Developers unveil plans for new Civic Park

  • Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013 10:18 p.m.
    UPDATED: Saturday, February 23, 2013 12:43 a.m.

SALISBURY — Developers and the Salisbury Housing Authority unveiled plans Thursday for a new Civic Park apartment complex, the centerpiece of an ambitious effort to transform the city’s West End neighborhood.

If fully funded, the existing Civic Park public housing project would be demolished and rebuilt, featuring new streets, utilities, parks, a community center and a variety of housing units from garden apartments to townhomes.

Civic Park would become a mix of public housing, low-income and market-rate apartments. Organizers presented drawings and plans to the city’s Technical Review Committee, the first step in a process of permitting, zoning and seeking approval from City Council.

In the past, public housing projects like Civic Park, built in 1953, were isolated and relegated, said Janet Gapen, the city’s interim director of Community Planning Services.

Now, when redeveloping housing projects, “those residents are brought into the fold of the neighborhood, and that development becomes an integral part of the surrounding neighborhood,” Gapen said.

The housing authority proposes to build the new Civic Park in two phases, totaling 181 units.

The first phase — 36 public housing units and 44 low-income units — would be built alongside the existing apartments, which would not demolished until phase two. The housing authority would relocate residents during demolition and construction, and they would have the first chance at a new apartment.

City officials from various departments pored over site plans, layouts and sketches of the redevelopment, discussing everything from stream protection to garbage pickup.

“What you see here is a small piece of what we hope to be transformational for this part of the city and, in fact, the entire city,” said Darryl Hemminger, senior vice president of Laurel Street Residential in Charlotte, a developer of mixed-income housing throughout the Southeast. “Its effects should be meaningful for the entire city.”

Hemminger is the project manager for Civic Park redevelopment, working with the housing authority and Ramsay Burgin Smith Architects of Salisbury.

The project failed to win an $18 million grant last year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development but will re-apply if the grants are included in the federal budget.

In the meantime, developers also will go after federal tax credits to help finance the project.

In phase one, three garden-style apartment buildings would go up near Brenner Avenue on seven acres of land currently owned by Livingstone College. The college and housing authority are negotiating a land swap.

Some apartments would face Brenner, and others would face the existing Civic Park complex, which Gapen emphasized is not dilapidated but structurally obsolete.

The housing authority has done an excellent job maintaining the complex, but the old apartments have structural problems that could not be rehabilitated, she said.

Architects working on the site plan have integrated housing with recreational spaces so that from almost every unit, residents would be able to look out onto a park, architect Bill Burgin said.

More eyes mean more safety and security, and more green space also contributes to the quality of life in a neighborhood, Burgin said.

“Everyone likes to think of a house next to a park, and we have that across the town but not necessarily in low-income housing,” he said.

Out of the nearly 18 acres of total Civic Park redevelopment, recreational and open space would take up close to four acres.

The community center, included in phase two, would offer services that many people take for granted, like access to computers, Burgin said. The center would offer job training, preschool, day care, exercise and more.

“Hopefully, we would have services brought closer to those who need them,” he said.

Rebuilding Civic Park is the centerpiece of the West End Transformation Plan, a complicated and far-reaching project led by the city, housing authority and neighborhood and funded by a $170,000 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant.

Organizers are 18 months into a two-year process to develop the plan, which they will submit to the federal government and compete for an implementation grant.

Several initiatives in the transformation plan are already under way, including:

• The new Learning Center at Miller Recreation Center offers free use of computers and printers to area residents.

• The Rowan County Health Department has partnered with Salisbury Parks and Recreation to improve Kelsey Scott Park and the West End Community Garden, with help from Refuge church.

• Horizons Unlimited plans to offer classes to West End residents on nutrition and health living.

• New sidewalks in the West End.

Housing authority and city officials plan to meet with West End residents and the transformation steering committee within two weeks to present the plan for Civic Park redevelopment, Foust said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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