Concerns about crime collide with infill goal

by Jordan Green

To hear one resident tell down Betsy Moser’s request to it, the Mosby Drive rezone a wooded triangle tucked area of southwest between Mosby Drive and Over- Greensboro can be like land Heights in a 7-2 decision a land of the walking dead. on Nov. 14. Moser has appealed “I purposefully have a security the decision, kicking the case up dog that when I first got I used to to the Greensboro City Council. walk around the neighborhood at The case will be heard during the 4:30 in the morning,” said Susan newly elected council’s first busi- Spivey, who lives on Mosby ness meeting on Dec. 13. Drive. “After three days of doing The zoning commission that, I had to stop because of the reasoned that the proposal does people that were walking the not protect neighborhoods from streets at that time of the day; they the potential negative impacts were obviously intoxicated.” of developments, is inconsistent Spivey and other residents with the city’s infill goal of sound spoke out against a proposed investment in urban areas and is rezoning that would allow a not compatible with surrounding developer to increase the density properties. Some commissioners of multi-family housing on nearby expressed concern about crime, Overland Heights during a recent although interim Zoning Adminis- rezoning hearing. trator Mike Kirkman said staff has Bonnie Pruitt, who lives in a no opinion on whether increas- house built by her father on Mosby ing the residential density of the Drive, also indicated that crime neighborhood will have a negative has detracted from her family’s impact from a crime standpoint. enjoyment of their home. Staff has recommended ap- “I have four kids, and I don’t even proval for the rezoning, in contrast let my kids play out in the front yard to the citizen commission. because of the crime that happens,” From one perspective, Overland she said. “A young lady got mur- Heights is an ideal location to build dered right behind my house.” affordable housing. Because of a Land-use lawyer Ryan Butler, downward trend in household in- who is representing the neighbors, comes, the city estimates that 22,000 described the area as “one of the affordable housing units could be epicenters of crime in the city.” needed to meet demand by 2014.

The zoning commission turned Market forces on the whole are scattering low-income families to the fringe, a phenomenon noted in the Consolidated Plan, a document prepared by the city’s housing and community development department for the US Housing and Urban Development Department.

“New affordable housing units have primarily been built on greenfields, so neighborhood support and alternative transportation is more limited to the new occupants,” the report concludes.

A related observation in the report: “Opposition to infill development and potential residential density increases have an inhibiting effect on development of new affordable [housing] within established neighborhoods.”

Among the neighborhood’s transportation assets is a Greensboro Transit Authority bus stop on Overland Heights. The neighborhood is also within walking distance of potential employment opportunities at Four Seasons Town Centre, a LabCorp billing center and a string of restaurants on High Point Road. Yet that mode of transportation is discouraged by the fact that there are virtually no sidewalks in the neighborhood. On a recent Wednesday, pedestrians walking in the street on Overland Heights were a frequent sight. The street is scarcely wide enough for two cars to pass in opposite directions without hitting each other if they happen to meet when a pedestrian is also using the roadway.

There’s not much doubt that any new housing in the area would be affordable. The median family income of the Census tract that includes Overland Heights is $25,694, making it one of the poorest in the city. More than a third of families in the area live below official poverty level.

The owners of existing apartment stock, have made their feelings plain: Don’t burden us with more housing when the neighborhood remains distressed by crime, especially when it remains poorly served by sidewalks and parks. In two consecutive decisions when Moser and her late husband attempted to rezone the property in early 2006 and then again in early 2007, the city council stood with the residents.

Moser said in an interview that her husband bought two lots on Overland Heights from a high school friend in the early 1970s. The lots are zoned at the city’s highest density category for multi-family housing, allowing up to 18 units per acre. In 2007, after council rejected the rezoning request, the Mosers bought an adjacent triangular tract that lists a Mosby Drive address.

In a letter to residents, Moser disclosed that she intends “to market the entire parcel for development.”

