

“If not that, we have to raise taxes substantially on everyone, and nobody’s going to want that,” Cleves said. “So, you know, while it does affect 30 houses up there. We running the city have to do what’s best for the city. And that’s for all 5,800 people, not just for the 50 people that live up there.”

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