City Council approves rezoning for apartments

  • Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 1:11 a.m.

SALISBURY — City Council approved two rezonings Tuesday night, despite opposition from neighbors and concern about stormwater runoff.

Council members gave the nod to rezonings that will allow construction of Summerfield, a planned 80-unit, rent-controlled apartment complex and clubhouse on Gold Hill Drive, as well as renovation of Colonial Village, an existing 98-unit complex built in 1972 on D Avenue.

Developers of both projects are competing for tax credit financing through the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, which is expected to announce winners — likely just one in Rowan County — late this summer.

Summerfield Apartments

Charlotte developer Jud Little wants to build a $9 million campus-style complex on 12 vacant acres with one exit and entrance on Gold Hill Drive. He’s agreed to reserve part of the land for a public park and to pay the city to improve sidewalks.

Resident Nancy Owen said she has lived for 45 years on Gold Hill Drive, which has heavy traffic all hours of the day and night. Motorists trying to turn onto Faith Road “sit there forever,” Owen said.

She also warned council members about a pond on the property, drainage problems and environmental concerns about an old landfill.

“Somebody’s not looking at this like they should,” she said.

Gold Hill Road resident Harry Owen, no relation to Nancy Owen, said he believes the complex would increase the crime rate in the area.

Rick Carter, who lives at a nearby intersection, said he is concerned about crime, as well as “sidewalks that will not go anywhere.”

Mayor Paul Woodson said he had heard numerous comments from Salisbury residents about water issues on the property and asked city staff about the concerns.

Planner Trey Cleaton said the developer and professional engineers by law must study and address water and environmental issues on the site before they can start construction.

Cleaton said he has confirmed there was a pond on the property, as well as a dump, but assured residents and council members that Little is responsible for due diligence.

Councilwoman Karen Alexander asked Little if he would preserve as many existing trees as possible. She is co-chair of a City Council committee studying proposed rules to protect the canopy.

The trees provide a good buffer between the site and Interstate 85, Alexander said.

Little said he would preserve trees on the undeveloped parts of the site, which should continue to screen the interstate.

Councilman Brian Miller said Little was sensitive to neighboring developments when he created plans for Summerfield, putting the tallest, three-story apartment buildings at the lowest elevations on the site.

Miller also praised the landscaping and said projects that win tax credits from the N.C. Housing Finance Agency are held to higher standards.

“It’s not my ideal site, but it’s a decent site,” Miller said.

Alexander also praised Little’s placement of buildings and said sidewalks that he will pay for “don’t make a lot of sense now but might in the future” as other areas develop.

Councilman Pete Kennedy said he sympathizes with homeowners who oppose the project.

“No one likes change in their neighborhood,” Kennedy said.

But Kennedy said he supported the development because the city needs additional rental housing and Little is going through the tax credit competition.

“We are not the only ones looking at the project,” he said. “… If it’s a good project, he will get the tax credits. If not, it will not go.”

Councilwoman Maggie Blackwell reminded neighbors that even though tenants would have to qualify with low incomes to live there, Summerfield would house people who make the starting salaries of firefighters, teachers and police officers.

“You can find crime anywhere,” Blackwell said.

The campus-style layout — where buildings face each other — would make the development feel more like a community, Blackwell said.

Woodson said he walked the property Tuesday morning and felt the development would improve the area, even though it would mean more traffic.

Alexander asked city staff to study lowering the speed limit on Gold Hill Drive and consider installing a traffic signal at the intersection with Faith Road.

Colonial Village Apartments

Raleigh developer Thomas Urquhart plans to renovate the 98-unit complex on D Avenue, including new roofs, landscaping and a community building.

Urquhart said the complex was zoned incorrectly in 2008 when the city adopted the Land Development Ordinance, and his request would correct the error.

Ken Owen, no relation to Nancy Owen or Harry Owen, lives on nearby Sherwood Street and showed council members photos of stormwater runoff from Colonial Village that floods his property during a heavy rain.

The flooding looked so severe, Miller compared the images to Niagara Falls.

With construction of an additional building on the site — a community center — Miller said he’s concerned about even more water coming down D Avenue.

Although new developments have to capture their stormwater runoff, Colonial Village was built before the city had such rules. Stormwater from the property simply flows to the lowest point, which is Sherwood Street.

Alexander, an architect who said the new, slanted roofs going on Colonial Village could exacerbate the runoff problem, asked if the city could require Urquhart to meet the current stormwater code, since he requested a Conditional District Overlay and will construct a new building.

Planner Preston Mitchell said Urquhart’s new construction was not large enough to trigger the city’s stormwater requirements. Requiring a developer to retrofit an existing complex to today’s standards could be exorbitant, Mitchell said.

Under terms of a Conditional District Overlay, the developer has to agree to any additional conditions.

Alexander asked Urquhart if he would be willing to correct the stormwater issue.

Urquhart said there is no room on the property for a retaining pond, and the N.C. Housing Finance Agency would not approve his project with a higher cost.

“They will look askance at us spending money on a stormwater problem that we didn’t have anything to do with,” he said.

Blackwell suggested sending the Colonial Village project to a committee for further study, but Urquhart warned that he has to submit his application by May 17.

Woodson resisted forming a committee. He noted Alexander’s concerns but said the renovation would benefit the residents who live there, regardless.

Miller said forcing a developer to retrofit for new stormwater requirements would be unprecedented. While he said he’s sympathetic with Sherwood Street residents, “water runs downhill,” Miller said.

“We are trying to fix something that was broken 40 years ago,” he said.

Miller suggested referring the problem to the city’s new stormwater utility to see if staff could engineer a better solution, possibly funded by the city’s new stormwater fee.

Blackwell said the city should try to allow renovation of the apartments and improve the stormwater situation at the same time.

“It’s a real problem, and I don’t like just sweeping it under the rug,” agreed Alexander.

Woodson asked City Manager Doug Paris to look into the issue and see what can be done.

Kennedy said he would not penalize Urquhart by requiring stormwater changes or making him wait longer for a rezoning he needs to apply for tax credits.

“If we had zoned the property correctly, he would not be here today,” Kennedy said.

The rezoning passed 4-1, with Alexander voting no.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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