Featured photo: Residents who live near the plot of land at the corner of Cone Boulevard and Cleburne Street owned by Koury Corp. fiercely opposed the rezoning of the property for a high-density luxury apartment complex. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
Despite fierce opposition from surrounding residents, the Greensboro city council voted 7-2 in support of a rezoning request by the Koury Corporation to build a luxury apartment complex off of Cone Boulevard on Tuesday evening.
The request has been opposed by many residents who live near the parcel of land, which is located at the corner of Cone Boulevard and Cleburne Street and has been owned by Koury for the last six decades. Up until its recent rezoning request, which was approved by the city’s zoning commission in October, the parcel of land had been zoned for low-density residential use, but Koury requested the rezoning to build a 480-unit luxury, gated apartment complex.
In their comments, councilmembers who voted in favor of Koury’s request, cited the city’s 2040 comprehensive plan which outlines goals and visions for the city’s future.
“If we want to compete, if we want to be economically viable, we have to look at these diversity of housing options and what will attract people here,” said Mayor Nancy Vaughan during Tuesday’s meeting. “Not everyone wants to buy a house. To me, this is the highest and best use.”
Vaughan was joined by councilmembers Nancy Hoffmann, Tammi Thurm, Marikay Abuzuaiter, Sharon Hightower, Goldie Wells and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson in approving Koury’s request.
“Sometimes I think it’s just a matter of timing on things,” said Hoffmann who represents District 4. “I’ve seen firsthand the development of cities like Charlotte and Raleigh and the density in various areas of those cities…. This has been going on in the other two major cities in North Carolina for the last several years.”
The city’s comprehensive plan looks at six distinct ideas to help move the city forward including land use and development; creating interesting public spaces; becoming car optional; prioritizing sustainability; building community connections; and growing economic competitiveness. Councilmember Goldie Wells of District 2 echoed Vaughan and Hoffmann’s sentiments by comparing Greensboro to Raleigh and Charlotte and talking about how the city could grow to be more like them.
“We need more housing,” Wells said. “This will be upscale luxury housing, but there are people who can afford it. We have to get a mindset that we are going to change.”
Hundreds of residents of the area neighborhoods of Kirkwood, Browntown and others, spoke passionately during Tuesday’s city council meeting and at a previous townhall with councilmember Justin Outling, who represents the area that would be affected.
“We wanted an established, quiet, family-type neighborhood,” said Wendy Heise who lives at right next to where the apartment complex would be built. Currently, Heise and her husband, Craig Trask’s home is adjacent to rental homes that are also owned by Koury. The rentals would be demolished for the project.
“It’s about a lack of privacy, the negative impact to our property value,” Heise said. “These are small, modest homes. I’d be looking at a large wall.”
Heise and Trask said they just moved into their home in June and said that the new complex would fundamentally change the character of the neighborhood. Several individuals who spoke in opposition to Koury’s rezoning request during Tuesday’s meeting concurred with Heise and Trask’s sentiments.
“A gated luxury community is totally out of character with our community,” said resident Catherine Egerton. “Our neighborhoods are what make Greensboro beautiful.”
Councilmember Justin Outling, who voted in opposition to the request, agreed with residents’ concerns that the large, dense complex would be out of place in the area.
“I have real concerns about the compatibility of what would be allowed on this property,” said Outling, who pointed out that the complex would not be immediately close to any activity centers like a shopping complex or a church. “I don’t believe that comports with my vision of what’s the highest and best use of this area of the city.”
Outling also said that if the complex were to be built in Koury’s vision, there are no other nearby plots of land that could be developed in the future that would help to make the area transitional.
“It could forever be out of place,” Outling stated.
Councilmember Michelle Kennedy, the at-large representative on the board, also voted against the rezoning request for similar reasons, but also cited concerns about the environmental effects of the development, specifically with regards to flooding.
Luke Dickey, a project manager for Stimmel Associates, an engineering and land planning company, stated that Koury would be required to be compliant with all city, state and federal codes to ensure that no adverse environmental effects would impact the area.
In addition to changes to the general atmosphere of the area and potential environmental changes, residents also expressed concerns about possible increased traffic in their neighborhoods, increased stress on already struggling local schools and the possibility of increased crime. Each of the points made by the residents was addressed and countered by representatives of Koury or others who are involved with the project.
Mike Foxx, an attorney for Tuggle Duggins representing Koury, mentioned recent conditions that were added to the application, including reducing the height of buildings closest to Cleburne Street to two stories rather than the maximum five proposed, and increasing buffers and tree plantings between existing houses and the proposed complex. John Davenport, the president of Davenport Transportation Consulting, also pushed back on residents’ claims that there would be increased cut-through traffic in their neighborhoods by stating that both of the entrances to the apartment complex would be situated on Cone Boulevard. Hannah Cockburn, the city’s transportation director, told council members that the city can request popular apps like Google Maps and Waze to block certain travel routes to reduce cut-through traffic.
Still residents, including Weise, hoped that they could convince Koury to scale down their project from the proposed 480 units to something more like 300 or 200.
“To put 480 units in that small of a space; that’s our concern,” Weise said. “It steals your privacy.”
In an email response to TCB, Richard Vanore, the president of Koury Corp., argued that the steep terrain of the parcel prohibits the building of lower-density buildings like single-family homes and townhomes and that the parcel being next to a major road like Cone Boulevard lends itself to apartments instead.
Eric Mann, who has lived in the neighborhood for the past decade, said that he feels like the city council sold out the residents.
“Koury Corp. was successful in their sales pitch to city planning and city council,” Mann wrote in a message to TCB after the meeting. “I believe in this case that city leaders have sold out the citizens it represents and were influenced by a local developer’s sales pitch.”
Weise also expressed disappointment in a text to TCB.
“We are incredibly disappointed by this result,” she said. Weise noted that she hopes future environmental investigation finds potential flooding issues so that the project can be scaled back.
“Our personal concerns are small compared to the massive impact to a much larger community,” Weise wrote.
Still, councilmembers who voted in support of the request noted their faith in Koury to develop a high-quality complex.
“Here we have a developer who has deep roots in the city,” Mayor Vaughan said. “They want to be good neighbors. They’re going to have to look at people face to face.”
Vanore expressed commitment to the wider Greensboro community in his email response.
“We believe that this multi-family community will be an asset to the city and to the surrounding communities,” Vanore wrote. “Koury is a local company that takes pride in the projects it pioneers in their hometown of Greensboro.”
According to Vanore, the company will begin construction in approximately two years and the overall project could take about three years to complete.