September 13, 2012The Greensboro Zoning Commission voted unanimously at its Monday, Sept 10 meeting in the council chambers of city hall to approve rezoning for a 200-unit apartment building adjacent to The Shops at Friendly Center on an undeveloped four-acre lot that some in the community have dubbed "the pit" because of its reputation as an eyesore.
The commissioners generally expressed enthusiasm about the project as an example of economic growth.
Commissioner Russell Parmele described the Friendly area as "an extremely popular location," but said that it "needs and demands more." He expressed confidence that the new apartment complex would enhance the area.
The request faced opposition at Monday's meeting. Mark O'Connor, a nearby resident representing his homeowners' association, requested that the item be continued 30 days to allow time for talks between the neighbors and John Lomax of Lomax Construction about reducing the number of units in the proposed project.
Aside from density, O'Connor said he and the neighbors were happy about the project and supportive of Lomax, who had already made significant concessions to the neighborhood.
Lomax's attorney Mike Fox of Tuggle Duggins & Meschan argued that there was no need for a continuance as there had already been multiple meetings with residents and substantial steps taken to resolve disputes.
The commissioners voted 7 to 2 to deny the continuance with Zoning Commission Chair Cyndy Hayworth and commissioners Parmele, Mary Skenes, Paul Gilmer, Rick Pinto, David Kinser and Janet Mazzurco voting in favor of denying the continuance. Commissioners Raymond Trapp and James Griffin voted in opposition.
While presenting his case along with Fox and Vice President of Development for Lomax Construction Patrick Woods, Lomax described not only his intention to create a high-end, "class A level" product, but the compromises he had reached with neighbors over the design.
They reworked the floor plan from a T shape to a U shape, which will allow parking and amenities like the pool to be shielded from outside view. "We like this much better, so we thank the neighborhood for that design," Lomax said.
Lomax said he had also gone above and beyond landscaping requirements to preserve trees around the development.
Lomax's original plan for the site was to construct 100 luxury condominiums, but he changed the plan to luxury apartments after the real estate crash of 2008, which also increased the number of available units. To compensate for the increase in units, an underground parking deck was added to the design, which underlies the entire property and constitutes 75 percent of the facility's parking. The area has already been excavated, which has resulted in the name "the pit."
It was also pointed out that although the apartment complex will be large, steps would be taken to ensure that the population did not get out of hand. Those measures included requiring that leases be signed by someone 21 years old or older and that no more than two unrelated people could live in a unit.
O'Connor returned to the podium to speak in opposition. He again expressed support for the project. "We support the project, but with conditions," he said.
"It's not about the bedrooms. It's about the number of people and the number of cars," he said. He brought up the issue of traffic safety, claiming that the new complex would lead to an increase in daily trips and thus raise the risk of accidents.
In rebuttal Fox pointed to the traffic study included in the analysis of the request, which indicated that the traffic impact would be marginal. "There is no data that supports the fear that the place is just going to be overrun by an army of new people," he said.
In response to O'Connor's concern about the lack of a final rendering, Lomax agreed to add a condition to the requested rezoning guaranteeing that the exterior "be at least 60 percent brick or decorative masonry." The commissioners allowed a five-minute recess so that O'Connor, Lomax and the zoning staff could discuss the condition, which the commission then accepted unanimously.
Michael B. Gray also had a zoning request on the agenda for Monday night. His father, Sidney Gray, presented the request, which was to rezone property at 435 Arlington St. from "office" to "central business" in order to make the land easier to sell.
However, the request was denied unanimously. Commissioners cited the fact that there were no definite plans for the development of the property on the table and that without conditions central business was too broad.
"It seems this rezoning request is kind of backwards from most. Usually they have a buyer," Pinto said while explaining his reasons for voting against the request
The commission also elected a new chair and vice chair. Skenes, who has served as vice chair for the past year, was elected chair 9 to 0. Janet Mazzurco was elected vice chair by a vote of 5 to 4. Trapp, Gilmer, Parmele and Griffin voted for Gilmer for vice chair.