Despite another wave of opposition to a duplex request, the City Council ultimately approved a conditional use permit for construction at the corner of Byrd and Layton streets — with stipulations addressing background checks and criminal activity attached.
The conditional use permit request for James Levinson’s property came from Randell Coye Durham of Durham Building & Electric, Inc. Last month, the Council tabled the request following opposition from residents who live in the vicinity of the proposed site. While there was more of the same Tuesday night, the move got the sign-off from Council, but with a dissenting vote from Councilwoman Maxine Harris, whose district contains the property.
The proposed one-story duplex, which would measure approximately 2,400 square feet — 3 bedroom, 2 bath units about 1,200 square feet apiece — would be situated on approximately 11,250 square feet of land. The property would serve as rental space, which would be available for around $650-$700 per month.
“I am concerned,” Harris stated during Tuesday’s public hearing. “You’re coming into my district and we already have two housing projects over there … that’s bad enough. I want to make sure it’s going to be held to a high standard in that area. That’s where my home is, and I’m not ready to go buy another one.”
Harris said there needs to be less rental property and more affordable housing. That’s exactly what Durham Building was trying to do, Durham replied.
“We want to be good neighbors,” he said. “We’ll adhere to whatever requirements the board places on us. I’ll make sure the property is taken care of.”
A rental house owned by Levinson adjacent to that site would also be renovated alongside the construction.
“It needs some work,” said Durham.
Harris grilled Durham as to why the site in District 5 was chosen for the duplex site.
“We have a whole big city here,” she remarked, “what was so special about that area?”
Levinson has owned the property since 1998 and it has remained vacant since then, Durham noted. There was good money spent on duplex design plans and, in an effort for the property to actually make money, the request was made.
“Instead of having a vacant lot, he wanted to have something on it,” Durham said, answering Harris. “We don’t want to build anything that is going to harm the area. In my opinion that is a nice area of town. The houses are well-maintained for the most part. I can’t do anything about the housing projects you’re referring to … the only thing I can do is make sure the property is taken care of and we can put in the lease that if they’re convicted of criminal activity, they’re gone.”
Durham said he understood those concerns. He said repetitive criminal activity can be “locked down” and eliminated, and said house checks are done on a monthly basis.
Harris wasn’t the only one with concerns of potential tenants and upkeep of housing.
“They’re starving for nice, new development in that area and nice families to move into it,” Councilman Neal Strickland noted.
Harris said it would be important for Durham to do everything he could to monitor the future duplex and ensure tenants do not trash it, and adversely affect the community as a result. He said he would, as a $140,000 investment in construction would be made that needed to be protected.
“That doesn’t mean anything to the renters,” Harris answered. “They have no ownership.”
Durham said he would be selective in choosing tenants and make monthly checks, as he does with other properties he manages. All his contact information would also be available to city officials in case of any problems.
Brenda Faison, a resident of Layton Street, said she had a “lot of concerns.”
“We are already congested over there,” said Faison, who noted she spoke on behalf of others in the district. “We don’t need that duplex housing over there. We have enough. The community is nice and we’re trying to keep it nice. I see it as a money-making thing. There’s no real concern about the community. We don’t know who they’re going to put in there, they don’t know.”
Brenda Boone of West Carter Street voices similar issues.
“I know everyone deserves a decent place to live, but we’ve heard that story before,” she remarked. “We heard that about other apartments put over there and the neighborhood went down after that. Just to put that in there to make a dollar — no, not in my backyard.”
During discussion by Council members about tenant requirements to be contained in leases, attorney Tim Howard interjected.
Council would be on “really thin ice” if it tried to dictate specific requirements placed in the lease, which would be “going too far,” Howard stated. However, other conditions could be placed on each of the four approved safety standards.
“There is someone who owns land and is trying to develop it,” the attorney said. “They’re entitled to develop it under the conditional use permit procedures if they prove these conditions have been met and the Council is able to set other conditions consistent with those (standards). If Mr. Durham would agree with additional conditions, you could build those into the conditional use permit.”
Called a “developmental agreement,” Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose said it would be attached as part of the permit.
While specifics are still to be ironed out, as part of that agreement, Durham has already orally agreed to “substantially” adhere to the design plan presented, as well as utilize stringent leases containing background checks and addressing criminal activity. Vinyl siding will also be used on the duplex.
“We want to be sure that whatever is represented to this board is what we get,” Mayor Lew Starling said.
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.