Tuesday, March 15, 2005

My money and my mouth re: density

A while back I poked fun at a fellow Greensboro resident for complaining about townhouse and condominium developments. Robin Parker wrote a letter to the News & Record saying,

Mayor Keith Holliday made the comment that 'It scares people to death' when talk arises of condos being built nearby. There are valid reasons why people are scared. Is there anyone in Greensboro who can't wait to have condos or townhomes in their back yard?
I responded with a description of the advantages and disadvantages of multifamily residences in my part of town, and ended with this:
So anyway, am I scared of townhomes and condos? Hah. Bring 'em on.
As someone once said, you better watch what you wish for -- you might get it. And so I shall.

The Dascalakis Companies, which for 25 years have owned a 6-acre empty tract on the block behind my house ("in my own back yard," as Robin might put it), are planning to build a community of both single-family homes and condominiums, including as many as 72 units.

I still say, "Hah. Bring 'em on."

The architect on the project, Ramsay (Jerry) Leimenstoll, has conducted a survey of housing in our area, which he used to produce a set of architectural design guidelines for the development. Jerry's wife Jo heads up UNCG's program in historic preservation. I think we're in very good design hands, and Jerry and the Dascalakis Companies have expressed a strong desire to work with the neighborhood at every step along the way.

News of the development has gone out to the neighborhood, and contrary to my expectation, there has been no hue and cry to stop it, though I fully expect the neighborhood to negotiate vigorously about the total number of units and the design and layout of the project. Maybe some serious opposition will gel at the next neighborhood meeting. But a number of residents are very happy about the proposal.

There's an interesting historical background to this story. About 25 years ago, the Dascalakis Companies bought the property in question, bulldozed down all the existing trees, and proposed to build a large apartment complex with over 100 units. That did cause a great hue and cry; one so great that it caused the neighborhood to become what it is now, the Charles B. Aycock Historic District. Before that, it had just been a neighborhood with no name and no association.

The Aycock neighborhood association back then managed to stop the Dascalakis Companies from building those apartments. But times have changed.

Developers have learned that it's possible to work with neighborhoods and come up with sensitive, acceptable proposals, even if they involve increased density. They're doing this because close-in neighborhoods have proved to be very popular in Greensboro, commanding higher prices and retaining their real estate value better than outlying neighborhoods. And of course downtown neighborhoods have suddenly become the hot new thing in Greensboro real estate.

It's also true that older neighborhoods have learned that it can be a good thing to have a lot of new neighbors, even if they live in condominiums.

UPDATE 3.17.05: I have removed a sentence that some neighbors found offensive. Here is some more pertinent information about the Dascalakis Companies' proposal for the Chestnut St. development.

The developers' intent is to build single family homes fronting Chestnut St., similar to what was proposed by them a couople of years ago, except for two quad units at the entrance into the rest of the complex.

The units behind these would be multi-unit condominiums. When asked about the look of these buildings, Demetrius Dascalakis cited the Cannon Court apartments on Elm Street in Fisher Park as an example. Jerry Leimenstoll will be working on designs based on historic architecture in Aycock or other historic buildings in Greensboro.

No building will be higher than three stories in order to maintain the height of the buildings currently in the neighborhood. The property slopes gently down away from Chestnut St. toward the railroad tracks.

Power lines will be buried.

The large, ancient magnolia trees will remain as a centerpiece to the area. They plan to keep some green space around the tree.

The owners are walking the property this week with the city’s arborist with the intention of identifying other trees of significance.

All homes are to be owner occupied. The developers have offered to put restrictions on the titles so that no one person can own more than 2 or 3 units (to keep it from turning into an apartment complex).

Expected completion: 24-36 months.


Anonymous said...

Dave, your choice of words show a complete insensitivity to long term residents of the Aycock Neighborhood. Do you realize that the very family you are speaking of stripped the Chestnut street property of old growth trees and shrubbery dating back to pre-Civil War times?
You might be talking about multi-family as it pertains to Philip Bess's plans for Aycock, but you need to realize that is a plan, not a haphazard placement of multi-family dwellings. Chestnut, Percy,Brandon and Hendrix Streets are ill equipped to deal with 72 more apartments and at least triple that amount of people.
Also what do you consider "The Neighborhood"? You state that the neighborhood has been informed of this development and seems "happy" that it will take place. I for one had only heard rumors of this development and did not (and still do not)know the specifics of the development. You may think that what transpired between this neighborhood and the Dascalakis family is passe', but, you don't really know what tough negotiators they can be. Maybe you should read some of the history of what we have fought for and how much energy has been expended keeping the neighborhood viable.
I only make one request, give the whole neighborhood (not just those who have computers or are on your list serve) a chance to pass judgement on this project. There are many facets of this Chestnut street property that many of the newer residents are unaware.

David Wharton said...

Chuck, sorry if the "bulldozer" comment was offensive. It was meant to be a little bit provocative, but not to hurt feelings.

Here are a couple of clarifications.

