‘Last hurrah’

Published 11:01 pm Thursday, December 18, 2014

Following Wednesday night’s vote to approve an apartment complex on Bridge Road, a few City Council members elaborated on their decisions in statements to the News-Herald.

For some, such as Councilman Charles Parr, their vote was a reversal from statements they made as early as June of this year, when Parr said he “won’t support any type of residential element.”

This week, he voted for the project.

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While Parr did not return a message left Thursday evening after earlier saying he would call back later, some of his fellow City Council representatives explained their reasoning.

“I always thought it was a good project for apartments,” said Vice Mayor Charles Brown, who joined Parr and Councilmen Jeffrey Gardy and Curtis Milteer the 4-2 vote for the project. “I think about two or three years ago I went by and looked at the site. There was one office building there. I see where they’re putting infrastructure in and all that stuff. They spent a lot of money. I don’t want to see no developer or no businessperson come in our city and lose that much money.”

The site at 3345 Bridge Road was initially planned for an office park, but market conditions have not materialized to make that a reality, the developers have said. Only one building has been built, and even that one has vacant spaces.

They proposed the 144-apartment complex earlier this year. Some nearby landowners opposed the project, on the grounds of traffic, school capacity and safety concerns.

The project also initially met with opposition from most council representatives. But Brown said Thursday that he “didn’t see that much difference between the two.”

“The staff and city manager thought it was a bad idea, but I held my ground,” he said. “Believe me, it’s not going to be a bad project.”

City staff and the Planning Commission recommended against the project.

Councilman Mike Duman said he was “a little surprised” with the way this week’s vote went.

“My opinion hadn’t changed since the issue came up,” he said. “I supported the B-1 zoning, because I thought there were some viable options that Mr. (Sam) Cohen (the developer) would be able to pursue, other than the apartments. I still had some reservations concerning traffic and schools. The few changes weren’t enough to persuade my thoughts.”

Duman said there is a silver lining, though.

“The positive aspect of it is we are dealing with a very reputable developer who I believe will have the best interests of the citizens in mind to ensure a quality project is built,” Duman said.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson on Thursday declined to comment on the vote, citing her recusal of herself from discussing or voting on the matter. The developers received financing from TowneBank, where she formerly sat on the community board.

In June, before she had decided to recuse herself, Johnson said she wanted to see a clearer plan and more specifics about what can be done commercially on the site.

“I just think an empty, idle piece of property there for that long is not doing anybody any good,” she said then.

Councilman Roger Fawcett — who voted against the approval — on Wednesday night after the vote called it a “last hurrah” for Gardy, Parr and Brown. It was their last significant action as they leave the city’s governing body after eight, eight and 20 years, respectively.