Featured photo: A zoning notice sign is posted into the grass at 3530 and 3534 McConnell Road. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

A property’s “highest and best use.” That’s what was being debated during a Greensboro zoning commission hearing on May 20. The properties in question — 3530 and 3534 McConnell Road — could be annexed and rezoned from their current use of farming and commercial business to light industrial if approved by city council on June 18.

Driving along McConnell Road on a recent Thursday, vast farmland and single family homes quickly gave way to towering, blocky warehouses that take up hundreds of thousands of square feet. A little further down the road, a woodsy patch of land could soon be turned into one of these warehouses despite many residents’ concerns.

At 3530 and 3534 McConnell Road, towering trees and brush create shade as squirrels, birds and other critters run around along the forest ground. The area is heavily wooded and a few unoccupied houses and structures stand nearby.

The two properties located at 3530 and 3534 McConnell Road are currently taken up by vibrant woods. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

On May 20, the zoning commission voted 5-2 to approve the annexation and rezoning of the properties. The area is currently not part of the city of Greensboro and is considered a part of Guilford County. Now the decision goes before city council on June 18. If the rezoning and annexation is approved, the two properties — which total about 20 acres — will be turned into a 254,000 square foot warehouse.

The applicant in question, Wylie Capital, is a real estate investment and development company based out of Illinois. According to Ernie Rinestein, the asset and development manager for Wylie who was present during the May 20 meeting, this will be the company’s first time investing in property in Greensboro.

An example of an industrial warehouse that Wylie has built in the past. (from Wylie’s website)

“We’re looking forward to a long, fruitful relationship with Greensboro,” Rinestein said during the meeting.

But residents like Dori Mondon who live near the property voiced their opposition to the rezoning on May 20.

More warehouses for the future?

“I drove by one day and saw the zoning sign,” said Mondon, a resident who lives about three miles from the properties in question off of Millpoint Road. Her family has lived in the area for the last three decades and has watched as more construction — including warehouses, industrial parks and residential neighborhoods — have popped up in the last decade.

Driving around on Thursday, Mondon is quick to point out all of the warehouses and industrial parks that buffer the area and currently sit vacant. One of the largest industrial parks nearby, Eastport Office Building, is marred with weeds that sprout from the asphalt parking lots. A quick search on Google shows that thousands of square feet of office space remain untouched in the center. The only current occupant is the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office.

A sign for the Eastport Shopping Centers shows no renters. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“Ninety-seven percent of these are vacant,” Mondon said as she drove around.

Mary Beth Feeny, who lives half a mile from the site, said she was never made aware of the rezoning and that she’s concerned about a potential increase in traffic. According to city staff notes, 83 residents who live within 750 feet of the site were sent letters of notification. Feeny noted how a few warehouses just down the street are still under construction and sit vacant. A little further, large warehouses for Wayfair and a Penske site were built just a few years ago.

“We don’t even know the impact of those other buildings that are sitting there,” she said.

According to the developer and the zoning commission, the two properties are fit to be rezoned for industrial use because of the city’s comprehensive plans for future development. Based on the city’s 2040 plan, which was enacted four years ago, much of the area of East Greensboro where the properties are located have been designated for industrial use going into the future. Both the city’s future built form map and future land use map indicate that in eastern parts of the city, industrial development will be prioritized. In the end, that’s why a majority of the zoning commission voted to approve the annexation and rezoning on May 20.

Greensboro’s future land use map shows how much of the eastern part of the city is planned for industrial use. (screenshot)

But history shows that racially diverse, and often predominantly Black areas of cities like East Greensboro have historically been used for industry, waste or other developments that don’t typically add to home values. And that has many of the area’s Black residents upset.

‘This side of the city has always been shit on’

JoAnna Lowe, a realtor who owns several properties that would be right next to the proposed warehouse, submitted multiple videos that showed construction runoff from other warehouses that are nearby. In her comments on May 20, she made it clear that she was concerned that another warehouse would just add to the problem.

“I’m clearly being affected, and my land is being depleted,” Lowe said. “Greensboro is not overseeing this project properly and I am in fear that the same will happen with this new warehouse.”

In the response period, Amanda Hodierne, the attorney representing Wylie Capital, said that in terms of stormwater and runoff, that they would “follow the rules” and if they didn’t, “there is a violation process.”

Still, that wasn’t enough to persuade at least two of the three Black members of the zoning commission — Warché K. Downing and Erica Glass — who voted not to approve the annexation or the rezoning.

Downing, who has been on the commission since last August, said that the residents’ concerns struck him.

“I’m listening to you all, because you live there,” he said.

He even commended the other warehouses because they are further down the street. 

“But I hear that the neighbors are saying, ‘Not in front of my yard, or not in my backyard,’” Downing said. “So I understand you; So from my perspective, I’m not going to vote in favor on this this evening.”

Carolyn Greene lives in the McConnell Crossing community which is made up of dozens of trailer homes, a basketball court, tennis court, pool and clubhouse. The development is fairly new and Greene has lived there for about a year.

Despite being situated almost exactly across the street from the proposed site, Greene says that she was never made aware of the rezoning plan. When TCB told her about the city’s plans to create a warehouse there she was taken aback.

