ANGOLA — Angola’s Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved a special use variance allowing for second-story residential apartments to be added to a commercial building in the city’s retail district on Monday.

Jonathan and Christina Cress, owners of the commercial building at 430 N. Wayne St., were successful in petitioning the BZA for a variance that will allow them to convert the second story from office space to residences.

The owners came before the board seeking a variance because the property is zoned as C1, or small to medium commercial.

Jonathan Cress told BZA members that he and his wife have been unable to find any tenants for the commercial space that currently occupies the building’s second floor. With 8,700-square-feet of commercial space to rent out on a relatively small 1.5-acre lot, Cress told the board that he believed the property’s unique situation merited special consideration.

“We have just come to the position that in using our building in the last 10 years since we’ve owned it, we’ve been unable to find any renters upstairs for commercial space,” Cress said. “I think the pandemic also affected that, because I think most businesses are realizing quickly that they can have remote offices at home. So, we’re seeing a lot of employees now being able to do their job at home, which takes away from the need for active commercial spaces.”

The variance will clear the way for the construction of three, two-bedroom, two-bath apartments located within walking distance to downtown. The three apartments will be similarly sized, ranging from 890 to 975 square feet, and will be located less than 700 feet from a city park and less than half a mile from an elementary school, Carlin Park.

“This would make the apartments upstairs suitable for people who have small children, or for people who are working downtown and don’t necessarily have to commute by car,” Cress said. “I know there’s a big push for the downtown revitalization … and my understanding is that according to the recent housing report, Steuben County is in need of more housing, whether that be apartments or single-family homes.”

The only exterior modifications needed for the building will be stairwells and windows to let in natural light, Cress said. Any possible modifications are not expected to have a significant effect on the building’s appearance.

The BZA noted a “severe housing shortage” in Steuben County in their staff report on the request. Granting the variance will not have a detrimental effect on any neighboring properties, nor does it go against the Angola Comprehensive Plan, BZA members determined during a fact-finding portion of the public hearing.

No additional parking spaces will be required on site, per Angola’s ordinances, because there is already adequate parking available.

The BZA stipulated in its approval of the variance that the owners cannot add any more apartments on the first floor of the building.

Now that the variance has been approved, the owners will move onto the permitting process before any construction can begin.

Retha Hicks from Angola’s Office of Economic Development and Planning, said the BZA has several more pending applications that were submitted prior to Monday’s deadline. Those matters will be taken up at the next BZA meeting on Feb. 22.

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