Mount Airy public hearings tonight on Spencer’s, dentist’s site

By Tom Joyce -

Action is expected tonight by Mount Airy officials which could finally get the ball rolling on a project to redevelop the former Spencer’s industrial property downtown.

This involves the anticipated approval of development agreements by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, during a 7 p.m. meeting, for two entities seeking to establish a boutique hotel with event space, and upscale apartments there.

Those agreements will be the subject of a public hearing at the meeting, which also is to include another hearing postponed from an earlier date involving residential property on Forrest Drive that a local dentist wants rezoned to accommodate a business. That proposal already has attracted some opposition.

Spencer’s issue

Though there is a slim possibility the board could reject the Spencer’s agreements, logic dictates this won’t occur because of a critical time factor linked to the redevelopment which all but compels it to act favorably.

Votes on the agreements between the city government, the present owner of the Spencer’s property, and the proposed developers will be accompanied by the transfer of lots to them. They include Brookstown Hospitality in Winston-Salem, listed as Spencer Hospitality, LLC, for purposes of the local project, and Belmont Sayre of Durham.

That anticipated property transfer of three separate lots along Willow Street is the central issue of tonight’s meeting, according to City Attorney Hugh Campbell, due to being tied to a deadline for the redevelopment to receive historic tax credits. Those credits, deemed vital to its success, are a form of financing offered for such projects which also preserves the architecture of former textile mills.

“In order to be able to take advantage of the tax credits, the property has to be conveyed to the developers by the end of this year,” the city attorney explained.

Campbell said this is necessitated by recent federal tax reform which has made Dec. 31 the date by which such transactions must be completed.

“So this titles the property,” the attorney said of the core mission regarding tonight’s considerations by the board.

Hearing process

Before any votes occur, a required public hearing will held at the meeting to give citizens a chance to weigh in on the proposed agreements for the long-awaited Spencer’s Mill Redevelopment Project.

During the board’s last meeting on Dec. 7, Commissioner Jon Cawley referred to that hearing as “a formality,” given the air of urgency surrounding deadlines for the effort. In addition to the required property transfer timeline at the end of this month, the private developers must actually begin construction by late June of 2018 to qualify for the tax credits.

Tonight’s action on the agreements with Brookstown Hospitality, which is seeking to build a four-star hotel/banquet center on former Spencer’s property, and Belmont Sayre, the apartments, is a continuation of a contract forged with them in 2016.

Among other provisions, it gave the private entities a two-year option to buy the city-owned property for their respective projects.

“They have exercised their options and will be paying their purchase price and (a) due-diligence fee,” the city attorney said. In the case of Belmont Sayre, that figure is $35,000, and for Brookstown Hospitality, about $10,000 less.

The latter is due to the fact that space originally eyed by Brookstown was lessened due to being used by local businessman Gene Rees in connection with a condominium project involving former Spencer’s property.

“And they removed that from the option,” Campbell explained regarding the lowered price.

Assuming favorable action by the board tonight, the property will be transferred to the developers to proceed with their projects in accordance with specified design standards.

The transaction also will include “un-wind” agreements to address the possibility of either of the developers not performing as they are supposed to, the city attorney said, which also will be voted on tonight.

“So the city gets the property back,” he said of that potential circumstance.

Forrest Drive rezoning

Tonight’s other public hearing involves property in the 1300 block of Forrest Drive which is owned by local dentist Dr. Dean Simmons. The now-vacant site is near Forrest Drive’s intersection with South Franklin Road in the vicinity of Holiday Inn Express.

Simmons has requested that the 2.53-acre parcel be rezoned from R-20 (residential) to B-2 (general business). This would allow a 16,820-square-foot commercial (wholesale/retail) structure to be constructed on the property, but the exact nature of the business has not been specified.

The rezoning request earlier was rejected 3-1 by the Mount Airy Planning Board, which ruled that the proposed commercial use and zoning were not compatible with the predominantly residential areas surrounding the dentist’s property on Forrest Drive.

While there are businesses nearby, Simmons’ land is on the north side of that street where the only structures are homes.

The planners’ ruling was made after several neighbors expressed opposition to the rezoning, but the commissioners are not bound by their recommendation that it not be approved.

Tonight’s public hearing, required before the rezoning can occur, originally was scheduled for a commissioners meeting on Nov. 16, but postponed then at Dr. Simmons’ request. He cited a large crowd in attendance that night for another zoning matter which proved controversial, explaining that this possibly created a negative atmosphere for his request.

However, some preliminary opposition arose to it during the city council’s last meeting on Dec. 7.

Local resident Paul Eich criticized the fact that the hearing had been delayed to the “Christmas rush” season in a “clever” move by the dentist.

Eich also targeted the request itself.

“That’s an excellent example of spot rezoning that destroys a neighborhood,” he said, “and should not be approved.”

The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the rezoning request tonight.

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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