Kevin Cogan has a theory.
The longtime Highlands and Cherokee Triangle-area developer believes the city took a wrong turn early in its pursuit of urban living, and the result has been downtown condos that are too expensive for the people who want to live in them.
“The people who went out to the suburbs, they want to come back — but not all the way to downtown. I call them ‘edge of urban,’” he says. “They want to feel the park. They want the feeling of the coffeeshops and that. But they’ll leave the downtown streets to the younger, to the Y generation.”
They also have money, Cogan says, and if they’re going to downsize, they want some of the amenities of their suburban mini-mansions, such as chef’s kitchens and walk-in closets. But they don’t care about Fourth Street Live, abhor the wrenching traffic of the KFC Yum! Center, and prefer to sip their bourbon in the comfort of their own living rooms.
Enter Park Grande, Cogan’s first big effort to draw that market. The seven-story, six-unit development overlooking Cherokee Park was sold out when it opened in 2006; among its tenants are Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman, Jim Patterson, Bruce Lunsford and “Papa” John Schnatter. Cogan considers it a proof of concept.
Sitting in his fourth-floor unit at Park Grande, a luxurious condo with an Italian-inspired design, the principal of Jefferson Development Group reflects on his theory, which is driving his development of the Willow Grande, a proposed 15-story, 24-unit luxury condo building at the corner of Willow and Baringer avenues, where the Bordeaux Apartments stand today.
It might seem unusual to reflect on something that still requires planning and zoning approvals before the first shovel of dirt is turned, but Cogan has had a lot of time to think on this one. The project has been wending its way through the planning process for nearly three years. At present, it is the subject of two lawsuits by the Cherokee Triangle Association, which is arguing the Willow Grande is out of scale for the neighborhood. This evening, Cogan goes before the Metro Planning Commission to ask for 13 waivers and variances to accommodate the building’s footprint, parking and associated traffic changes.
Cogan says it’s been his vision for more than 30 years, since he sold his first unit at the nearby 1400 Willow luxury tower, to add to the row of condo buildings along Willow Ave. that also includes the Dartmouth-Willow Terrace. Those two Depression-era structures house a combined 82 units. Down the street, the Commodore on Bonnycastle Ave. — a 59-unit luxury condo tower — opened in 1929. All three were designed by Joseph and Joseph Architects, which Cogan hired to craft the Willow Grande.
Those structures were built before the neighborhood became what it is now; the Bonnycastle neighborhood plan at the time supposes there would be similar buildings built nearby.
One could argue, then, that the Triangle took shape around them, that they’re fundamental to its development. Or that the Triangle changed so dramatically after they were built — nearly every house or apartment complex is under four stories — that the vision is no longer relevant.
That’s the heart of the dispute between Cogan and the neighborhood association. For Cogan, it’s a select few loud voices who have sought to block him at every turn — during development of Park Grande, which took seven years from concept to concrete, and now with Willow Grande. He says home values have benefitted dramatically from the luxury condos at 1400 Willow, and that neighbors would throw a fit if the Dartmouth-Willow Terrace were somehow razed or removed.
For the Cherokee Triangle Association, Cogan is a developer trying to bend the rules that have made their neighborhood what it is: a sometimes tony, other times gritty mix of more than 2,400 households — owners and renters — who have flourished under the tight restrictions on land use that govern the historic neighborhood.
“The main reason we’re opposed to Willow Grande is the sheer mass and scale of it is completely out of character with the whole rest of the neighborhood,” says CTA president Tim Holz. The neighborhood association has pursed a campaign called “Size Matters” that targets Willow Grande.
The group filed suit against Cogan and the Metro Landmarks Commission over the Willow Grande in 2012, after the commission approved the project. The following year, they sued Cogan and Metro government after the Metro Council passed a rezoning request to allow for Willow Grande’s increased density. The former is before the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and the latter is in Jefferson Circuit Court.
Cogan says the planning process — which began for Willow Grande in July 2012 — grants too much influence to neighborhood groups.
“We have a broken system,” he says. “Our Planning Commission tries its best, but we get embroiled not in planning and zoning. We get embroiled in planning and neighborhood sentiment. And there’s a big difference.”
Cogan, who has lived just off Park Boundary Road in Cherokee Park for more than three decades, says he’s committed to improving the neighborhood — and, by extension, its residents’ home values. He cites his projects to turn an old blood bank on Bardstown Road into what is now Seviche and Panera Bread, and to remake a declining building into the strip that’s home to Sapporo, as evidence of his commitment.
“I put my money where my mouth is,” he says.
Whether he gets the chance to do that at Willow Grande remains to be seen. Until then, Cogan won’t stop.