Request denied: Controversial Friendly Avenue rezoning gets struck down

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After the last residents trickled out of City Hall on Monday night, the Planning and Zoning Commission’s meeting returned to normal.

Nearly half an hour earlier, more than 200 people packed a room and watched as zoning commissioners voted 9-1 to deny developer Glenn Drew’s request to rezone about 4½ acres on Friendly Avenue from single-family residential to a planned-unit development. Commissioner Erica Glass cast the only dissenting vote.

The remarkable turnout is part of a widespread opposition to the proposed rezoning that started to attract attention at the beginning of summer.

Since then, a coalition of residents has created a website, planted lawn signs and rallied hundreds to their cause, which they have deemed as a “fight for the soul of Friendly Avenue.”

On Monday, over 150 people sat in overflow seating and watched an online livestream of the meeting outside the chambers, which was uncharacteristically packed.

During the meeting, the majority of commissioners cited the city’s comprehensive 2040 plan and said that Drew’s proposal did not fit with the document’s call to protect the unique characteristics of Greensboro’s neighborhoods.

“My feeling is that this (proposal) is inconsistent with what Friendly Avenue is,” Commissioner Mary Skenes said. “A planned-unit development was designed to be an area where you work, shop and live. That is not what we have with this request.”

Drew had advertised the development, called Hutchinson Court, as a community that would “blend into the neighborhood,” attracting empty-nesters and young professionals. According to his plan, the townhomes would be a mix of one and two stories in height.

Jamey Lowdermilk, one of Drew’s attorneys, said the development would represent a “gentle increase in density” from the existing single-family neighborhood zoning.

Still, when explaining his vote against the rezoning request, Commissioner Zac Engle said that the development is not close enough to an “activity center” to justify the proposed density increase.

Another aspect of the plan that came under scrutiny was the projected rental cost of the townhomes. According to Drew’s legal representation, rent would start at $3,000 a month.

That didn’t sit well with Commissioner Warche Downing, who said one of the reasons he was voting against the request was because the development couldn’t be considered affordable housing — also called for in Greensboro’s comprehensive 2040 plan.

“We cannot conflate those definitions,” Downing said.

If the zoning commission’s decision is appealed by Drew, the rezoning will be decided by the City Council during its meeting on Dec. 19.

Other options for Drew include putting forth a new development plan that includes compromises with residents or developing 13 single-family homes on the property under the existing zoning regulations.

After the meeting, Drew’s legal representation told the News & Record that they had not yet made a decision on whether to appeal the commission’s ruling.

When it was over, residents of Friendly Avenue and members of the neighborhood coalition left City Hall into the cool night pleased with the commission’s decision.

“It’s so encouraging that the commission is really listening and analyzing our concern to preserve our neighborhood,” said Linda Mahoney, a homeowner in the area.

Andrew Aronson, a member of the coalition’s organizing committee, said that Drew still has the opportunity to build his project somewhere else.

“I’m absolutely delighted with how this has worked out so far,” Aronson said. “I hope the City Council is equally as wise as this commission.”

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