“This whole rezoning thing is

not about getting that triangular lot rezoned so they can build there: The western end is too narrow to build; the eastern end is too steep,” said Sarah Clegg, whose family owns the Overland Valley complex and the Overland Crest Apartments. “There’s a stream on the end. This is all about creating a dummy lot to jack up the density on those front two lots on our distressed street, Overland Heights.”

The original rezoning request included no conditions limiting the number of units or height of buildings, but Kirkman confirmed that the neighbors’ reasoning was sound.

“Understanding that topography and lay of the land has an awful lot to do with it, we’ve got at least two acres sitting on Overland Heights, and at RM-18, that’s 36 units,” Commissioner Mary Skenes said. “We’ve got two and a half acres that are in this triangular piece, so in effect by including this triangular piece it would allow them to increase that density to potentially maximum 72 units all on Overland Heights. Is that a correct assumption?” “Based on the straight math, the acreage that’s available and the allowable density based on the zoning district,” Kirkman responded, “you’re correct.”

Chair Cyndy Hayworth asked Moser why she and her husband haven’t built on the properties they own on Overland Heights that are already zoned for multi-family residences.

“We just haven’t,” Moser responded. Moser told the zoning commission that she didn’t attempt to meet with neighbors to discuss their concerns because she was recovering from knee-replacement surgery. She indicated that she also will likely not be able to attend the Dec. 13 city council hearing because of health trouble.

In the meantime, to address the zoning com mission’s concern that there is too much uncertainty associated with the rezoning request, she planned to meet with an engineer on Monday to develop a site plan that would identify future driveways and determine the number of units that could be built on the property along with building heights. Her rezoning application will likely be amended to include those specifications as conditions for approval, she said.

“I’m 76 years old,” Moser said. “I think I’ve aged out of the development phase, so this would be my concern to get it out of my estate.”

Mosby Drive residents have long considered their neighborhood distinct from Overland Heights, despite the fact that the two parallel streets are only a city block apart.

Clayton Clegg noted during the recent rezoning hearing that his house is on a stub street that leads to the subject property and where there is already an overgrown path. He said he’s had trouble with people using the path to get from Mosby Drive to Overland Heights. Moser said she envisions a driveway running from Mosby Drive to a future apartment complex to allow access to emergency vehicles.

In other signs of low levels of community trust, many properties are posted with “no trespassing” and “beware of dog” signs. On a recent Wednesday a dog that appeared to have some German shepherd in its bloodline wandered the neighborhood, whether abandoned or merely on the loose was unclear. The only features of a pocket park next to Interstate 40 are a stream running down the middle, two benches in sore need of paint, and a set of steps with a rusted handrail. Pat Edwards, a nearby resident, said playground equipment was removed from the park and children stopped coming after neighbors began to perceive drug activity in the adjacent apartments.

Joseph Hart, resident manager at Overland Crest Apartments, made no attempt to gloss public safety on his street in his remarks during the rezoning hearing. He said he had been installing security cameras purchased by the family that owns the apartments.

City council has long known about the challenges on Overland Heights.

“We got people living in this area who obviously need our direction and help to get in there and help them to have their quality of life,” District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small said in 2007. “It’s not right that we’ve looked at this thing and we just go away.”

Butler argued that since 2007 crime has, if anything, gotten worse. There are no new sidewalks. The park still doesn’t have playground equipment. Hart noted one improvement.

“They put brighter lights on our road to help us with the [public safety] issues,” he said.

“The only thing they could do to please us would be to put a dead-end,” severing Mosby Drive from Boulevard Street, Edwards said.

Kirkman said it is difficult to draw a correlation between residential density and crime.

“Statistically, if you have more people, you may have more incidents,” he said. “You also might have more eyes on the street.”

Pruitt, whose family has lived here for 60 years, has no trouble drawing a connection.

“It’s already rough enough,” she said. “I already have to carry a gun. I already have a 200-pound dog. And everybody knows not to mess with me, and I still get people coming up to me. So please do not allow this to happen, because everything that my dad built up, you’re going to lose everybody there, and my property values going to go down to crap because we’re going to have to deal with all the crime.”