Proposed development would displace working-class neighborhood

West Fourth Street bisects a neighborhood slated for demolition to make way for a proposed multi-use development.

The proposed West End Marketplace Plaza — an ambitious project that includes a hotel, specialty grocery store and bottle shop, restaurant, offices and retail, and high-end housing — would displace about 85 low-income families in an obscure area near BB&T Park.

Even longtime Winston-Salem residents may not be aware of a quiet residential section of the city tucked away at the southwest corner of Peters Creek Parkway and Business 40.

The conventional frame houses that populate the neighborhood — largely built between 1905 and 1925 — have been subdivided several times, and many of the low-income residents rent by the week.

There are two ways into the neighborhood: By turning off the side street used to access Filly’s Gentlemen’s Club from Peters Creek Parkway and traversing a bridge across Business 40 from the leafy haven of the Historic West End Neighborhood. By a quirk of the city’s eccentric street alignment, the 25 or so houses that make up the neighborhood flank West Fourth Street. Known primarily for its vaunted Restaurant Row, the street runs due west from downtown and then winds through the West End before veering sharply to the left, past the Burke Street commercial area and plunging southward across the expressway.

Daniel Donathan, a real estate broker with offices near BB&T Ballpark, envisions something else at this obscure tail-end of West Fourth Street: an 8.3-acre complex of condos and apartments, with office and retail space, a restaurant, a bank, a combined specialty grocery-store and beverage shop, and a parking garage — all anchored by an eight-story hotel.

“We’ve done some generic studies and looked at some templates across the Eastern Seaboard to see what can and can’t be done,” Donathan said. “There’s positive economic development, basically looking at the housing situation, the need for retail, the growth around the ballpark and the availability of that property on a major thoroughfare. Location, location, location — it has a tremendous location.”

Donathan said he has the property for the proposed West End Marketplace Plaza under contract. All but three of the 30 parcels are owned by the Crawford family, who maintain a rental office in the center of the neighborhood. For the deal to go through, city council would have to approve a rezoning from residential to general business. If that happens, the housing — currently valued at an aggregate of $2.0 million on the tax rolls — would be demolished. Donathan said the current estimate for the potential new investment is $64.5 million.

“I will say that that case came to us before most of us had been slapped in the face by the extent of the affordable housing crunch. It was an early sort of yellow-flag case.” — Councilman Dan Besse

The state Department of Transportation has signed off on a new street with access to Peters Creek Parkway in the central portion of the development near the proposed hotel, Donathan said.

The request comes before the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Planning Board on Oct. 13.

Councilman Dan Besse, who represents the neighborhood, takes a skeptical view of the proposal, although he said he’ll try to look at written submittals and listen to testimony with an open mind. He said he’s only heard from three constituents, none of whom live in neighborhood slated for demolition. One email came from a resident of the nearby Ardmore neighborhood, while two others came from constituents in the West End, which is represented by Councilman Jeff MacIntosh.

“I’ve discussed the idea with Jeff MacIntosh a couple months ago,” Besse said. “We agreed that an intense, new development in that location on a planning basis is not a good idea.” Besse said his reservations are twofold.

“The traffic complications would be serious, especially to the West End neighborhood,” he said. “Access on Peters Creek Parkway where it comes out is going to be problematic. It’s already complicated by the renovation of Business 40, which is going to put more traffic on Peters Creek Parkway. It risks adversely affecting the dense separated-home environment in that section of West End. And it would completely displace quite a bit of what is scarce affordable housing in that area.”

The residents who would potentially be displaced are not among Besse’s more vocal constituents. He said he made it a point to canvas the street during his most recent re-election campaign three years ago — his fourth since he first ran in 2001. “I knocked on several doors,” he said, “and didn’t get a lot of response.”

Jamie Shawn Reeve, one of the residents, said it’s hard to contemplate finding housing as affordable as what’s currently available on West Fourth Street.

“There’s going to be a lot of families put out,” he said. “These are places that rent for $600 to $700 a month, utilities included. That’s pretty good. You can’t find that anywhere else. A lot of people don’t have anywhere else to go. A lot of people will be moving away.”

The 24 houses on the street are subdivided into three or four units each, and a cinderblock apartment building lists 12 units on the tax rolls, potentially displacing about 85 families.

The site plan for the proposed development calls for 144 residential units. Donathan said that although the final decision depends on financing, he estimated the apartments would rent for $900 to $1,250, while the condos would sell for $250,000 to $350,000. The developer said he plans to submit a relocation plan to the city, although he declined to provide specific details of how it would work.

“Some of them are long-term tenants, and some of them come and go,” he said. “It’s not like a standard residential area — I don’t want to be derogatory. I can’t relocate ’em and put ’em in a thousand-dollar apartment. We can set aside 5 percent, maybe 10 percent for affordable housing, but that’s still not going to get us there. I’m working on a relocation plan to relocate them to the Ardmore area, to help them find housing where rents are somewhat comparable.”

The proposed West End Marketplace Plaza project comes on the heels of an announcement last year that the family that owns the Cloverdale Apartments and Ardmore Terrace plans to tear down 350 units of affordable housing and replace it with a mixed-use development in the Ardmore neighborhood near Baptist Hospital. Besse previously lived in the apartments and said they constituted the single largest concentration of affordable housing in the Southwest Ward. He moved out of his apartment so he could advocate for the residents as an elected official without a conflict of interest. In February, Besse announced a compromise in which the owners would set aside a small fraction of the new housing for affordable units.

“In the cities and metro areas nationwide we’re seeing a trend toward more expensive housing, and especially in areas that are revitalizing like center-city Winston-Salem there is an accompanying movement toward more expensive housing,” Besse said. “Sometimes, but not always, that more expensive housing displaces existing housing that is more affordable…. That’s something we’re trying to get a handle on locally, and something many other communities are struggling with.”

Four years ago, city council unanimously voted to approve a rezoning that resulted in the razing of the West Side Apartments to allow a developer to build the high-end Edge Flats across the expressway from Baptist Hospital, despite the pleas of elderly and disabled residents who said they had nowhere else to go. Prior to the vote council members discussed the fact that many of the residents would be faced with paying off delinquent utility bills or would have to pay utility deposits as high as $150 if they didn’t hadn’t previously maintained an account.

“You had apartments that — my understanding was they were experiencing 50-percent vacancy — they were not well kept up,” Besse said, explaining his support for the rezoning. “We were already dealing with serious problems that raised questions of suitability of that housing that made it a closer call. I will say that that case came to us before most of us had been slapped in the face by the extent of the affordable housing crunch. It was an early sort of yellow-flag case.

“If that same decision came to us this year, it would be closely scrutinized,” he added. “I remember at that time I was looking at statistical information that was available about what seemed to be very decent affordable housing within a close area. That pool might shrinking.”