Fairgrounds project draws fire

Published 7:11 pm Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mamie Arrowood likes to sit on her porch on nice evenings, but her enjoyment of it has been somewhat hampered lately.

The first house in the long-awaited Fairgrounds subdivision is rising from the ground next to Arrowood’s home on Cedar Street, where she has lived for 30 years. She and some other Hall Place residents are not happy about it.

“I didn’t buy my house in Fairgrounds, I bought my house in Hall Place,” Arrowood said from her porch on a recent evening. “It’s going to affect my property value, affect my yard and everything else.”

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The Fairgrounds, a revitalization effort off East Washington Street and Hall Avenue in downtown, has been in the works for about 10 years. City officials hope the public investment will bring increased private development along the corridor — a wish that is already coming true. The project will include 36 single-family residences.

Of particular concern to Arrowood and others, however, is that plans call for three homes to be built between Arrowood’s home and Cedar’s intersection with Hall Avenue. They say there isn’t enough room to cram three lots in less than 140 feet of frontage.

“If they built two … that wouldn’t bother me one bit,” Arrowood said. “I’m not happy with three of them going there.”

Community members recently had a meeting with Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts and Planning Director Scott Mills to discuss their concerns. City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn sent a follow-up letter to Hall Place resident Sandra Parker, where Cuffee-Glenn wrote that Associated Contracting Services, Inc. is contractually obligated to build three houses on the Cedar Street lots.

The three homes, Cuffee-Glenn added, have been in Fairgrounds plans since 2006, a statement confirmed by plans, dated that year, supplied by the city. The only change, the city manager continued, was the addition of the Health and Human Services building in 2008. That project was constructed and opened last year.

Arrowood and Parker, however, say they had an understanding with former project manager Jeryl Phillips, who no longer works for the city.

“She said she saw where we were coming from,” Parker said.

According to city officials, though, the third house was never removed from the plans, and they say it’s too late now.

The three lots will be far deeper than they are wide, which Mills says is common in the Hall Place neighborhood. Arrowood’s home is only one foot from its property line on the side of the house currently under construction, which she says will provide no room for her new neighbor to landscape the yard after the driveway is paved.

“Just a plain yard and a dumb driveway, that’s what you’ve got,” she said.

Parking also is a concern in front of the new lots. A sign presently orders no parking between Arrowood’s home and the stop sign at Hall Avenue.

“If they have company, where is the company going to park?” asked Elizabeth Bernard, another Hall Place resident.

Parker and Arrowood say they have not attended any public hearings on the Fairgrounds plans because they knew of none.

“There has been much public input on this project from day one,” Mills said recently. A committee of community members provided initial input on the project, and several public hearings have been held over the years.

Just this year, three opportunities for comment related to the Fairgrounds have occurred in public meetings. The Planning Commission considered a preliminary subdivision plat for the development at its March 16 meeting, at which it invited public comment. The next day, City Council held a public hearing on the conveyance of the land to Associated Contracting Services, Inc. The Planning Commission also held a public hearing on April 20 for a street vacation request for part of the development. Gary Haste, a representative of ACS, was the lone speaker at each public hearing.

“I wasn’t aware of any public hearings,” Parker said. “If any committee members had heard of any, we would have been there.”

“This has been an open public process,” said Bob Goumas, comprehensive planning manager.

The city’s insistence that it doesn’t have a choice now is no comfort to community members.

“If you put three houses there, it’s just going to sandwich them in,” Parker said.

Arrowood is equally dismayed.

“I just lost my husband,” she said. “He went away from here thinking there would be two houses built there.”