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Rejected property owners continue quest for development

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Darsen Sowers of WGB Propertes explains the different development possibilities for location near Evans Street and Arlington Boulevard on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017.

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Shannon Keith

Monday, February 27, 2017

The owners who want to develop a property off of Evans Street will not immediately take a request rejected by Greenville’s planning and zoning commission before the City Council, one of the partners said. But they’re not giving up, either.

Darsen Sowers of WGB Properties said the developers are going to further research what type of development the wooded, eight-acre Clifton Street lot north of Arlington Boulevard would support. The Feb. 21 rejection was the second attempt to rezone the property from commercial to office-residential (high-density multi-family).

The property has been zoned for general commercial since 1969. The rezoning, which would have complied with the city’s long-range land-use plan, was opposed by residents of a neighboring townhome development who have raised concerns about the loss of the trees, water runoff and traffic.

“We don’t want to take this request before a City Council that we know will vote it down,” Sowers, the chief financial officer for WGB, said. “We don’t want to waste anyone’s time. I want to come up with something that everyone can agree on before we take that step.”

WGB does not necessarily want to place an apartment complex on the property, Sowers said, but some sort of residential development would be ideal. Ironically, an identical rezoning request granted to WGB in 1983 allowed the company to develop Cypress Creek, whose residents have opposed the company’s subsequent requests.

“That subdivision was ahead of its time when it was constructed,” Sowers said. 

Cypress Creek residents said any development on the neighboring property — which would require the removal of trees in about five acres of the property — would have a negative effect on the watershed in the area and would represent “an ecological disaster.”

“Every tree that is cut down would add to the flooding problems in the area,” one resident said during the Feb. 21 meeting. “The city cannot allow that to happen.”

In March, WGB Properties received approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission to rezone the property, despite the objections of Cypress Creek residents. During that meeting, homeowners said another housing project would take away from the secluded feel that the woods surrounding their subdivision provide.

The commission at that time concluded that because the property is zoned for general commercial, any type of development on the property — either commercial or residential — still would change the landscape in the area. It voted to recommend the change to the council.

The council in April went against the commission’s recommendation and voted 3-2 to deny the request. Councilman At-Large Calvin Mercer and District 4 Councilman Rick Smiley voted to approve the request. Mayor Pro-Tem Kandie Smith, District 3 Councilman McLean Godley and District 5 Councilman P.J. Connelly voted against the rezoning. District 2 Councilwoman Rose Glover did not attend the meeting.

During the council meeting, Cypress Creek residents argued that a housing development — especially one for student housing — would create traffic issues coming out of Clifton Street, which intersects with Arlington Boulevard and Evans Street.

“A 400-bed development would create a dangerous situation coming out of Clifton Street,” one resident told the City Council during the meeting in April. “However, we would not object to a development similar to Cypress Creek.”

During the Planning and Zoning Commission last week, Sowers said the real estate agency had no plans to construct student housing and was looking at potentially developing market rate housing on the property. 

“This would actually reduce the traffic a lot more than what the current zoning would create,” Sowers said. “I know that people keep talking about the problems with this site ... I would like to come up with solutions that would make this property better than it is now.”

Sowers has been meeting with Cypress Creek residents and said that WGB Properties is trying to develop a plan for the property that addresses their concerns.

“I get it ... they have a nice place in the woods that’s close to everything,” Sowers said. “The problem then became traffic and now is the area’s watershed. But I think it’s great that these residents have put their heads together and come up with this narrative.

“I admire, and even envy, the sense of community they have there,” Sowers said. “And we want to work with them on this. However, I’m getting the impression that many of them are not willing to accept any development on that property.”

Sowers said several residents have asked if WGB Properties would donate the land to the City of Greenville so it would not be developed at all.

“Even that isn’t necessarily off of the table,” Sowers said. “If the city wants to give us $2 million in tax credits, that is something we would consider. If not ... we can’t afford to donate that land to the city any more than they can donate their homes to the city.”

Sowers said there is a growing demand in Greenville for market-rate housing that would be targeted toward young professionals and retirees. A development on the property would be able to take advantage of the greenway that the city has constructed through a portion of the property.

“We are trying to make the best of the greenway that was forced on us through eminent domain,” he said. “I have walked the greenway and can make it to ECU’s stadium in about 12 minutes. I think that there are a lot of people that would benefit from being located next to this path.”

Sowers said that a market-rate housing development on the site also would have less environmental effect on the area than a development allowed under its current zoning.

“Under the current zoning, we could strip clear the property and put in a parking lot,” Sowers said. “But we don’t want to do that ... I care about the residents of Cypress Creek and we want to do something that will compliment what they have there.”

Contact Shannon Keith at skeith@reflector.com and 329-9575.

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