Board approves permit for 804-bed student complex
By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector
Thursday, January 25, 2018
The Greenville Board of Adjustment on Thursday approved a special-use permit for the construction of an 804-bed student apartment complex in the Glen Arthur neighborhood near Charles Boulevard and 14th Street
The unanimous approval came after almost two and a half hours of testimony from witnesses provided by the developer, Raleigh-based Dewitt Carolinas, who described the project and answered numerous questions about traffic and pedestrian safety and other concerns.
The board determined that evidence provided by the developer showed the project met a set of seven criteria needed for approval, including compliance with zoning regulations and the city comprehensive land-use plan; health and safety considerations; public health and welfare concerns; consideration about its impact on adjacent properties and adjacent property uses; and nuisance and hazard concerns.
No expert opposition emerged to challenge evidence presented by the developer, but board members raised several questions about the safety of 800 students walking to classes and events and driving to and from the complex.
Board member Ann Bellis was concerned about the prospect of students crossing 14th Street to get to the Harris Teeter and Charles Boulevard to attend classes.
“Our big concern ought to be the pedestrians,” Bellis said, “because the students aren't going to go down 14th street to cross at the light, they're going to cross that street like a bunch of chickens. We've been dealing with students for well over 30 years and they cross where it is convenient.”
The dormitory-style development will be built on about four acres bordered by Charles, 14th, 13th and Cotanche streets. The complex will be constructed in the appearance of single large building but will be composed of three structures ranging from 5-8 stories in height. A multi-deck parking garage will be located within the compound, which will have vehicular access on Cotanche and 13th streets.
The plan closes and builds over Glen Arthur street — the city would have to approve that part of the proposal and some other measures at a later date. The City Council rezoned the property last year to allow for multi-family development, but the developer had to receive the special-use permit in order to built dormitory-style housing for four unrelated tenants.
The quasi-judicial hearing at City Hall required the board to consider only testimony from witnesses approved as experts in their field and accept factual evidence only from those witnesses. A recent study commissioned by the City Council that showed a saturation of student housing was not introduced by a qualified witness in opposition and could not be considered.
Dewitt brought five experts to testify about construction, architecture and management, a traffic engineer and an appraiser, who said the project would benefit surrounding property values.
Bryan Fagundas, the construction expert, said the structure was designed to have a main pedestrian entrance that funneled students out on the corner of Charles Boulevard and 14th Street, the closest possible point to signaled pedestrian crossings.
Jessica McClure, the traffic expert, testified the complex will bring 48 additional vehicle trips during the morning peak hour and 186 additional trips during the afternoon peak hour. She said students will be more likely to leave their cars parked and walk to their destinations.
A formal traffic impact study has not been approved. McClure said the study was sent to the city, and the city sent back recommendations and other suggestions that are currently under advisement. The motion by the adjustment board to approve the permit included a condition the developer work with city staff to make recommended changes for pedestrian and motorist safety.
Two residents who live nearby spoke out against the project. Donna Whitley said the complex would lead to higher vacancies in existing student housing as shown by the study conducted by Kimley-Horn. The vacancies would lead to blight in other areas of the city, harming the general health and welfare, she said.
Bellis said she thought it was unfair the study could not be considered. Board member Michael Glenn agreed but said the procedural rules were in place for a reason and ultimately the expert witnesses provided adequate information.
“I think it is unfortunate to not have the study and not know what’s in it. I don't know whether it would have any bearing for or against this project, but we don’t know what that is. It’s kind of like having a life raft and not being able to reach it,” he said. “On the other hand these property owners and developers have followed the steps available to them under city ordinance and there’s a a procedure that has been followed to get them to this point.”
The complex is expected to open by Fall of 2020.
Contact Seth Gulledge at firstname.lastname@example.org and 329-9579.