Greensboro Zoning Commission denies two infill projects

by Jordan Green

The Greensboro Zoning Commission narrowly denied two urban infill development projects at its November meeting, setting the stage for a showdown next month when the Greensboro City Council hears the cases.

“Being in the real estate business myself, neighbors can create their own scare tactics and make their property values go down, so I’d tell you to talk this up, not talk this down,” Chairman Tony Collins counseled opponents of a proposed student housing complex near Guilford College.

More than a dozen people split roughly between residents and students turned out to stand against the rezoning request, which would allow developer Randy Dixon to build apartments to house 108 students on Dolley Madison Road and, neighbors fear, cut into the tree canopy that lends the area a rural feel. A college representative said Guilford was prepared to cooperate with Dixon, recognizing that the property surrounding the unoccupied historic Hodgin house will have to be redeveloped one way or another, but several students indicated they did not welcome the proposed new housing.

“I think there is kind of a strange alliance here,” Collins said. “You don’t want students there, but you’ve got students on your side. I’m sure that that had to do with just not wanting to do anything with the property.”

The proposed zoning change went down in defeat in a 5-4 vote despite Collins’ scolding. Dixon said he would appeal the decision to the city council. Commissioner Patti Eckard, a Lindley Park resident whose service to the commission grew out of her frustration with encroaching UNCG student housing, led the opposition, joined by Kevin Wright, Cyndy Hayworth, Evelyn Miller and Raymond Trapp, who is employed as the member services coordinator for the Triad Apartment Association.

Collins recused himself from the next request before the zoning commission because of a conflict of interest in the proposed development. Collins is a partner with Collins & Galyon General Contractors, the company that has been chosen to build a ring of condominiums and townhomes around a proposed Walgreens drugstore at the corner of Lawndale and Cornwallis drives, a site that currently features a fortune-telling business and a house where residents once held underground rock concerts.

“We’re guests at the party,” said Jim Galyon, who is Collins’ partner, adding: “These condos are going to shield light and sound from the drugstore. We think that people have the new urban mentality. They want to live, shop and recreate in the same area. It’s going to be right next to the rail trail. We were brought to the party by Henry Carrison of NAI Piedmont Triad.”

The real estate company’s president is Robbie Perkins, who was recently elected to the Greensboro City Council.

“Not everyone might want to live in these townhomes,” real estate lawyer Henry Isaacson told the commission. “For an elderly couple or someone who is immobile it would be a godsend. Yes, mixed-use is a new and different concept in our community, but one which would offer a lot of benefit.”

Residents of the affluent Irving Park and Kirkwood neighborhoods, to which the intersection of Lawndale and Cornwallis drives serves as a gateway, turned out in force to denounce the development.

“We fully expect a domino effect that will destabilize our neighborhood house by house, block by block,” Anne Hummel said. “Zoning commission members who vote for the rezoning will be voting against their stated zoning policies. And they will be doing a disservice to our longstanding and thriving neighborhood. Putting a Walgreens on this block will jeopardize the residential character of our neighborhood, increase non-residential traffic that will put at risk the safety of our children and young adults, and it will do irreparable harm to the natural beauty of this neighborhood.”

Isaacson countered, “There is some notion that once you approve one mixed-use development, there goes the neighborhood right down to the Target and the old Sears building down the street. If someone comes to you next month with a proposal for a stand-alone fast-food restaurant, I believe it should be rejected. But if someone who comes along proposes a café with nearby townhomes, that might be something to consider. One mixed-use development should and would beget another, especially along Lawndale Drive.”

With Collins recusing himself, the commission split 4-4 on the vote, resulting in a denial of the request. Trapp, Miller, Susan Spangler and Paul Gilmer voted to approve the request, while Hayworth, Eckard, Wright and Zack Matheny voted for denial. Matheny, who was recently elected to represent District 3 – encompassing the proposed site – on city council, has come under scrutiny for his prodigious campaign fundraising from developers and lawyers with business before the zoning commission.

Bill Ruska, the city’s zoning administrator, said he fully expects that the applicants will appeal the zoning commission’s decision.

“I agree with Mr. Isaacson that there is a lot of merit with this,” Matheny said. “But there’s a lot of risk. I think it’s close to a mixed-use development. I think it is a mixed-use development, but there’s more work that can be done on this. I do believe that developers are good people. With the three-story development, they’re right on top of other people. There’s not much setback. I think there’ s a little bit more that can be done, and I will be voting against this.”

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