Norfolk City Council Debating Possible Depot Renovation

NORFOLK — The future of one of Norfolk’s oldest buildings is up in the air after the City Council was split over a zoning change in its most recent meeting.

Vandelay Investments owns the Depot building at 211 West Northwestern Avenue and requested a zoning change from Heavy Industrial to Multi-family residential so they could convert the property into high-end apartment units.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Vandelay Representative Ben Conover said the apartment plans would keep most of the historic facade the same.

“We can preserve the aesthetic and history and what we know as one of the first buildings in Norfolk,” Conniver said.

The City Council voted 4-3 with Mayor Josh Moenning providing the necessary fifth vote to advance the zoning proposal past its first reading.  It needs to pass with five votes on the second and third readings to become official.

Councilman Jim Lange was the most vocal opponent of the change, saying the Council should continue its pattern of defending industrial zones.  He added the body approved a bond issue about a decade ago to make the rail yard next to the depot more accessible.

“I cannot believe that we’re gonna say, OK we made this kind of this investment there for the rail so they would be able to put cars back in there when they needed to,” Lange said.  “But now we’re saying, tough luck.”

Turning the Depot into apartments wouldn’t prevent rail companies from storing cars in the yard but it worried Union Pacific enough to write a letter to the Council reminding members it’s an active rail corridor and traffic could increase on the tracks.  Right now, though, council members and Conover say cars like these have been sitting there for months or even years.

That presence isn’t enough for the mayor to want to close down the project.

“In the current time, we shut down opportunities to revitalize neighborhoods because we’re hopeful that some mysterious industry develops, materializes where it hasn’t for a number of years,” Moenning said.

The Council will hold a second public hearing on the zoning change at its next meeting on Monday, March 5th.

If the zoning change doesn’t pass, Conover says his company will likely ditch the historic facade and turn the building into garages and office space for contractors.