Plan Board denies UD’s $40M arts center plan, citing tree concerns

The city of Dayton’s Plan Board has denied a request that would allow the University of Dayton to construct a new $40 million performing arts center that the school has long wanted.

UD’s proposed development plan would remove four mature Gingko trees that the plan board said should remain.

Board members said UD had ample opportunity to revise its plans but the university chose not to do that and instead made the same request multiple times.

“To me, we already told them in November 2019 that we had to have an alternative landscaping plan,” said Greg Scott, chair of the Dayton Plan Board. “We told them very clearly that four of those five trees were to remain.”

UD has asked for a public hearing before the Dayton City Commission essentially to appeal the board’s decision.

UD‘s plans need the support of four out of the five commission members to be approved, city staff said.

UD officials said the planned Center for the Arts will bring life and activity to an unproductive and vacant parcel of land while also expanding educational opportunities for students and offering a place for the Dayton community to see performances and exhibits.

Earlier this week, the Dayton Plan Board voted 3-0 to deny UD’s proposed planned development zoning change.

The application asked to permit the construction of a new performing arts center near the intersection of South Main and East Stewart streets, as well as retain the practice band field and remove five Gingko trees.

City staff recommended approval of UD’s request, saying the university would mitigate the loss of the mature Gingko trees by planting 56 trees of varying types.

The performing arts center project will be an asset to the community, and UD looked at modifying its plans but determined it was not reasonable based on all the work that went into their development, said Mark Thurnauer, the project architect who works for Champlin Architecture.

But one consideration the board uses when evaluating plans is whether applicants preserve significant natural features as much as possible, like trees of substantial age and size, said Scott.

The plan board told UD in November 2019 it could eliminate one mature Gingko tree but it needed to preserve four others along South Main Street, he said.

UD could have modified its plans and redesigned the proposed building and try to use some of the adjacent land, Scott said, but instead the university has made the same request multiple times.

“2019, 2020, 2021 ― and we’re back here, with the university having known then what the decision of this body was and having the opportunity to go forward and make some changes,” Scott said. “We’ve only seen the same thing over and over again, and that’s troubling.”

Last month, the plan board denied UD’s request to reconsider conditions of its general development plan that were set in November 2019, largely in reference to retaining the mature Gingko trees.

At that meeting, board member Jeff Payne said UD’s request felt like “a kid coming back, badgering, trying to get a different answer.”

Scott said the plan board’s decisions need to have some finality. He said if UD disagreed with their decision, the university should have appealed it in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

He said UD really only needs to find a way to move the proposed development maybe 25 feet to the east to avoid impacting the mature trees.

Richard Krysiak Jr., UD’s vice president of facilities management and planning, said the university does not believe the proposed building can be moved. The university felt that its landscaping plan was adequate since it would plant far more trees than would be removed during construction.

UD cannot move a practice band field to the east of the proposed arts center site, university officials said. The practice band field is an integral part of UD’s music education program and is located adjacent to music department classrooms and the rehearsal and storage facilities at Fitz Hall, officials said.

Emmy Fabich, who lives in the McPherson Town neighborhood, sent a message to city staff last month opposing UD’s request. She said removing the trees would be detrimental to aesthetics, traffic calming, shade for pedestrians and offsetting emissions.

Bryan Stewart, a Dayton resident, said is thrilled about UD’s arts center plan, but the city’s urban forest is important.

“This seems like a no-brainer,” he said. “Keep those trees.”

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