Commission looks to complete redevelopment projects in Greensboro

by Jeff Sykes | @jeffreysykes

The effort to make progress at the larger Union Square at South Elm development occupied the attention of the Redevelopment Commission of Greensboro for most of the past year. That project’s first component is now underway, as crews begin site work for the construction of the joint nursing program to be called Union Square Campus.

The RCG, however, oversees, redevelopment initiatives in six other neighborhoods, and commissioners recently expressed a desire to refocus their attention in hopes of completing projects, two of which date back to 1979.

City staff walked commissioners through an overview of poverty and housing conditions across the city at a meeting earlier this spring. Commissioner feedback led staff to arrange a survey of current redevelopment projects in Greensboro.

Senior Planner Dyan Arkin said staff hoped for guidance from commissioners regarding how to move toward completion of the various projects.

“Some of that is easy to do and some of that is not easy to do,” Arkin said. “There have not been””except for the Heritage House””any new redevelopment areas proposed. There are areas that we’ve identified when we were looking at the data that we could possibly look at as areas that you might want to work in, in addition to, or after we finish what we are doing right now.”

Arkin said that two of the seven current projects were on “autopilot” and required little input from the commission.

The East Market Street redevelopment area is a two-mile corridor extending from the eastern edge of Downtown Greensboro. It was the heart of the city’s African American business district prior to urban redevelopment in the 1950s. The corridor development plan, adopted in 1998, is funded by redevelopment bond funds approved in 1996 and 2000.

Some $2 million in bond funds have been used to entice private investment in the corridor, with the East Market Street Development Corporation taking the project lead. The corporation also manages the Jonesboro Scott Park Neighborhood Plan created in 2009. The EMSDC worked on improved housing conditions in Jonesboro Scott Park, including the Jonesboro Landing apartments, which they bought in 2013. Phase II of the apartment project is underway, as is the Heath Community Strategic Plan approved by city council that same year.

The South Elm Street plan, adopted in 2007, includes one of the major initiatives underway in Greensboro. The Union Square Campus, which will be a joint nurse training facility among the city’s major colleges and Cone Health System, occupies about one acre of land along Gate City Boulevard and Arlington Street within the larger 10-acre tract.

The master developer, South Elm Development Group, has a signed letter of intent from Weaver-Kirkland Development for an apartment complex on 3.1 acres on the west side of the plan area, according to a staff summary of existing projects. The plan summary states that the letter of intent calls for a 236-unit apartment complex, with integrated parking deck and about 15,500 square feet of retail or commercial space.

South Elm Development Group is responsible to bring more component developers to the project, Arkin said, which the commission will need to approve. Beyond that, the commission may consider adding the former St. James Homes site to the redevelopment area.

The five remaining redevelopment projects are in various states of progress.

The Arlington Park project is one of two plans approved in 1979. More than $3.6 million in federal community development money has paid to rehabilitate homes in the area, remove dilapidated structures, and build new homes. An amended plan in 1994 paved the way for construction of The Village at Arlington Park. That project completed 36 single-family homes.

The commission still owns four lots in Arlington Park, which are being marketed under the Ole Asheboro Scattered Site Housing Program. Commissioner Dawn Chaney suggested a new approach to market the sites to potential developers, which opened up a discussion of the expense incurred in maintaining vacant sites.

Hanna Cockburn, the city’s long range and strategic planning manager, said the city currently spends about $150,000 a year mowing grass at various lots. Cockburn said staff has discussed several novelty ideas for moving the properties, but none have panned out.

Commissioner Charles McQueary was concerned at the expense.

“With an expense like that, you could give it away and be in a better circumstance,” McQueary said.

Chaney suggested the city find a broker to move the property to a developer, under guidelines that fit the goals of the commission.

“We could afford to give the land away and pay a commission and still come out at the end of the year further ahead on budget,” Chaney said.

McQueary urged staff to move to bring the project to a close, noting that enough time and money had been spent over the life of the project.

“It’s time to either declare victory or defeat and … figure out how we get rid of the land,” he said.

Arkin noted that the Arlington Park project was the smallest of the group, and said there wasn’t much in the way of developer interest in the area in response to a question from Robert Enochs, current chair of the RCG.

“We know that the status quo has not worked well for us,” Arkin said. “We have had real estate agents in the past, so we’ve been exploring other ways of getting our marketing strategy in line with the actual market so we can dispose of some of this property for you.”

The three larger project areas include Ole Asheboro, Phillips Lombardy, and Willow Oaks. Arkin said each was a unique part of the city, but had several similarities.

“There’s lots of land ready to be developed in all three of these areas,” Arkin said. “The communities have historically been strongly engaged in redevelopment decisions. But each of them is really a very different community, and a very different problem to solve. They are going to require unique strategies.”

The Ole Asheboro and Phillips Lombardy projects represent the two extremes of redevelopment activity.

The Ole Asheboro project has benefited from more than $13 million in federal community development funds since 1979, involving 70 properties in the 260-acre plan area. The RCG owns 11 lots still in the area, while the Greensboro Housing Development Partnership owns 13.

Two new projects underway in the area include a new home for New Zion Missionary Baptist Church across from the Union Square Campus site, and a recent request for proposals for a mixed-use development on three tracts along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Gate City Boulevard.

The Phillips Lombardy site encompasses 14 acres, including a former quarry, along Phillips Avenue. About half of the land is unsuitable for construction. RCG owns a small tract that is leased to an urban farm project that’s had challenges getting off the ground. The commission owns another seven acres zoned for single-family homes.

The final project, Willow Oaks, involves 250 acres in what was once the Morningside/Lincoln Grove community. The project has benefited from more than $13 million in federal and local money that’s helped improve housing and create commercial development opportunities. !