A&T board postpones Florida Street extension decision

by Eric Ginsburg

Aspecial subcommittee of NC A&T State University’s board recommended last week that the university’s board authorize administrators to continue discussions with the city of Greensboro to better understand the potential benefits of the Florida Street extension project.

The recommendation, which was approved unanimously by the board on April 19, asks administrators to report back to the full board during its midsummer retreat, when board members believe they will be better able to decide whether the extension should go forward.

The proposed extension would cut through a 2.7-acre portion of A&T’s farm, an imposition that students, faculty and nearby residents resoundingly opposed at an April 5 subcommittee meeting. Last week’s meeting did not include an opportunity for public comment, and it did not appear that any audience members attended the meeting to follow the issue.

Opponents have said there is no need for the project at city-held public meetings as well, but city staff members contend the project will help expand economic development opportunities in historically-underdeveloped southeast Greensboro. Assistant City Manager Jim Westmoreland, who spoke at the April 5 meeting beside City Manager Denise Turner Roth, could not be reached for comment for this article. He has said in the past that the extension would contribute to connectivity, economic development in keeping with the city’s plan since the late 1960s.

Board member Emerson Fullwood shared the subcommittee’s report and recommendation, outlining the school’s future plans for the farm — including a food processing center, a pavilion and a student-led farm — and calling it “vibrant,” “core,” and “central” to the university’s objectives. Fullwood said the subcommittee generally sees the benefits of the road project for the city but couldn’t conclude that those benefits would outweigh the risks. The subcommittee recognized that the extension of Florida Street from Lee Street to McConnell Road would enhance access, he said, but there were concerns about the impact of construction, safety implications and loss of grazing pasture required for completion.

A&T’s board of trustees has the power to deny the city’s request, which would nix Greensboro’s plans, Mayor Robbie Perkins has said. Even if the board gives permission after its summer retreat, the Greensboro City Council would still have to vote to approve the project, and it is unclear if there is enough support from council. If approved by both bodies, Fullwood said the Florida Street extension is currently scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2017.

The board approved the subcommittee’s recommendation and added a motion to clarify the full estimated value of the farmland and buildings that would include consideration of acquiring replacement land. The land is worth an estimated $140 million, Fullwood said, but staff admitted the estimate was on the conservative side.