Chris Berendt Staff Writer
September 5, 2013
Several residents of Stewart Avenue, Woodrow Street and Park Avenue attended the City Council’s Tuesday meeting — and some 40 others signed a petition — to share their opposition to the construction of duplex-style units in the area. The Council ultimately decided the project could move forward.
The City Council unanimously approved a request by W.F. and Geraldine Carr and Willie and Glenda Thornton for a conditional use permit to construct duplex-style, multi-family developments at the intersections of Stewart Avenue, Woodrow Street and Park Avenue in a R-8 residential district.
“The proposed multi-family development would consist of seven units with two dwellings in each sharing a common wall,” Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose. Each duplex would have two parking spaces and the plans meet the setback requirements, as well as meet the 11,303 square feet of open space for the development density requirements.
The Council voted that the request complies with each of four standards for conditional use, including that the use will not materially endanger the public health or safety as developed; will not substantially injure the value of adjoining properties; will be in harmony with use in which it is located; and will be in general conformity with the city’s plans.
Council’s approval came after several people shared their concerns with the proposed development.
“There are existing duplex-style buildings in the general vicinity of this area,” said Rose, who noted that a conditional use permit was approved several years ago in the same area.
W.F. Carr spoke to his request, displaying sketches that showed the design and layout of the duplex-style buildings proposed. Each of the units would consist of two separate residences containing two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a single-car garage. There would be a single driveway leading to the separate garages. Rent would start at $550 per month, he noted.
“I’m proposing to build possibly seven units on Park Avenue. We’re putting our money into it. It will be looked after by my wife and myself. We will manage it,” said Carr.
He noted his wife’s management of Laurelwood Apartments off of Elizabeth Street for over 20 years, as well as his own involvement in revitalizing structures on McKoy Street and others in downtown Clinton. “I’d like to see something go up on Park Avenue and Stewart to uplift that (area) a little bit,” said Carr. “I was raised on Park Avenue and I’d love to see that end of town look a little better. I don’t see how it could not increase (adjacent property values).”
Carr said the project would be in phases, with two units to be built on Woodrow Street to start. He said he did not necessarily need all seven proposed units, but wanted the bulk of them.
“I’d say we need at least five (units),” said Carr.
Council members asked about the proposed layout, with Neal Strickland praising the look and expressing his desire that Carr stick to the proposed plan. Rose said any deviation would have to come before the board for further consideration.
“If Mr. Carr were to substantially change the layout or design, we would bring that back before Council for another public hearing,” said Rose.
There are two old houses currently on the property. They would be taken down at the beginning of November and the new duplexes constructed after that, Carr said. He said he did not have any idea when he would move forward with the other units, set for Park and Stewart avenues.
“I tried this a few years ago, and we didn’t quite get what we wanted to,” said Carr. “To make it work I think we need to go with this plan. I am putting my money into this. I don’t think I’m too big of a fool on this thing. I think it could be good.”
Paul Ruggles, of 800 Stewart Ave., just a block from the proposed project, presented a petition opposing the construction of the duplex units with more than 40 signatures from others in the neighborhood. He said he believed the project would act to diminish the values of surrounding properties.
“Our main concern is density of housing,” said Ruggles, “With what they’re proposing, the concentration of this area is so dense, it is more like an apartment complex than it is housing.”
Looking at the Sampson Geographical Information System (GIS), he looked at the number of residences on each block around the proposed project. The current property size per residence is about 0.4 acres in that neighborhood. The seven duplex units would mean 14 residences on a total of 1.73 acres, or 0.12 acres per residence.
“The density of that is much greater than the surrounding neighborhood,” said Ruggles, “and it’s all in one spot. Some of the units are not even on the road. To us, that’s very much like an apartment complex. We do not see that as a beneficial thing.”
Ruggles explained that the opposing group was not against rental units or duplexes for that matter, as there were homes being rented in the neighborhood and some duplexes already present. The issue was a density that was not consistent with the neighborhood. He requested that the units be decreased to “four, maybe five.”
He said he looked over the City Council meeting minutes from September 2005, the meeting to which Carr alluded to, where the same topic was broached. The request at that time was five units, all on the road. All were approved except for the one facing Stewart Avenue, which was found to be inconsistent with the other residences on Stewart.
“I would suggest there is no difference now than there was at that time in the neighborhood,” said Ruggles.
Rose said the city’s density requirements are 8,000 square feet for the first dwelling, and 4,000 more square feet for any additional dwelling unit in an R-8 residential district. So, in the case of one duplex, the requirement would be 12,000 square feet. Ruggles said the duplexes, while meeting the requirement, did not fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.
“When you put something like that in an area that is more spread out, it doesn’t (fit),” said Ruggles.
Councilman Steve Stefanovich said he understood Ruggles’ concern and he made a good point. It is something the city has looked at closely over the years, Stefanovich said. Ruggles said he was not against the design.
“We’re not concerned about the design, we’re not concerned about duplexes, we’re concerned about density, and being consistent with the area,” said Ruggles. “We would like to see it reduced ideally to four (units), but no more than five.”
James Blackmon, who has lived at 600 Woodrow St. for 30 years, said he loves the neighborhood and felt like it would be a “detriment” to the property values of single-family homes. He said Woodrow is a heavily-trafficked cut-through street and noted the duplex units would only increase that traffic.
His son, Chad Blackmon, who now lives at 706 Stewart Ave., grew up on Woodrow Street.
“I’ve seen my neighborhood change over the past 30 years. I’d really like to keep it the way it was when I was a kid, but I know times have changed,” said Blackmon. He echoed Ruggles’ concerns of a large number of people in a compact area, especially when compared to the rest of the neighborhood. “When you start putting seven units on one lot, it starts looking like an apartment complex. And yeah, W.F. grew up in this neighborhood, but he no longer lives there. I would say this is more for monetary reasons than to make the neighborhood a better place.”
Sharon West, of 710 Stewart Ave., agreed with Blackmon, and expressed concern that the units could end up housing many more people than the lease might dictate. West said she wanted a guarantee the lease would be honored, or at least enforced.
“I think at 14 units, there should be a manager on-site,” said West, noting parking issues that might also arise and spill over to the street and the already-busy cut-through on Woodrow. “I want my son to be able to ride his bike down the street and not have to dodge all these extra vehicles. I would like to see some real research and proof that this is going to increase my property value. I don’t think a 14-unit complex one block away from my house is going to increase my property value.”
The City Council then went through each of the four standards, unanimously approving each.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.