Bluestone plans its largest rental complex

Currently occupied by two houses and vacant lots, the northwest corner of South 51st and Mayberry Streets would transform to three structures: two L-shaped, four-story buildings over a parking garage and one three-story building in the middle.

A plan for apartments at 51st and Mayberry Streets won the Omaha Planning Board’s backing Wednesday, despite opposition from neighbors.

Real estate developer Christian Christensen proposes to erect three buildings containing a combined 193 apartments northwest of 51st and Mayberry. He also would put the office of his Bluestone Development firm there.

The site is between a neighborhood of single-family homes and a strip mall that includes the Three Happiness Express Chinese restaurant.

About 20 neighbors attended the Planning Board meeting to oppose the project.

They said it doesn’t fit the neighborhood of 1½- and two-story houses. The proposed buildings are too large, the neighbors said. There would be too many apartments, they said. Increased traffic would cause problems on residential streets and on the already-congested Leavenworth Street a half-block away.

“Right now a lot of people have trouble getting out on Leavenworth,” Michael Macdonald said.

He said neighbors think Bluestone is “overbuilding this property ... to make extra money.”

Another neighbor noted that a traffic study projects that 51st and Leavenworth would sink to a service level of F by 2018 if the apartments were built.

Neighbor Michelle Drake asked the Planning Board to delay a vote to give neighbors time to further study traffic and work out a compromise with Christensen.

“We want to be able to welcome our new neighbors with good will, not animosity,” Drake said.

Larry Jobeun, a lawyer for Bluestone, said Christensen has had multiple meetings with neighbors.

Jobeun said the developer had reduced the number of planned apartments from 215 to 193. He said the zoning on the site currently would allow 292 apartments in a building up to 150 feet high.

Bluestone’s tallest building would be 65 feet. Jobeun said much thought and effort went into designing the complex so it will complement the neighborhood. He said it will meet city urban design standards.

City planners recommended approval. Assistant Planning Director Dave Fanslau said the proposal meets city standards meant to allow infill development and increase population density using existing infrastructure in a way that complements the neighborhood.

Traffic engineers said that although the future level of service at 51st and Leavenworth would sink at peak afternoon travel times, many Omaha intersections are at that level at peak times.

The board voted 7-0 in support of the plans for the site and a redevelopment plan that includes $2.7 million in tax-increment financing. The total project cost is estimated at $26.5 million.

The issue now goes to the City Council.

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