Planning director Kris Krider talks about possible traffic flows during a walking tour of the Metrolina Warehouse site with residents, town officials and developers Wednesday night. (David Boraks photo)
A mixed-use development proposed for the Metrolina Warehouse site at Jackson and Depot streets downtown could create new ties between downtown and the West Side by bringing new residential and commercial uses to what is now an industrial block, planners and a developer said Thursday.
Representatives of developer GreenHawk Partners LLC, of Raleigh, joined planners, and residents at a two-day planning workshop to develop potential layouts for the warehouse site. The meeting, which wrapped up Thursday night at Town Hall, was the first step in what could be a year-long process for a development that is likely to transform downtown Davidson.
“It has a great potential for making a connection between the West Side and downtown,” Davidson planner Parviz Moosavi said Thursday.
Davidson Planning Director Kris Krider said the town’s approval process could lead to a Town Board vote on the project in November or December. Additional county approvals also would be needed, and building designs would have to be approved by the town Design Review Board. If all goes smoothly, construction could begin late next summer, Mr. Krider said.
SITE VISIT AND IDEA SESSIONS
Location of the Metrolina Warehouse. Click to enlarge.
About 30 residents and town officials turned out Wednesday evening for a walking tour of the 5.5-acre site and a project introduction. Many returned Thursday as planners sketched site plan ideas during the day and summarized their work Thursday night.
GreenHawk Partners LLC, of Raleigh, has an option to buy the property, which during its nearly 150-year history has been a cotton mill and asbestos factory, as well as a warehouse. (It’s currently owned by a Seattle-based real estate investment group, Metrolina Warehouse LLC.) Greenhawk is considering a project that could include stores, offices, residences, and possibly even a “boutique” hotel. The site, at Jackson and Depot streets, also could be closely tied to a future commuter rail station on Jackson Street. (See June 20, 2008, “Developer eyes warehouse for mixed-use project.”)
Developer Brian Goray said Thursday he’d like to move forward with the project even though no date has been set for construction of the proposed North Corridor Commuter Rail Line from Charlotte. (Rail officials say the train line will come in 2012 at the earliest.)
Mr. Goray said the project makes sense even without the rail line, though he believes the train will come eventually.
“The concept is mixed-use,” he told DavidsonNews.net. “It’s something that will be supportive of transit when the transit starts running. … Our goal here is to do a development that works both before transit and with transit.”
Six-year-old GreenHawk specializes in urban infill developments. It is a partner in several projects around the Charlotte area, including a mixed-use development at the Scaleybark light-rail station on South Boulevard in Charlotte.
GreenHawk has hired as its consultant Tim Keane, a former Davidson town planner who is now principal at planning firm Keane & Co., of Charleston, S.C. Mr. Keane said the developers are looking around the country for examples of “high quality urban infill” projects.
A project of similar size and focus is the Mission Meridian Village in Pasadena, Calif., where homes, shops and offices have been built alongside a new light-rail line. He said GreenHawk’s proposal for Davidson is likely to include shopping, restaurants, residences, possibly an inn, and “maybe even a civic use,” which would be some kind of public building.
Officials from Charlotte Area Transit System and its planners also attended a portion of Thursday’s workshop to discuss ideas for the location of a commuter rail platform along Jackson Street.
Residents and nearby property owners raised a variety of concerns. Some are worried that asbestos buried on the site could be disrupted during construction and raised old complaints about unidentified runoff from the site and neighborhood health problems they said are related to the former asbestos factory.
Others who live near the project and attended Wednesday night’s meeting appeared to support the development, which could create new ties between downtown and the neighborhood. Ruby Houston, who lives nearby, said she thinks many residents would welcome the warehouse redevelopment.
Besides concerns about asbestos, other issues that came up Wednesday night and Thursday included:
- Questions about what would happen if the rail line does not come.
- Concerns about possible late-night entertainment in the new development.
- How to design the site so it complements homes along Eden Street, on the south side of the property.
- How the town and developer will keep residents informed about progress.
- Worries about neighborhood disruptions during construction. Some residents of the West Side recalled problems they had during street and utility projects in the neighborhood over the past several years.
- Whether the project might include affordable housing for residents who might not qualify for units developed under the town’s affordable housing ordinance.
- Whether the oldest mill building, which dates from the 1890s, might be preserved. The developers said they are considering that.
- A need to maintain some kind of pedestrian crossing of the tracks near the proposed commuter station. Once the rail service begins, crossings will be restricted more than now.
By Thursday afternoon, planners from Keane & Co. and the town had developed preliminary drawings for building locations on the site, taking many of the residents suggestions and concerns into consideration.
The various plans share several themes: Retail and commercial uses tend to be concentrated closer to the railroad tracks at the east side of the site. In one sketch, residential buildings were shown along Eden and Sloan Streets, in an effort to reflect the existing nature of those roads.
Parking is concentrated inside the site, hidden from the surrounding neighborhood.
One proposal showed a new section of Watson Street extending through the development from Depot Street, increasing connectivity in and around the site. And planners discussed at length how to allow traffic to circulate around the site from Depot Street to Eden and Sloan streets.
None of the ideas are guaranteed to happen as drawn, but they will give planners something to work from as they refine their plans in the coming months.
Meanwhile, the session with CATS officials produced drawings showing a simple commuter rail platform on the tracks opposite the warehouse building, next to Jackson Street.
The Metrolina Warehouse project likely will include enough parking spaces to support its retail, residential and commercial uses. It will not solve CATS’ need to find parking for the commuter rail station – a concern some residents and downtown business owners have raised.
Mr. Krider said Wednesday night, “We want to work with CATS to put some commuter parking here (near the station).” He said the trick will be deciding how to price the parking so it does not create problems. “If you give people free parking, they’re all going to park here,” he said Wednesday night. “If you don’t, then they’re all going to park in the neighborhoods.”
GreenHawk’s Mr. Goray noted Wednesday night that the former owners of the site had contained asbestos on the site in accordance with federal standards. The asbestos is encapsulated beneath a grassy area at the site’s west edge, at Sloan and Depot streets.
The previous owner, Kenyon, capped and encapsulated the asbestos in the late 1970s, working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Goray said. The site “has no public health hazards today as far as we know,” he said.
The developer and town officials pledged to do whatever is necessary to protect public health during the proposed development. But in a sign of long-held mistrust among some members of the town’s African-American community, one resident chimed in, “I don’t believe it.”
Town officials and the developer acknowledged that they’ll need to keep residents informed during construction.