City Council approves new apartment complex

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — With a challenge from a council member to make the area safer for pedestrians, City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allow 72 campus-style apartments behind the new Aldi.
Westgate Commons Apartments developer Jud Little plans to build the complex behind the new grocery store at Brenner Avenue and Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Council member Maggie Blackwell praised the location and design of Little’s “user-friendly” apartment complex, which allows tenants to walk to the nearby YMCA, grocery stores and drug stores.
But Blackwell said if City Council is approving a high-density neighborhood intended to encourage walking, members also must recognize “we need to do something for pedestrians in this area.”
“You are taking your life in your hands if you try to walk across Jake Alexander Boulevard,” she said.
Two or three intersections in the vicinity often appear in the top five list of accident-prone intersections, Blackwell said. She suggested crosswalks on Brenner and Jake, despite the difficulty of obtaining approval on state-maintained roads.
“We can put crosswalks someplace if we really want to,” she said.
Mayor Paul Woodson asked city staff to investigate crosswalks on Brenner Avenue.
Blackwell also debunked a misconception she said she’s heard in the community. Westgate Commons Apartments is not a public housing project.
Little plans a tax credit, income-restricted rental development that would be financed through the N.C. Housing Finance Agency. That’s different than public housing, Blackwell said.
Potential tenants must make at least $26,000 and no more than $42,000 to qualify.
Blackwell said rookie police officers, rookie firefighters and beginning teachers earn salaries in that range.
“Young professionals coming out of college need an affordable place to live,” she said.
Council member Brian Miller said the N.C. Housing Finance Agency will enforce compliance with the competitive tax-credit program.
“They will make sure it’s being managed the way it’s supposed to be,” Miller said. “It’s not just simply approval and no other oversight.”
The tax credits are awarded over time, and if Little isn’t complying with the rules, “they can pull credits from the owner,” Miller said. “That gives me comfort.”
Miller said the development was well-designed, and the location was “perfect.”
Two residents of nearby Milford Hills Road did not agree.
Preston and Pamela Jones warned City Council the area is too congested with the new Aldi, which opened last week, for 72 apartments.
“It might look good on paper, but from what I’ve seen since Aldi has opened, ain’t nothing but a death trap,” Preston Jones said.
The couple also complained about tall grass on the vacant lot and standing water where mosquitoes breed.
Blackwell acknowledged not being able to turn left out of the Aldi.
Miller said he’s aware of a blind spot on Brenner Avenue, but the city has a process in place to address traffic issues and make changes to traffic patterns, if necessary.
“I hope we don’t have to wait until someone is seriously injured to make those changes,” he said, suggesting city staff study the traffic volume once the apartments open.
City Engineer Dan Mikkelson agreed.
Brenner and Jake were designed to carry “that type of traffic,” Mikkelson said, adding that more congestion doesn’t necessarily mean more accidents.
Woodson assured the Joneses the tall grass and standing water would be resolved and said he thought traffic would decrease after Aldi has been open for a few weeks.
Developer Childress Klein purchased the 15.4-acre tract of vacant land bound by Jake, Brenner and Milford Hills Road in 2008 from Livingstone College.
Clearing the land and developing the Aldi and now apartments have impacted the Milford Hills Road neighborhood, Council member William “Pete” Kennedy said.
“I have empathy for Mr. and Mrs. Jones,” Kennedy said.
But the area was already zoned for apartments, he said, and City Council was deciding whether to allow a campus-style development where apartment buildings face each other instead of the street.
Kennedy said the apartments will attract “72 people who might use Fibrant,” the city’s new high-speed Internet utility, as well as water and sewer. The $8 million development will boost the tax base, he said.
“It’s the right thing to do for our city,” Kennedy said.
Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz said the development will help the environment by encouraging people to walk instead of drive.
“We should not determine development based on anticipated traffic problems,” she said.
City Manager Doug Paris said city staff will hold a workshop with tenants to hear any concerns or ideas they have to encourage walking.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

Mayor Woodson
to speak at White House event

SALISBURY — At the request of the White House, Mayor Paul Woodson will speak Thursday in Washington, D.C. about the value of volunteers in neighborhood revitalization efforts.
Woodson was chosen to participate in the White House panel because Salisbury recently won a Make A?Difference Day Award for a one-day makeover of two neglected city blocks last year. More than 80 volunteers showed up for the BlockWork project.
While in Washington, Woodson will accept the $10,000 award from USA?Weekend. Salisbury was one of three cities that won.
City Planner Lynn Raker and Barbara Perry, chairwoman of the city’s Community Appearance Commission, who both planned BlockWork, will accept the award with Woodson.

In other action

In other business Tuesday, City Council:
• Approved an agreement with the N.C. Department of Transportation to replace the bridge on West Innes Street over Grants Creek.
The new bridge will cost the city nothing unless NCDOT decides the bridge must be longer to accommodate the future greenway trail, which is supposed to run under the bridge.
If that happens, the city will have to decide whether to pay to accommodate the greenway or abandon that part of the trail.
• Closed streets around City Park from 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. May 1 for the Patriot’s Flag Concourse Memorial Dedication. Mayor Paul Woodson encouraged everyone to attend the ceremony at 11 a.m.
• Rezoned the Fire Station 1 and Rowan County EMS Station properties from Institutional Campus to Corridor Mixed-Use. 
• Agreed to participate in the CONNECT Our Future Sustainable Communities Program, organized by the Centralina Council of Government. A City Council member and city staffer will participate in developing a strategic framework for a 14-county area, including Rowan.
The 100-member consortium will meet several times a year for three years studying a variety of regional issues and coming up with strategic responses. Teams will tackle issues like air quality, housing, public health, economic development and food systems, finding ways to encourage growth while maintaining a high quality of life.
CONNECT, which is funded by a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,?encourages public participation. Opportunities for involvement will come as the program gets under way.
• Appointed Greg Philpot to the Greenway Committee.
• Heard from Leonard Wolfe and Sam Warlick about break-ins in the Milford Hills neighborhood and a new Neighborhood Watch program.
Wolfe asked the Salisbury Police Department to make the neighborhood aware of any additional break-ins. Chief Rory Collins plans to speak to at a neighborhood meeting.
Warlick said 70 to 80 people have shown interest in making the neighborhood safer and sharing information with each other.
Both asked for additional street lights and ways to slow traffic, like speed bumps.
Woodson attended a neighborhood meeting and said he was impressed. City Council has frozen money for street lights for two years but plans to revisit the budget item next month, he said.