Sunday, September 18, 2005

My Dunleath Vote

It's old news now, but one of my neighbors has asked me why I voted, as a member of the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission, to approve the conceptual site plan (link via Hoggard) for the Dunleath property in my neighborhood, which might include as many as 60 townhouse and condominium units -- no single-family detached homes.

My neighbor points out that the Aycock board voted to oppose the plan (it was a split vote), that many detached homes are being successfully built in Southside -- why not in Aycock, too? --, and that concerns about increased traffic on Percy St. have not been addressed.

Short answer first: the conceptual plan that was put before us was congruous with the Historic District Design Guidelines, so we approved it.

The HPC's only authority is to determine whether a given project is congruous with, or incongruous with, the Guidelines. We don't have the authority to determine whether the underlying zoning of a tract of land is too dense, or to say that traffic problems haven't been addressed, or to say to a developer, "well, this is nice, but we'd really like to wait until something nicer comes along."

In the case of the Dunleath proposal, the conceptual plan was pretty close to being a slam dunk, as far as it went. The HPC vote was 6-1 in favor.

But it's just a conceptual plan. The developer will have to return to the commission with detailed exterior architectural plans for all the buildings (we don't have any say about interiors) and detailed site, landscape, parking, utility, and lighting plans. All will have to meet the Guidelines' standards.

OK, so much for the Preservation Commission stuff. What do I think about the other issues --housing types, density, and traffic?

As to housing types and the Southside comparison: well, Southside is a mix of townhomes, duplexes, and single-family homes, with a lot greater over-all density than our neighborhood.

Southside realtors are also pulling down very high per-square-foot prices for all those units. A two-story townhome on MLK Boulevard is priced at over $400,000. I'm thinking that well-executed multifamily dwellings in our neighborhood will juice up our real estate values and spur investment in historic properties.

The Wafco Mills project that was built some years back in the College Hill historic district -- consisting of condominiums and townhouses -- is on a similar scale to Dunleath, and it has worked very well.

Plus, the architect on the Dunleath project is Jerry Leimenstoll, who understands both historic preservation and good design. He has promised deep, usable porches fronting Chestnut St., and pedestrian-oriented design.

What about those 60 units, though? Isn't that too dense?

I don't know. The Dunleath property is zoned RM-18, and 60 units is a lot fewer than the developer has the right to build.

Chestnut Street currently has about 90 dwelling units on it. Is 60 new property owners a bad thing? That's many more "eyes on the street," many more potential neighborhood association volunteers, many more consumers driving economic improvements on nearby Summit Avenue.

And the traffic?

Adam Fisher in GDOT tells me that 60 units is too small a change even to trigger a traffic study. There will be more cars, yes. But as I sit on my Percy St. front porch of an evening, there's usually very little traffic. On-street parking keeps those cars moving pretty slowly (most of the time).

So you can think of those 60 units as generating more traffic, or as bringing more neighbors to wave at as they drive by.

Change of some kind is inevitable. It can be growth, or it can be decline.

I'm in favor of growth.


Vada Bostian said...

I used to live in a kinda run down apartment in a beautiful old house over on Fifth. I absolutely loved the neighborhood, but moved because the apartment was sorta cruddy. And Summit Ave, well, enough said. In a couple of years I'll be looking to buy for the first time and would love to get into the area again. I'd consider a townhouse or condo, provided that they aren't too sardine can and they fit the feel of the neighborhood...

So I guess I think its a good thing, since houses around there seem to be out of my price range...

Anonymous said...

"A two-story townhome on MLK Boulevard is priced at over $400,000."

I'm just too old. Too darned old. That's unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Greensboro has to reconnect Leftwich St. to Church St. and unseal the wall-off of Aycock etc. from the rest of the city. Also, does anybody know what supermarket is going in downtown yet?

jimcaserta said...

Higher density is not always bad. Higher density helps support local (walking distance) restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and stores. Plus, most of the apartment buildings in the area look to be in need of an upgrade.

Anonymous said...

I think that more invested residents for this area is a plus, not a negative. Historic Preservation is not a black and white issue; no one is going to replace Dunleath brick by brick, and having an interested investor is a plus for Aycock.
On the other hand, this is a great area, an almost secret area, where taxes are low, services are high and schools are great. So I understand people wanting to keep that secret!

Anonymous said...

I second what Anonymous said about re-connecting Leftwich to Church, a much-needed link between Aycock and Fisher Park. Right now there is no safe pedestrian railroad crossing for nearly a mile between the Hendrix overpass and Lindsay St. (try crossing on Murrow Blvd on foot or on a bike! You can't even get to it on the Church St. side because of the huge embankment, and if you get up there there's no bike lane or sidewalk, just FIVE wide car lanes). Because of these barriers, pedestrians routinely cross the railroad tracks at the severed Leftwich, where you can't even see or hear trains rounding the bend. This dangerous crossing is the direct route to walk or bike from Dunleath to downtown. With 100 more residents in this sort-of-cul-de-sac, the railroad crossing issue needs to be addressed in the planning stages. It could be part of the Greenway plan or the de-cloverleafing of Murrow, or a Hendrix-style pedestrian bridge.

David Wharton said...

It would be SOOOOO nice to have a usable road connection between Fisher Park and Aycock via Leftwitch. But . . .

If my memory serves, I believe that a RR crossing with gates, lights, and bells would be required by law, and I don't think most neighbors would be wild about all that dinging happening all hours of the day and night.

Building a bridge would involve such serious grade and clearance problems that it just doesn't seem feasible. Even if the city and the neighborhood could agree to do it, Southern Railroad would probably object -- and they are notoriously difficult to deal with. It took the late Max Thompson many years of Herculean effort to persuade the city and Southern RR to build the Hendrix St. bridge -- and that was at a spot where a bridge had already existed.

Nevertheless, I too would really like to see SOME kind of pedestrian connectivity improvements at Leftwitch.

As to cars, we hope someday to get Chestnut and perhaps Percy reconnected to Summit and Fisher. You can find conceptual drawings in the Aycock Traditional Neighborhood District Plan (big download).