Expanded Pinery plan moves forward

       The Pinery at the Hill took two steps Aug. 23 toward development of a wedding/event/conference center on the Near Westside's Bijou Hill.

A rendering of how the Pinery at the Hill will look when it's built. The current, long-closed building is a remnant of the one-time Fish Market restaurant.
Courtesy of Joel Gray, Art Klein Construction and the Pinery

       One of these was a neighborhood meeting, which gave residents in the area of Bijou and Seventh Street a chance to ask questions of co-owner Eric Allen and construction representative Bruce Barr about the Pinery request to the city for an expansion of the original plan - never built - that the city had approved four years ago.
       The other step was demolition of the house, originally built in 1889, at 122 Hill St. The Pinery ownership had bought that property earlier this year and are planning to use it for additional parking.
       Allen said afterward that it was a coincidence the house came down the day of the meeting. “It was supposed to be done a week and a half before,” he said. “But that was the only window of opportunity for Baldwin Demolition. It had to be that Thursday, or wait another two months.”
       Before that, there had been some neighborhood interest in preserving the house, which sat on a smaller hilltop just south of the Bijou Hill. Meggan Herington of City Land Use Review said the Pinery owners had not told her about their demo plans for that day, noting that she had still been preparing to pursue historical details in the house; however, she elaborated, the structure was not within a historic overlay nor on the historic register and the Pinery owners were within their legal rights to take it down.

A demolition team tears down the last of the 123-year-old Hill Street house Aug. 23. It sat on 3/4-acre that is to be redeveloped into a Pinery parking lot.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The neighborhood meeting came early in the city's review of the new Pinery plans. No dates for Planning Commission or City Council hearings have been announced. Coordinating the meeting, Herington also told the roughly 50 people in attendance that neither she nor staffers in other city departments have completed their required reviews of the project proposal yet. However, she said she thought a neighborhood meeting would be useful at this time to introduce neighbors to the expanded concept. Another such meeting will be held farther along in the process, she added.
       The property owners have run a similar facility in Black Forest for five years and chose the Bijou Hill location because of its unique views in almost every direction. Currently the hilltop site is identifiable by its long-empty restaurant building (visible from the area of the I-25/Bijou interchange), with the remains of a sign saying “Fish Market.”
       The Pinery plan is to use - and add to - the basic footprint of that building, adding landscaping and refurbishing the entire 2 ¾-acre lot (plus, now, the ¾ acre of the Hill Street property).
       The main structural change from the 2008 plan is a bigger second floor, which increases the planned building size from 15,000 square feet in '08 to about 21,000 square feet. A major external structure will be a new retaining wall across Hill Street, which will help control storm run-off there, Barr said.
       Originally, the Pinery ownership had perceived the site at 775 W. Bijou St. as mainly for weekend weddings/receptions, but it now sees a strong market for weekday business conferences and meetings - also, that the old business plan is not viable in the weakened economy.
       In 2008, the surrounding neighborhood had few objections to the original Pinery plan. Most people seemed pleased at the prospect of having an active operation to drive away the vacant hilltop's vandals, transients and drinking parties.
       This sentiment was still evident at the two-hour-plus meeting Aug. 23; however, several attendees expressed consternation at the larger size.
       Questions related to security, noise, traffic, lighting intensity, storm drainage, utility capacity, landslide potential, neighborhood outreach and the likelihood of the Pinery failing and leaving a new eyesore.
       Welling Clark, president of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), expressed displeasure with the demolition timing. Doing it before the meeting “gives a negative appearance,” he said.
       Allen sought to reassure the throng on all counts, including an offer to work with the neighbors on occasional special events for them, once the facility is built.

A rendering, styled to look like a photo looking northeast from the parking lot atop Bijou Hill, shows how the front of the Pinery would look during an evening event. The project plan is under city review.
Westside Pioneer photo

       In answer to the size of investment the Pinery ownership is putting into the new facility, Allen said he has a “9 to 10 million-dollar budget.” He added that 95 percent of the investors in the project are local, and he hopes to have the operation up and running by next summer.
       Overall, Allen described the project as an “upcycle” of what's on the site now. “We're doing something nice for that hill,” he said.

Westside Pioneer article