Proposed hotel-retail project turned down by planning board

Developer Daniel Donathan chats with Pattie Ladd after a rezoning hearing. (photo by Jordan Green)

Concerns about affordable housing and traffic appear to sink proposed hotel complex at Peters Creek Parkway and Business 40.

A proposal to develop a dining, retail, office and residential complex anchored by an eight-story hotel at the intersection of Business 40 and Peters Creek Parkway hit a wall on Oct. 13 when the nine-member Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Planning Board unanimously rejected a rezoning request by a local developer.

The proposed West Salem Marketplace Plaza project would result in the demolition of an entire neighborhood housing an estimated 80 families on limited incomes. The vote came after the board was deluged with concerns from residents in the adjacent neighborhoods of the West End and Ardmore that the project would create traffic problems and aggravate the city’s worsening shortage of affordable housing.

“This is a major change that you all are asking to move from residential to general business,” said planning board member George Bryan, who lives in the West End neighborhood. “That’s about as radical as you can get.”

Lawson Newton, a lawyer representing developer Daniel Donathan, said he wished he could “submit the perfect plan, adding, “It’s just not out there.”

He said, “We want to uplift this area. This is not what I call blighted property. It’s property that could use an uplift.”

Bonnie Crouse, the immediate past president of the Ardmore Neighborhood Association, directly addressed concerns about affordable housing in her comments during the rezoning hearing.

“The loss of affordable housing is a very big issue in Ardmore,” she said. “We’re already facing the loss of hundreds of units on Cloverdale Hill should that project proceed. Workforce housing, or whatever you want to call it, is an endangered species already in Ardmore. And that is our loss. Everyone in Ardmore values diversity.”

The boards of the Ardmore and West End neighborhood associations both passed resolutions formally opposing the rezoning. About 25 people from the two neighborhoods raised their hands to show their opposition during the hearing.

None of the speakers identified themselves as living in the area under consideration for demolition. John Merschel, a West End resident who canvassed the neighborhood, indicated that many residents did not appear to understand the implications of the rezoning request.

“As far as the residents that we talked to, yes, there are some residents that are transient in there, but there were several people that just didn’t have any idea where they would go if this went away,” he said. “Some of the ladies that we talked to were in there 15-years-plus.”

Nick Ladd, a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at Baptist Hospital, was unable to attend the hearing, but made his opposition plain in a letter to city planner Gary Roberts.

“As a neighbor I have spoken to individuals on the impacted properties and found that people oppose this measure, fear what it will mean for them and their families and feel helpless to stop this change,” Ladd wrote on Sept. 24. “Several people as recently as a week ago continued to believe that the zoning change was focused on renovations to I-40 rather than demolishing their homes.”

Ladd said he fears that the only affordable housing the displaced residents would be able to find is east of Highway 52, adding, “Already this city faces a growing problem of economic and racial segregation which hurts not only those forced to move due to economic limitations but the city as a whole.”

Donathan and his team were already aware that displacement would be a concern, but his lawyer emphasized that many residents rent week to week or don’t stay long because they’re unable to keep up with rent.

“If you asked the owner of that property how many week-to-week folks he has and how many come in and stay a week or stay and month and they’re gone, those numbers are pretty substantial,” Newton said. “You may have a few long-term residents — and I think that there are some long-term residents. There is an impact there and I don’t know how to address that from a progress standpoint.”

Donathan has said previously that he was working on a plan for assisting the residents that he would present to the planning board, but his architect, Eric Morrison, admitted there were no specifics.

“We have had some of these discussions about where people would be,” Morrison said. “And that discussion has been whether or not we help them with relocation. I do know the owner of these properties has some other properties as well around in the area. There was some discussion about whether we could incorporate [them] into some of the living spaces that we’re planning on providing now. That has been thought about. The actual solution has not come about yet.”

The potential for the proposed development to generate additional traffic has created particular concern for residents of the West End, which is connected to the site by a bridge that carries West Fourth Street across Business 40. Jo Ann Mount, a West End resident, said it’s already treacherous to back onto West Fourth Street and said a speeding car once veered off the road and plowed through her hedgerow. Bryan added that longstanding concerns about motorists speeding through the neighborhood have prompted the city to undertake traffic calming efforts.

Ramey Kemp, a traffic engineer hired by Donathan, argued that the increased traffic generated by the project would at most add five seconds to time it took residents to pull out of their driveways. A study he completed for the developer assumes that only 20 percent of the traffic from the development will flow out through West Fourth Street, despite the fact that the residential street links to the popular Burke Street commercial area and, further beyond, to downtown’s Restaurant Row. He predicted 80 percent of the traffic would come out on Peters Creek Parkway. In order for the state Department of Transportation to sign off on the plan, the left-turn option would be discontinued where West Fourth Street spills onto Peters Creek Parkway at the Filly’s strip club, impeding travel in a northerly direction towards downtown.

“Most of the traffic is going to go up Peters Creek Parkway,” Ramey said. “It’s gonna come out from the development, go south, down to the nearest U-turn and make a U-turn and go back north.”

Donathan conferred in the hallway with project planner Gary Moore after his request went down in defeat.

He said the call about whether to appeal the decision to city council will ultimately ride on the feedback he receives from his investment partners. Councilman Dan Besse, whose ward encompasses the site, and Councilman Jeff MacIntosh, who represents the West End, have both said that they regard the project with skepticism.

“We’ll proceed if we can resolve some of the issues and get a plan that’s acceptable from the residents and the staff,” Donathan said.