A tussle over the Willow Grande condominiums proposed for Cherokee Triangle is shaping up over what size building is the right size in a neighborhood that already has three luxury high-rises.

“To have a vibrant city, you have to have density,” said developer Kevin Cogan, who’s proposing to build Willow Grande, a 17-floor luxury condominium at Willow and Baringer avenues.

If built, Willow Grande would be the fourth in a  row of multi-floor residential buildings stretching two blocks.

But neighborhood opponents of the project – planned at 1418 Willow Ave. near the intersection with Eastern Parkway – say the neighborhood is dense enough.

This morning, neighborhood activists with the Cherokee Triangle Association held a press conference in front of the Bordeaux Apartments, which Willow Grande would replace.

Their theme is, “Size Matters,” and at the news conference, Cherokee Triangle Association President Peggie Elgin termed the proposed building “too tall” and “just plain massive.”

How much is too much? Willow Grande would be one of four high-rise residential buildings in two blocks including 1400 Willow at right, and 1412 Willow.

However, as far as density, Willow Grande plans calls for several floors of two-story condos, and a total of 23 units, one unit less than the Bordeaux complex and far fewer than the near-by 1400 Willow, which has more than 60 condominiums.

Cherokee Triangle Association members say they approve of the Beaux Arts design of the proposed building, and certainly want to see the run-down ’60s-era Bordeaux apartment complex replaced in the otherwise affluent neighborhood.

But they want Cogan to revise the plan with fewer floors.

Cogan says his Jefferson Development Group has one major advantage in the kerfuffle – Willow Grande has made it through years of Landmarks Commission reviews, neighborhood meetings, public input and appeals, with the commission ruling it appropriate for the surrounding area.

The Landmark Commission process, he said, involves the Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee, composed of architects, reviewing every aspect of the plan including:

• height

• orientation of the building

• distance from the street

• shape of the entrance driveway

• building materials

• lighting elements

“We received approval,” Cogan said. “We received approval on density and height.”

When that approval was appealed, Willow Grande won the appeal on a vote of 7 to 0, Cogan said: “We’re good to go.”

Now, the project goes to the Louisville Metro Design and Planning Services for zoning, and that process allows for community input and multiple appeals as well, he said. “The majority of people in neighborhood approve of the project,” Cogan said. But he contends the approval process is set up to allow just one person to disagree and file an appeal.

“The question is whether they can do that. There’s a group that says, ‘We want another whack at it.’ So, does this thing end up in the Supreme Court? I don’t know ….”

The stretch of Willow Avenue on Cherokee Park has three existing high-rise residential buildings: 1400 Willow, 1412 Willow and The Dartmouth.

As proposed, Willow Grande would be 17 stories, three stories less than 1400 Willow a block way, but 6 stories taller than the neighboring Dartmouth.

Cogan declined to give a value for his investment.

Cherokee Triangle Association members concede that the precedent was set years ago, with existing high-rises date back to the 1920s, though 1400 Willow was completed in 1982. But those buildings, they say, were in place before a formal neighborhood plan, a plan that’s integrated into city zoning policy.

From a news release:

These buildings went up prior to the Cherokee Triangle Neighborhood Plan of 1989. These great structures and their residents are embraced in the plan as part of the neighborhood’s unique fabric. However, going forward, the city and residents agreed further high-rise development would lead to overcrowding and compromise the quality of life.

At the press conference this morning, Cherokee Triangle Association President Elgin and other opponents say they believe if Willow Grande gets final approval, high-rise buildings will start popping up throughout the historic district.

Cogan has been in virtually the same position before, but overcame opposition to his Park Grande high-rise overlooking Cherokee Park, an ultra-luxury 7-floor development about a mile from the proposed Willow Grande.

Park Grande sold out before it was completed, according to a Courier-Journal story from 2006, with Louisville business leaders including Junior Bridgeman and John Schnatter buying units.

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Terry Boyd
Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.