Quite often, during discussions about new construction in local municipalities, neighbors turn out in opposition, expressing fears that the new construction – which is often more dense and perceived as being a lower quality than surrounding homes, including their own – will lower the value of their homes.
But it was the opposite concern that prompted some Mebane neighbors to turn out in opposition to one rezoning request this week before Mebane’s planning board.
Several residents of the predominantly and historically black West End neighborhood on the edge of Mebane were concerned that the new construction would increase the value of their homes, costing them more in property taxes.
In particular, the neighbors did not want to see construction of a two-story house in an area with mostly single-level homes.
The pending rezoning involved a lot of about one-third of an acre along Vance Street, where Gitto Enterprises, a Raleigh-based contractor, wanted a rezoning designation that would allow his company to build a single-family house.
Apparently with little track record of how the existing zoning had gotten the way it was, the Vance Street lot involved what had variously been considered to be one larger lot, which was zoned for both residential and commercial purposes.
Peter Gitto – in consultation with Alamance County and Mebane officials – had unraveled the zoning history which established that the lot at 702 Vance Street needed to be rezoned from commercial in order to build a single-family home.
The other lot, at 704 Vance Street, is already eligible for single-family construction, and thus did not need any planning board or city council consideration.
Planning department director Cy Stober pointed out that state law does not allow the planning board or city council to have any input on “architectural features,” such as whether the house is to be one-story or two-stories. Several neighbors who spoke against the rezoning assumed that the 702 lot would also have a two-story house, although that was not explicitly part of the pending request.
Planning board member Kurt Pearson summarized the state law: “We can’t control what’s built, only how it’s zoned.”
Pearson also suggested that the pending request was a “best case” situation that neighbors might reconsider. He noted some of the possible uses that could take place given the existing, commercial zoning designation. He used a Laundromat mat as the example of a business use that could be constructed without the need for any planning board or council deliberations.
Mitch Graves, who lives at 706 Vance Street, said it would be “pretty tight to have a two-story house” on the lot. “That’s a little bit of space trying to get a lot in.” But Pearson noted that the lot is actually larger than most in the area.
Similarly, Phillip McAdoo, Rodney Graves, Carmen Bradsher, and Omega Wilson raised questions and concerns about the potential impact on existing residents.
Wilson, who heads the West End Revitalization Association, wanted the board to adopt a “formal” system for considering the wishes of West End residents, predominantly African Americans, he stressed, about what type of development they want.
Wilson also wanted consideration for what he termed “environmental justice,” not only in West End but in several other areas he has often pressed the council about, although those areas – along Buckhorn Road to the east and Mrs. White’s Lane to the north – are outside the city’s municipal limits.
Bradsher expressed concern about the possible “regentrification” of the neighborhood.
Pearson at one point suggested that neighbors try to lobby Gitto about building a one-level home, rather than a two-story house.
However, in an interview with The Alamance News after the meeting, Gitto said he would not be interested in changing the proposed structure.
He said he already has buyers for both homes (at 702 and 704 Vance Street), and that they will sell for about $300,000 each; that is between twice to three times the value of most other homes in the surrounding areas.
Gitto described his company as one which specializes in “infill” construction, finding individual lots which already have access to city water and sewer, are vacant, and which could be redeveloped with new construction; he said he has also done renovations of existing houses in some cases.
The contractor elaborated in his interview with the newspaper that he has already purchased several Mebane lots with houses under construction – on nearby Roosevelt Street, Giles Street, and Cleveland Street, all within the area often referred to as “West End” – as well as one on Brown Street in the northeast part of the city.
Gitto was surprised both by the number of people who turned out for the planning board meeting and the reaction of some of the residents who didn’t want their property values to increase.
In an interview with the newspaper, he said that reaction opposed to quality and price was a first. Usually, he explained, opposition comes from people who don’t want him to build a duplex in their area because they think it will lower property values – even though, he insisted, that is a “common misperception” for which there is no evidence, he said.
Gitto said his company is currently building in about 13 cities and towns, also including Graham and Burlington. He started his first construction in Mebane about 15 months ago, he confirmed in an interview with the newspaper.
Among the areas where Gitto is already working on houses are 1020 Walnut Street, 2017 Gurney Court, 2306 Radiance Drive, 23 Carriage Loop Drive, and School Street, all in Burlington.
These are some of the two-story models that Gitto Enterprises builds.