Heritage House demolition could be two years away

by Jeff Sykes | @jeffreysykes

Greensboro City Council gave tacit approval last week to a plan to demolish the blighted Heritage House on Meadowview Road once the city is able to wrest control of the building away from its current owners.

The first portion of the process begins on Aug. 5 with a pubic hearing before the Redevelopment Commission of Greensboro.

The city planning board declared the property blighted in September, two months after City of Greensboro public safety, inspections and community development staff swept through the 177-unit condominium complex at 310 West Meadowview Road, just near the intersection of Business 40 and Randleman Road. The former hotel became an affordable housing nightmare for its residents and often frustrated city inspectors because of its complicated ownership structure.

Conditions at the Heritage House became intolerable for residents by mid-2014 and Greensboro’s police, fire and EMS workers found it increasingly dangerous to enter the high-rise on calls for service.

The city ordered Heritage House condemned and vacated at the end of July 2014, and both public and private resources came together to help residents find new homes.

Greensboro planning staff worked to develop a plan for the property in recent months and needed guidance from council on how to pay for the project, according to Sue Schwartz, planning director for the city.

Assistant City Manager David Parrish presented the plan to council at a work session last week. Since the area around Heritage House consists mostly of industrial, Parrish said that the likely use is for about 32,000 square feet of industrial space to be configured on the property. The site is 6.7 acres, but a large portion in the center is taken up by the Meridian Events Center, a space connected to the Heritage House but not included in the blight designation.

Other potential options include a mixture of industrial facilities and either a recreation space, such as indoor soccer, or a senior services facility. Maple Grove Health and Rehabilitation Center sits adjacent to the site’s southeast quadrant, but a recent market analysis showed little need for additional senior services in the area.

The final decision on site usage likely depends on what private developers determine could be profitable. Getting to the point of redevelopment is the first hurdle for the city. With 177 condominium units owned by more than 60 different entities, acquiring the properties will be a major obstacle in the plan.

Parrish presented staff’s proposal to spend some $2.6 million on acquisition and demolition of the Heritage House over a three-year period. The redevelopment phase could take a minimum of four years, or longer depending on the viability of future reuse proposals.

Parrish proposed spending $1.2 million from the city’s capital reserve to buy the property from its current owners. About $1.1 million would come from the Nussbaum Housing Partnership fund to pay for demolition and another $269,775 for “disposition.”

Council member Jamal Fox questioned using the Nussbaum Housing Partnership Revolving Fund for the project. The fund was named for former Mayor Vic Nussbaum, described as a leader in affordable housing policy during his tenure. The city website describes the fund as a dedicated portion of the property tax rate “to ensure that Greensboro has a reliable source of funding for its housing programs.” The taxpayer portion of the fund has been about $1.7 million during recent budget cycles.

Parrish said that the Nussbaum money is “a potential source of funds for the demolition.”

“Capital reserve is there, if we need to,” Parrish said. “We’ve got two to three more years out before we get to that point.”

Mayor Nancy Vaughan asked if that would eat up all the Nussbaum funds for that year. The mayor asked how much money was in the fund and staff said it was about $1.2 million each year. After some discussion, staff clarified their plan.

“We are planning to start accumulating funds in reserve,” said Barbara Harris, director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Department.

Parrish reiterated that demolition could not begin for a couple of years, which drew Mayor Vaughan’s attention.

“So we’re going to let it stand there for three years?” she asked.

“Because we have to go through the acquisition process,” Parrish said. “The redevelopment process (means) we have to go through the formal appraisal and acquisition of the property so that we own the property.”

“I get it, but you see the frustration with how long it is taking,” Vaughan replied. “It’s already sat there for a year. Now we are at four years.”

District 2 councilmember Sharon Hightower said she too was frustrated, but understood the city “can’t tear it down until you own it.” But residents in the area are frustrated as well, she said.

Fox asked Hightower what she was hearing in the district. Hightower said people really want to see the property reused. Sentiment in the community is strong to see it reused for affordable housing, but most understand the financial impossibility of reusing the current structure.

“It’s got to go down,” Hightower said. “It’s unfortunate, but some of the developers that I’ve talked to said that to go in and try to bring it back up you would have to take it almost back down to the walls. It’s got so many ills inside.”

Early estimates concluded it would take more than $16 million to rehabilitate the current structure.

“Nobody is willing to do that,” Hightower said.

“(The community) wants to see something as soon as possible, I can tell you that.”

District 5 councilmember Tony Wilkins expressed concern about the length of time the city would own the property. Parrish reiterated that staff would move the plan as quickly as possible, but that “the key is to get control.”

Vaughan again expressed her concern about the timetable.

“From my point of view, I would like to see the homeowners made whole as soon as possible,” Vaughan said. “These are people that don’t have much.” !