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Commission approves special-use permit for student housing


By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday took the final step to reverse a previous decision on a special-use permit for the construction of a student apartment complex on Charles Boulevard.

The commission was under court order to issue the permit. A Pitt County Superior Court ruled against the commission's previous denial, made during a May 17 meeting. The ruling nullified the commission’s decision that anticipated traffic hazards generated by the complex justified the permit’s denial.

Georgia-based LCD Acquisitions, also known as Landmark Development, challenged the commission’s decision during a hearing in Pitt County Superior Court on Jan. 22. Landmark wants to build a mixed-use development on an 85-acre farm just north of Fire Tower Road. The development plans call for single-family homes, offices and a 656-bedroom student apartment complex called The Retreat. The special-use permit requested from the commission allows for four-bedroom units.

Judge Kent Harrell issued the ruling earlier this month, following a settlement agreement between the city and Landmark. Harrell’s judgment said the commission’s decision was not supported by “substantial and competent evidence,” and ordered it to issue the special-use permit by its next meeting.

City Attorney Emanuel McGirt gave a brief presentation at the meeting, during which he recommended the commission follow the court’s order. The commission voted unanimously to issue the permit. 

After the meeting, Mark Jensen, vice president of development for Landmark, said the company still plans to build the 656 bed complex, called The Retreat and hopes to begin construction on the land sometime this summer.  Plans call for 16-two bedroom units, 40 three-bedroom units and 130 four-bedroom units on 26 acres across from The Landing, a student apartment complex on the west side of Charles, and Tara Condominiums.

At the end of the meeting, the commission members present said they regretted their decision was overturned because they are still concerned about the development, especially about the over-saturation of the student housing market.  Commissioner Hap Maxwell said that since the commission denied the initial request another student apartment complex has been approved in the city, adding to an already-existing concern.

“There's been a whole lot of development in the last two years, there’s a whole lot still being built,” he said. “We arlready have too many beds and now we’ve got all these new beds being built.”

Commissioner Margaret Reid said she wished the commission had been in possession of the housing study that was presented to the City Council in January. The study demonstrated an overabundance of student housing. She said having the study during the hearing would have constituted evidence for the denial of the request. 

Commissioner Kenneth Wilson added he was unhappy with how the city handled the lawsuit. 

“I’d like to add my two cents agreeing to all of that, and adding my sadness that the city didn’t stand up for the commission and our decision, but decided to arrive at a consent agreement,” he said. “We have to follow the court decisions, and so that’s what we did, but its sad to me how it worked out. 

Also at Tuesday night’s meeting:

• The commission unanimously voted to continue a request from Michael Bryan Roberson to rezone 4.289 acres between North Memorial Drive and Briley Road and west of Brookhaven Acres Subdivision from RA20 (Residential-Agricultural) to IU (Unoffensive Industrial). City staff has advised the request is not in compliance with Horizons 2026: Greenville’s Community Plan and Future Land Use plans. The decision to continue was made due to several adjacent homeowners coming forward and saying they wanted more communication with the developer. 

• The commission unanimously approved Kate Vincent Kittrell’s request to rezone 12.048 acres located along the eastern right-of-way of Dickinson Avenue and adjacent to Cross Creek Apartments and Townhomes from RA20 (Residential-Agricultural) to OR (Office-Residential).

• The commission denied 4-1 an ordinance requested by Arlington Crossing LLC to rezone 5.498 acres located along the northern right-of-way of West Arlington Boulevard and adjacent to the Norfolk Southern Railroad from MO (Medical-Office) to MCG (Medical-General Commercial). City staff has advised the request is not in compliance with Horizons 2026: Greenville’s Community Plan and Future Land Use plans.

Contact Seth Gulledge at Sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. Follow him on Twitter @GulledgeSeth