A Huntersville housing developer says he's putting on hold a 101-unit project in a historically African American neighborhood because of neighbors' concerns. It's a rare case where organized opposition has given a voice to residents threatened by gentrification.
Developer Nate Bowman has spent the past year and a half -- and about $200,000 -- to plan Valea in the historically black Pottstown neighborhood off Old Statesville Road in Huntersville.
But at a community meeting Wednesday night, residents raised all kinds of concerns -- from new traffic on neighborhood streets to rising home values that push up property taxes. Some also complained about the project's lack of affordable housing. And there were larger concerns -- about the future of Pottstown.
"What's going on in Huntersville is environmental racism. Push 'em out. Get 'em out of here. Get 'em out of the way," said resident Sylvester Brown. "And the thing about it is, if you go and sell your property you will not get enough money to buy a house nowhere."
Brown warned his neighbors they could end up in an apartment somewhere for about six months and then, when they run out of money, they'll be homeless.
CUTTING THROUGH THE NEIGHBORHOOD
The developers want to re-zone about 37 acres of mostly vacant land to allow construction of 101 single-family homes. It would cut through the middle of Pottstown, and surround the African American St. Phillip Baptist Church and the Dellwood Center, a historic Rosenwald School for black students dating from the 1920s, which is now used as a community center.
Bowman also wants the town to trade him 2.7 acres around the old school in exchange for a triangle of land measuring 5/100ths of an acre and $30,000 -- money he said could help pay for renovations at the school.
But Bowman told the crowd the opposition has him rethinking his plans. "If the neighborhood is not for this, then we're not going to do it," he said near the start of Wednesday's meeting.
He said he told town officials earlier Wednesday that he's putting the project on hold for 90 days. Based on what he heard at the meeting, he said later that he may walk away from the project entirely.
Varona Wynn has been a vocal opponent of the development, especially of the proposal to carve land off the old school property and trade it to Bowman.
"To me, we should have 2.7 acres preserved and in public hands, not in private hands," Wynn said.
Many of her neighbors agreed.
Bowman lives a few blocks from the site and also developed the nearby Vermillion neighborhood east of downtown. He said he has always tried to work with the town and neighbors. He warned the crowd that the land's current owner has the right to build there under existing zoning -- and wants to sell. A future developer may not be willing to listen, he said.
"I do not control this land," Bowman said. "So, you may get me to back out, which is fine. I'll walk away, that's fine. I'm just saying somebody else is going to buy this land and you're going to be in the same position."
Bowman also said traffic is a town and state responsibility. And developers like him aren't the only ones to blame. That led to an exchange with Varona Wynn.
"Varona, I'm sorry, your family sold the land to this gentleman. You could've kept it," he said.
Wynn replied: "I agree, but we don't control everything. But you do not have to take public land. Why would you even bargain for a few houses and a road around this historic building?"
Huntersville Planning Director Jack Simoneau said the town land is critical to putting in the streets needed for the Valea project. Without it, he said, the project likely wouldn't happen.
The rezoning and the land swap had been scheduled for public hearings and votes at the Huntersville Town Board's Dec. 16 meeting. Bowman said that's now off. And it's not clear when or if he might bring it back.