Historic Aycock neighborhood five year plan approved

by Sammy Hanf

Greensboro City Council recently approved a forward-looking plan to guide development and maintenance of one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The Historic Aycock five-year plan is an overhaul of how Municipal Service District funds are drawn out, prompted by changes in state law regarding how MSD funds are managed.

Aycock has been a Municipal Service District since the 1980s, which means its residents pay extra property tax in exchange for improvements to maintain the historic character of the neighborhood. College Hill also works under the same arrangement.

David Wharton, member of the Aycock Neighborhood Association Board of Directors, said that before the changes enacted by the state legislature last summer the process of using MSD funds was much less formal.

To comply with the new requirements Wharton said they worked closely with the city’s planning department to formulate a detailed plan.

Hanna Cockburn, manager for longrange and strategic planning for the City of Greensboro, said they used the new legislative mandates to structure the plan, breaking down expenditures on an annual basis to ensure residents know exactly where their money is going.

“We used the framework of the new legislation to help us have that conversation to say what’s realistic,” Cockburn said. “What can you realistically accomplish this year, next year, three years from now, what are your longer term projects that you know are coming down the pipe but aren’t ready yet.”

David Horth, President of the Aycock Neighborhood Association, said the new plan was largely based on the strategic plan for the Aycock neighborhood that was drawn up in 2003. The plan organized neighborhood priorities based on feedback from residents.

Residents were also given a chance to comment on drafts of the new plan, Horth said, at two meetings that were held for public comment and revision by residents.

Horth said that work under the new plan will likely begin in the first quarter of the next fiscal year, with the main priorities being building up infrastructure and landscaping.

“Another priority really falls into the whole notion of infrastructure, our house for example is 1922 and there are houses in the neighborhood older than that,” Horth said. “So if you think about the infrastructure of the whole neighborhood, things like sewage and storm water and water, all of those things dates back to those years.”

Mindy Zachary, Treasurer of the Aycock Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood has faced major problems with storm water drainage stemming from a truncation of lines when Summit Avenue was expanded.

“There are some historic houses that were originally built with underground French terra cotta drains and a lot of people have just forgotten they’re there,” Wharton said. “So we’ll look at ways to improve storm water drainage which I think is important for maintaining historic houses, moisture is bad for wood.”

Horth said the city is planning a survey of storm water drainage and that the neighborhood association will likely work with the same surveyor to determine resident’s responsibilities.

Landscaping will also be a priority. Horth said that several medians are in need of attention and that the neighborhood entrance on Yanceyville needs some beautification work.

Zachary said that going the extra mile in formulating the plan brought attention to some projects that might not have received attention otherwise, citing the drainage study as an example.

While the new requirements did yield a more comprehensive and detailed plan, they have also limited what the neighborhood can do on its own.

Cockburn said that the changes have impeded their ability to move quickly, requiring a public hearing for any contract the neighborhood needs.

This is not a requirement for other local government contracts and Cockburn said they are considering other options to expedite the process, like having the city do the work in-house to side step the bidding process.

“It’s a barrier,” Cockburn said. “We’re trying to manage that. We’re trying to make sure that when we do contracts we are doing so in a way that allows us to not only comply with state law but allows us the greatest flexibility to meet needs as they might emerge.”

Zachary said that some projects have been put on hold to parse out the new rules.

“All of this has been in limbo for a year,” Zachary said. “This is really a culmination of a year’s worth of work to try to figure out what Trudy (Wade) wants, what Raleigh wants, what’s going to work for everybody.”

With their plan in place Horth said he is excited about the Summit Avenue Corridor plan, which will bridge the neighborhood’s two sides and make the area more attractive for development.

Wharton said that property in the area would be a bargain for an enterprising developer that is willing to work within the historical district guidelines. Wharton has seen the neighborhood changing for the better since he settled in 1993, with increases in the housing stock that have been gentle enough to not displace long time neighbors.

“That process has been ongoing,” Wharton said. “Some people call that gentrification but we really avoided this high speed gentrification that you’ve seen in super high growth areas like Washington D.C., for us it’s been more of a steady and predictable process” Horth said that once people move in to the neighborhood they rarely leave for good, and that the goal in creating this plan was to preserve and improve the historic character that makes the neighborhood so attractive. !