“Another one?” she asked. “I think we have enough of them.”

Instead, Greene and many others who spoke out against the planned rezoning said they want to see different kinds of development instead.

“You know what would be great?” Greene asked. “A supermarket; there’s nowhere to shop around here.”

According to Greene, it takes her anywhere from 10-15 minutes to drive to the nearest Wal-Mart where she likes to shop. The closest grocery store is the Food Lion which is also 10 minutes away.

While the area around the properties are not considered a food desert by the USDA, nearby plots to the north and west are considered low income and low access areas. Off McConnell Road, there are many mixed-income neighborhoods, old single-family homes, a trailer home community and as well as multi-million dollar homes. And no matter the income level, residents in the area say they feel left out of the city’s future plans.

“They’re annexing this area for tax purposes, but not treating it like people live here,” says Mondon, who is white. “This side of the city has always been shit on. There’s a color line.”

According to a map by Statistical Atlas, a website that maps demographics based on the US Census, the area in question has a large Black population. Both the east and southeast parts of Greensboro and Guilford County are where the most Black residents reside.

A demographic map of Greensboro shows that much of East and Southeast Greensboro is predominantly Black. (screenshot)

Darlene Wilson, who lives in Creekside, a mixed-race neighborhood just up the road from the site, expressed her frustration with how the city was treating her and her neighbors.

“They treated us like we didn’t mean anything,” Wilson says. “We don’t need anymore [warehouses] out here. Give us something we can use, something our children can enjoy.”

Gwendolyn Helton, who lives in the first house when you enter Creekside, told TCB that she doesn’t want another warehouse on her street, especially across the road because she’s concerned about pollution and traffic. She mentioned how she’s witnessed at least three bad accidents since she’s lived in the house the last six years because “the road is narrow and cars misjudge it.”

A mixed-income neighborhood called Creekside is located just across the street off of McConnell Road from the proposed warehouse site. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Mondon also expressed how McConnell Road, despite its growth in population and development, is still just a two-lane country road.

“I feel like we’re not taken into consideration,” Helton said. “Like they don’t care about what we want; they don’t care about the situation and the environment we’re being put in.”

Instead of a warehouse, Helton said she’d like to see a park where kids could play.

“We would like a nice park with walking trails,” Helton said. “Something that would be appealing should we want to sell our homes or just for us.”

As someone who struggles with anxiety, Helton said that she moved out to the country “to be in peace.”

Zoning an area that was once for farming to an industrial site takes away from that, she said. 

“I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. “We purchased a home that was residential; I wouldn’t have moved into an industrial neighborhood.”

Pushback from residents against rezoning efforts has proven effective in the past. In November, neighbors off of Friendly Avenue strongly opposed a developer’s plan to build dozens of townhomes near Friendly Center. In the end, the developer backed out of the process.

That shows that the city can be swayed, Mondon said. Still, she noted how many of those who were opposing that development were middle to upper class white families who had the resources to come together and fight off the developer in question. The situation that they are in is a little different, she said.

“There’s a lot of resignation,” she said. 

But that’s not keeping her from speaking up. As someone whose family has lived in the area for decades, she sees how there’s been more development nearby. She knows that more people will be moving out to the county because of the cheaper home prices and said that if the city wants more development, that they should consider the people who already live there.

“Make it vibrant for us,” she said. 

The future of the properties will now be decided by city council on June 18. TCB reached out to all members of city council to ask how they might vote on the measure but did not receive a response from most before two p.m. on Friday. The area is currently not part of the city so it does not have a city council representative. The closest neighborhood is represented by District 1 council member Sharon Hightower.

Via email, Mayor Nancy Vaughan reiterated how the proposed warehouse would add to the area’s development and is in line with the city’s comprehensive plan.

“[T]his is up the street from the proposed location of the recently announced Clearly Clean packaging manufacturer.  If this property is rezoned they will be making a significant investment (@$25M) and hiring 80 employees with an average wage of $59K,” Vaughan wrote. “They will be building this facility to suit their needs.”

Vaughan also stated that according to the traffic impact analysis, the impact “will be minimal” and that additional concerns will be addressed during the June 18 meeting.

“In my opinion it is in keeping with existing zoning near the site and GSO2040 long-term goals,” Vaughan wrote. “The access to I-40 makes it very attractive for economic development.”

Vaughan also noted that she would withhold how she will vote until after the hearing.

“It is important to allow both sides to be heard,” Vaughan wrote.

Helton, who spoke during the May 20 zoning commission plans on attending the city council meeting to continue to voice her concerns. 

“That building gives us no appeal,” Helton said. “It takes away from the neighborhood’s appeal as well. If you have to build something, why not build something for us?”

Want to go?

The next city council meeting will take place on Tuesday, June 18 at 5:30 p.m. in the Katie Dorsett Council Chamber of the Melvin Municipal Office Building, 300 W. Washington St. 

To speak at City Council meetings, residents must submit an online request by 5 pm the day prior to a meeting. Residents may also register upon entry with the courier on the meeting day by using the Qminder kiosk. A QR code will be available to scan into personal mobile-phone devices should residents prefer.

Meetings are broadcast on the City’s website, the City’s YouTube Page, and streamed live on the City’s Greensboro Television Network (GTN).

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