Residents of Old Decatur objected this week to a proposed town house development with an "experimental" parking plan, saying the project near Bank Street would harm the historic district's ambience, increase traffic and crowd the neighborhood.
Armistead Pollard Real Estate Services, led by Decatur native Steve Armistead out of Brentwood, Tennessee, and Capstone Real Properties LLC are planning 18 town houses, named McGhee Square, between Vine and Walnut streets in Northeast Decatur.
“I don’t want to wake up to 50 new neighbors,” Jim Barnes of Canal Street said at a Planning Commission meeting Tuesday where rezoning for the project was considered. He said his property is 15 feet from the planned development and that the area “is too dense” for that many town houses to be crammed into the neighborhood.
Blake McAnally, of Pugh Wright McAnally Engineering Services, who represented the developers, said the two-story town homes, which would be between 1,200 and 1,500 square feet each, would be sold as single-family properties.
“As a city, we’ve begged people to come here to invest this kind of money, to do this kind of thing, for years,” McAnally said. “The person who grew up in Decatur and is part of this development does this kind of thing in Nashville (Tennessee) all of the time. He’s been working really hard for several years to come here and spend millions of dollars.”
Armistead said Thursday that a development like McGhee Square "would be over a $5 million investment." He said the town houses would be priced at about $280,000 each, and he has presold four of them.
Melinda Ball, a Line Street resident, said she saw this kind of development replacing historic homes in California, and “that ruined the feel of the neighborhood.”
Ball said small town houses, holding one or two people as McAnally said is the plan, would bring a transient population to the neighborhood who won’t live there long. She asked if 18 is the set number of town houses for the development.
McAnally said 18 is a preliminary number and the amount of town houses planned could change by the time they get to the final plat.
Various parcels combined for the project have three zoning districts — R-3, R-3H and R-4 — and developers asked the commission to recommend changing them to B-5. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the rezoning and approve the preliminary plat. The City Council has the final say on whether to approve the rezonings.
Planning Commission Chairman Kent Lawrence said this business district zoning doesn’t have any parking limits, which would allow the “experimental subdivision” to have town houses that don’t have direct access to a city street.
“The individual lots with town houses will share parking,” Lawrence said. “There will be less parking access, and this works better in a B-5.”
Lawrence said this isn’t the first such experimental town home development in the city. The town houses along the Tennessee River west of Rhodes Ferry Park are in a B-5 zoning district.
McAnally provided the commission a temporary site plan even though the permanent site plan won’t be presented for consideration until a later date.
This temporary plan shows entrances/exits using existing alleys, two off Walnut Street and a single two-way entrance/exit off Vine Street, with 41 or 42 parking spaces. A Morgan County-owned parking lot is available next door, south of the Archives, for overflow, McAnally pointed out.
There would also be a third entrance off Bank Street, and eight parking spots for an existing apartment complex, he said.
The developers are willing to pave and improve the alleys at their own expense if allowed to do so by the city, McAnally said.
City Planner Matthew Marquis said the town homes would be built on property covered by concrete or asphalt at what used to be the site of two structures that deteriorated to the point that homeless people were living in them and the city eventually demolished them.
Lawrence said a quarter of the lots planned for the development are in the city’s Historic District, and the developers have already received design approval of the facade from the Historic Preservation Commission.
Morgan County Archivist John Allison, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, said it did a "courtesy review" because the developers wanted to make sure the group was on board with the design. He said the HPC has authority only over exterior alterations on existing property.
McAnally said the development won’t be subject to the Historic Preservation Commission in a B-5 district and it will change the boundaries of the historic district “but we will comply their (Historic Preservation Commission) requirements.”
Debra Fore, of Johnston Street, told the Planning Commission that it’s not fair the developers received an OK so easily from the Historic Preservation Commission when that same board is meticulous in evaluating what residents want to do with their Old Decatur homes.
Fore said she “finds it objectionable” that the developers are building in the Historic District.
“We need to preserve the neighborhood,” she said. “This is ‘do as they say and not as we would do.’”
Lawrence said these are issues for the Historic Preservation Commission and not the Planning Commission. He pointed out that the area of the project that's in the historic district is currently a parking lot.
Fore said the area “has over 1,000 buildings and they’re going to place 18 units smack-dab in the middle of these historic homes.”
Barnes and neighbor Carl Jacobs said adding roughly 40 new vehicles in this area would make a traffic problem that’s already bad even worse. They said Walnut, a one-way street, and Vine already have problems with speeders.
Diane Widener, of Church Street, said the interior of the historic district is doing well but “the borders are vulnerable,” so the city needs to enforce the restrictions on what can be built the district.
Nancy Greenleaf, of Line Street, said 18 town houses “is, in my opinion, a little bit too much. If it were me, I would do them big and beautiful with nice parking.”
DeAnn Meely, of Oak Street and owner of a Bank Street business, said in an email to the Planning Commission she supports the development.
“It will, in my opinion, do nothing less than improve the area,” she wrote. “The buildings that were torn down were an eyesore. The property needs to be improved upon, as does all the property in the area. I am impressed with the proposed value these units will be sold at. The developer seems competent and has a great deal of experience with such developments.”
Meely suggested lowering the speed limits in the area because people are driving through the area “at very high speeds. Ticket them. The traffic has increased with the closing of some of the streets.”