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Neighbors oppose 80-unit apartment complex

SALISBURY — Faced with opposition to a proposed 80-unit apartment complex, City Council tabled the project to study details and determine whether Salisbury needs another tax credit-financed housing development.

Four residents from the Rosemont neighborhood, which would stand directly behind the proposed Abbington Court, spoke Tuesday against the project. Property owner John Leatherman of Salisbury and developer Karen Perry of Clemmons want City Council to grant a conditional district rezoning that would allow four campus-style apartment buildings on five acres just off South Main Street.

Tenants would have to prove their incomes are low enough to qualify for an apartment.

Greta Saunders said the development would create a huge pedestrian problem, with people walking through the Rosemont neighborhood to fast food restaurants and shops on Jake Alexander Boulevard. She asked City Council to require a fence between Rosemont and Abbington Court.

Larry Summey called Rosemont one of the best kept secrets in Salisbury. The diverse community includes lower-middle to middle class white, African American and Latino families who all have one thing in common, the dream of home ownership and raising a family in a safe neighborhood, he said.

They are not opposed to the types of people who might live in Abbington Court but the number of them, Summey said.

Putting 200 people at the end of a small street will cause problems, he said. Tenants are unlikely to use Dodd Street, a 22-foot private driveway that is the intended entrance and exit for the complex and connects to South Main, he said.

The Salisbury Planning Board unanimously recommended that City Council approve Abbington.

“They met code — that has been eloquently stated — but barely, by the skin of their teeth,” Summey said. “… Please do something better.”

While the new complex could not connect by driveway to Rosemont, the city is considering allowing a driveway connection with Colonial Village, a 92-unit complex next door.

That concerned Cassandra Cunningham, who said both Colonial Village and Abbington Court are low-income housing projects.

Rosemont suffered from drug dealing and pedestrian problems due to Colonial Village until a fence went up between the properties, she said.

She called claims that teachers, firefighters and police officers earn incomes that would qualify for Abbington Court “flatly a lie” and “razzle dazzle.”

According to the developer, Abbington Court would include 20 units for incomes between $13,234 and $21,440, 20 units for incomes between $16,560 and $26,800 and 40 units for incomes between $19,851 and $32,160.

Starting salary for a public school teacher in North Carolina is $30,800, according to the state.

Rent would range from $300 to $475 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and from $365 to $633 for a three-bedroom apartment, developers said.

Cunningham said she has seen developers maintain tax credit-financed housing for 10 or 20 years, then dump the property when the tax credits expire. Maintenance costs for the properties are high because of the nature of the people living in them, and the building rapidly deteriorated, she said.

Mary Ann Summey asked the city to put single-family residential, not multi-family apartment buildings, on the property because the new residents would be more like-minded and could be a positive influence on the Rosemont neighborhood instead of such a drastic change.

Randy Reamer, an attorney who represents the business next door to the proposed apartment, said his client Charles Parks does not oppose Abbington Court but is concerned that Dodd Street is too narrow to serve the complex.

Recently, Parks agreed to give the developers some of his land to enable them to widen Dodd Street. If the developer can also acquire land from the business on the other side to make Dodd Street 40 feet wide with a sidewalk, the private driveway could qualify as a public street.

Alex Lawrence of GEM Management, which would manage Abbington, told City Council his company manages 235 properties in seven states, half in North Carolina. Tenants would be working families, most with their own vehicles, and foot traffic would be limited, he said.

Tenants would have to pass rigorous screening, including credit and criminal background checks. No one with a felony or drug charge could live in Abbington, and tenants would have to prove they can pay their rent, Lawrence said.

“Our job is to build a community, not move people in and out,” he said.

The complex would have a strict lease and rules, and any issues would be addressed quickly. Residents in similar developments often live there for years, he said.

Councilman Brian Miller said while the property is well-suited for apartments and he like the tax credit financing program, Salisbury has approved several similar projects in recent years and possibly has saturated the market.

“Do we have enough of this already?” Miller said.

Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell disagreed and said Salisbury continues to have a deficit of affordable housing. Rental property in Salisbury stays about 97 percent occupied, she said.

“When people are desperate for rental property, landlords can treat them anyway they want,” Blackwell said. “… It’s in the citizens’ best interest to have an adequate market, not a surplus, so landlords do not have the upper hand to treat them poorly.”

Perry said according to a recent market study commissioned by the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, Salisbury lacks affordable rental property. Even with the projects that have been approved and are in the pipeline, Salisbury and Rowan County still have a large demand, she said.

“From reading this, you guys are kind of behind a little bit. You are playing catch-up,” Perry said. “You are nowhere near absorption.”

Blackwell said the city did a study in 2012 that the committee can use when evaluating the need for Abbington Court. Councilman Pete Kennedy said he believes Salisbury needs more affordable housing and supports Abbington but pushed for the fence requested by Rosemont residents.

The committee, including Miller and Councilwoman Karen Alexander, will report to City Council May 6. The committee meetings will be open to the public. To sign up for notifications, call City Clerk Myra Heard at 704-638-5224.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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