Council members voted 6-0 to move forward with the project, with Mayor Mike Kasperzak absent.
City officials say the city attorney's office has spent many hours dealing with the existing building's numerous code violations, and a court order that could slowly empty the building is expected soon.
"We've got to fix it, and to me the easiest way to fix it is to go to another project that is compliant," said council member Tom Means. "My feeling is we just move ahead and get this to be a better site. It gets rid of a headache to some extent."
The 1940s building known to house La Costena and La Bamba taquerias would make way for 51 studios above a 2,700 square-foot-retail space developed by ROEM and Eden Housing, the same developer building 51 affordable family homes on Evelyn Avenue at Franklin Street.
The studios would be rented to those making between $21,800 and $32,625 a year, with rents ranging from $521 to $793 a month. Up to two people can rent a studio, and city planners estimate 57 tenants based on occupancy rates of similar projects.
Building owner Charles Gardyn had initially promised that the building's existing tenants could return to the redeveloped building, but it was revealed at the meeting that the retail space would be only 2,700 square feet, and La Costena taqueria and market alone now occupies 3,500 square feet. Council members said they hoped that at least two of the five existing businesses in the building would be able to move back into the building.
The city will spend $744,000 relocating existing residential tenants from the building, which could be demolished early next year, at the earliest. City staff members had originally expected to pay $500,000, but learned that 48 people were living in the 10 existing units.
The council gave an initial green light to the project in November, allowing the developer to spend less than a third of the $9.3 million in city housing funds allocated for the project until a better design for parking could be worked out. There were still concerns about the large size of the parking lot, which provides .75 of a space per unit. A survey of similar studio projects found parking use at .57 spaces per unit, while city planners recommended .62 to compensate because of a lack of access to transit.
"I'll join the rest of council with something of a heavy heart," said council member Ronit Bryant. "Spending a lot of money on this project using half the lot for parking doesn't sit well with me. And moving successful businesses is something I'd much rather not do. However I have enormous respect for ROEM and Eden Housing. I believe the final project will be a good project."