Apartment complex project on hold with Planning Board

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 16, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — After neighbors complained about noise and traffic problems, the Salisbury Planning Board has tabled a request for permission to build a 72-unit apartment complex near the new Aldi.
The board supported the project but asked the developer to come back with a plan for denser landscaping to help provide a buffer for nearby residents.
Pamela and Preston Jones, who live on Milford Hills Road behind the new development, said at the planning board’s Tuesday meeting that they used to have a quiet, wooded neighborhood frequented by deer and other wildlife.
“Now the only things I see are woods that been removed, Dumpsters and the back of 18-wheelers,” Pamela Jones said. “That’s what I’m seeing from Aldi’s.”
Childress Klein Properties cleared much of a 15-acre tract at the intersection of Jake Alexander Boulevard and Brenner Avenue to develop Westgate Commons. A new Aldi grocery store is the first retailer and should open soon.
Jud Little, a Charlotte developer, has an option to buy five acres for a proposed tax-credit apartment complex for working families. Tenants who earn about half the median income in Rowan County, or between $28,000 and $34,000 a year, could qualify to live in Westgate Commons Apartments.
The Joneses warned that it already takes several minutes to make a left turn from Milford Hills Road onto Brenner Avenue due to heavy traffic to and from the VA Medical Center.
Apartment tenants would use a private road running from Brenner to Jake Alexander Boulevard. Preston Jones predicted they will have trouble not only getting out of their development but also getting in.
“This is a very bad place to put up an apartment complex,” he said.
The city’s planning staff disagreed and said the apartments would provide a good transition from the commercial areas of Jake and Brenner to the residential neighborhoods beyond.
Preston Mitchell, Planning and Development Services manager, recommended approval for Little’s request to retain the existing Corridor Mixed-Use zoning and establish a new Conditional District Overlay to allow for the campus-style apartment complex.
The developer plans no driveway cuts on Milford Hills Road to protect the neighborhood, Mitchell said.
Bill Wagoner, Planning Board vice chairman, said the board shouldn’t hold Little to higher standards than already required by the existing zoning.
Other apartment complexes could have started construction on the site without a nod from the board. Little needs an overlay to allow campus-style housing, where most of his six apartment buildings will face each other.
The existing zoning allows for apartments and many other developments, some that may have been more dense than what’s proposed, Wagoner said. While Little’s plan calls for 15 units per acre, the zoning would allow 18 or 20 units per acre.
All could go forward regardless of potential traffic tie-ups and noise problems, he said.
“All these issues would still exist, but not come before us,” Wagoner said.
Little is proposing 139 parking spots, five fewer than required, allowing even more green space, Wagoner said.
What Little calls “workforce housing” would include two- and three-story buildings with two- and three-bedroom units. The complex would feature a playground, gazebo and clubhouse, as well as sidewalks connecting with Brenner Avenue.
The architecture echoes the style of some homes in Salisbury’s historic districts.
Little and architect Gray Stout said they are happy to work on landscaping plans to better satisfy neighbors.
“We are listening to you and trying to deal with some issues,” Dick Huffman, Planning Board chairman, said to the Joneses.
Board member David Post also suggested the city change the timing on a green arrow that allows traffic to almost continually turn right from Jake Alexander Boulevard onto Brenner Avenue. Stopping the flow of traffic from Jake would give motorists on Brenner more opportunities to turn, he said.
“Could we adjust that light to give people a break?” Post said.
City Engineer Dan Mikkelson said the city has the ability to alter the timing of the light and may need to revisit traffic flow issues in the area.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.