(1) Our association president last week sent out a detailed flyer to the 70 or so residents who are on the neighborhood e-mail list (your e-mail is on it too) describing the Dascalakis proposal. She asked people to print it and give it to other neighbors, and has set up a formal presentation for the next board meeting. Of course everyone in the neighborhood is invited to those meetings, and the time and place are well-established. We'd like to get out flyers, but time and resources are limited. If you'd like to work with the board on this, I'm sure you'd get an enthusiastic reception.

(2) I said that "a number of residents" were happy with the proposal, and that is the case. I tried to be careful about the language, so that people would know I wasn't speaking on behalf of the neighborhood.

(3) I know much of what happened 25 years ago, and that cannot be undone. I was trying to make the point that both the developer and the neighborhood have changed. But maybe I'm wrong.

(4) I expect the neighborhood to work with the developers and the city planning department to come up with a good plan, but I don't expect the neighborhood to sign off on a bad or haphazard one. I think a good plan is a very attainable goal.

(5) Traffic is indeed a concern, and I'm going to be affected by it as much as anyone. GDOT is going to provide us with an analysis, and then we'll know more.

(5) I respect your tremendous contributions to the good of our neighborhood, and I'm looking forward to more of the same.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Newell,

I appreciate your input regarding the Dunleath development. I have worked diligently to achieve a positive relationship with all of our neighbors in Aycock since the point from which I was allowed to reinitiate the development in 1997. However, I feel compelled to reply to some of the erroneous assertions you have made.

You are correct in stating that my father (and I at his side at age fourteen) did clear and grade the majority of the site more than two decades ago. At that time, we had acquired the appropriate permits and received encouragement from the relevant governing authorities to construct a 144 unit apartment complex. There was a lot of bitterness towards clearing the land - bitterness that obviously has not dissipated over the twenty or so years since the occurrence. Nevertheless, the project did not continue at that time. Today, however, things are much different and we have respectfully been hard at work devising an appropriate design plan which can be reviewed.

It is not my intention to insult your passion and sincerity regarding the impact that the Dunleath development will have on our neighborhood. I will not address my interpretation of past events or their impact, either positive or negative, on the neighborhood. I agree that many of the newer residents are unaware of the events which transpired following the formation of the historic district. I would be happy to go into detail with you or whoever would be interested, either formally or informally, regarding this history.

Prior to condemning a project which has not yet been presented and making assertions based on rumor, I hope you will not allow your personal vision for Dunleath and your low opinion of certain housing types to prejudice other members of our neighborhood. I am aware of your views regarding our property and will gladly address your reasonable concerns when and where appropriate.

I must point out that your comparison of Philip Bess’s work represented in the “Aycock Traditional Neighborhood District Plan,” and the “haphazard placement of multi-family dwellings” proposed for Dunleath is disingenuous and an insult to my architects. The architects chosen are as knowledgeable, highly qualified and respected as anyone in the country regarding historic district design and appropriateness. I feel compelled and honored to defend my architects who are experts of design. I am not aware of your expertise and qualifications in this field. It appears to me that you have already passed judgment on a proposal that you have not yet seen. Your comments to Mr. David Wharton are replete with negative references to my family. Furthermore, your implications concerning the nature of my family and me are mean-spirited in tone, irrelevant and not productive to good dialogue.

I challenge you to name another developer in this city or state who has spent more time collaborating with a neighborhood in which a project was intended (notwithstanding the substantial expense personally incurred in order to establish design guidelines). I suspect your list would be very short.

I look forward to your input as the project moves forward.

Demetri Dascalakis

Anonymous said...

Let me clear up a few things. The Aycock Neighborhood Association was chartered by the state of North Carolina in 1980 and our efforts to become an historic district began before the Dascalakis family bought the Dunlieth property.

I agree with Mr. Dascalakis that times have changed and I hope he will recall that not only did I lead the fight against the 1984 proposal, but I was involved in the negotiations that resulted in neighborhood support for the 17 houses proposed in 1997.

I meant no disrespect to Mr. Dascalakis or his architects. My criticism was leveled at the neighborhood leadership for seemingly embracing a new twist to the development, sight unseen.

If offense was taken, I apologise.
By the way, I am well aware of the history. I wish more people knew that history so they could see how far we've come.

David Wharton said...

Thanks for the clarification, Chuck. Who better to write the neighborhood's history than you? I wish you'd consider it. It would be of great value to the neighborhood.

I should also clarify that, though I am in priciniple in favor of developing the Dunleath property, and I don't have any prima facie objections to a mix of singe- and multi-family homes, as Historic District Commissioner, I haven't given my support to any particular plan, because one hasn't been offered yet. And if the developer should propose a plan that is bad, or not in keeping with the historic district guidelines, I certainly wouldn't vote for it.

I should have been more careful to say that I favor the process of the neighborhood and the developer working together to come up with a mutually acceptable plan.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave. I see no reason why we can't work with any developer as we did in 1997 and with St. Leo's place. Contrary to some people's opinions, the neighborhood does work honestly with developers who want to do things right.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave. I see no reason why we can't work with any developer as we did in 1997 and with St. Leo's place. Contrary to some people's opinions, the neighborhood does work honestly with developers who want to do things right.