Several Statesboro City Council actions this week dealt with the Blue Mile corridor. The council moved money to pay an engineering firm for work on the public redevelopment plan and OK’d a private developer’s demolition of vacant houses to make way for new apartments.
Statesboro recently became one of 15 semifinalist communities in the America’s Best Communities competition. When Statesboro was first chosen as one of 50 quarterfinalists in April 2015, the Averitt Center for the Arts and Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, as the agencies applying, received the $50,000 prize. To this, the agencies added $15,000 in required local support, with the total to be used to further the Blue Mile plan for the redevelopment of South Main Street.
Tuesday, City Council unanimously approved transferring the money to the city government to spend in the support of the project. The council also approved a contract, for fees not to exceed $51,500, with EMC Engineering Services, which is to provide surveying, planning and grant application assistance on the Blue Mile streetscape project.
“It would finally give us a true survey … and a master plan which can be used to not only show the elements but give us true cost estimates,” said interim City Manager Robert Cheshire.
A Statesboro team will pitch the Blue Mile plan to judges and corporate sponsors at the America’s Best Communities Summit, April 26-27 in Durham, North Carolina. Eight finalist communities chosen from the current 15 will then receive $100,000 each to begin carrying out their redevelopment plans.
Then in April 2017, a third-place team will be awarded $1 million, a second-place team $2 million, and the first-place community $3 million, all to continue their redevelopment work, the contest’s sponsors have said.
Cheshire and city Planning and Development Director Mandi Cody did not have a timeline for EMC’s completion of the master plan. But in its proposal, the company agreed to assist the city with grant applications, including submissions for the America’s Best Communities competition, Cody noted.
Plans for some apartment neighborhoods that required City Council action will be inside both the downtown district and the Blue Mile corridor with its special Tax Allocation District. Increases in city property tax revenue from development and rising property values in the TAD are being set aside for public projects in the same area.
The council voted to allow the demolition of four buildings and approved zoning amendments for a total of six parcels at the request of John Ray Hendley and his company, Hendley Properties.
The rental property company, which has built some small apartment complexes, and renovated others, in the area around South Main Street, is now adding more. In all, there will be 14 new units plus three newly renovated ones on Bulloch, Walnut and Inman Streets, said Bryan Davis, property manager for Hendley Properties.
Under the downtown design standards enacted last year by the city, a structure more than 50 years old within the downtown district cannot be torn down without City Council approval unless it is more than 35 percent deteriorated.
The planning and development staff reviewed and found no historical significance in the houses Hendley Properties plans to demolish, Cody said. These include two structures at 218 S. College St. and two others at 215 S. Walnut St.
“We have renovated a couple of historical properties downtown, so you know we’re not in favor of tearing down everything,” Davis told the council. “There are some things that we like to remodel that we find to be beneficial. These two properties are not.”
Also at Hendley’s request, three small parcels totaling just over a half acre, including 218 S. College and 16 W. Inman, were rezoned from R3 medium density residential to R4 high density residential.
The “high density” designation is required to put more than one residential building on a lot, Cody said. Hendley Properties is actually building one-bedroom houses and duplexes containing two single-bedroom apartments.
“This is in our urban core downtown area, it is in our TAD district, it is in the area that we affectionately think of as our Blue Mile area,” Cody said. “It is within the jurisdiction of the Downtown Development Authority.”
Residential development of this type complies with all their goals, she said.
Hendley Properties also received a zoning change from medium to high density for parcels at 12, 14 and 18 Bulloch St.
Old ‘Colonial House’
The council also approved two special exceptions that Lawrence J. Zaslavsky requested for the renovation of the former Colonial House of Flowers location at 116 Savannah Avenue and the structure behind it on Broad Street.
Although originally residential, the buildings are now in the Central Business District zone, where residences are permitted only on upper floors. The special exceptions will allow the ground floors to be used for both residential and commercial purposes, but with conditions added by the planning board and staff. The main condition is that the Savannah Avenue frontage is restricted to commercial uses, with residential use in the back.
Another development matter, re-establishment of the Downtown Incentives Program, was postponed Tuesday after Cheshire asked for a two-week extension to redraft the resolution.
The program, which expired Nov. 1, waived the occupational tax, informally known as the business license fee, plus building permit fees and some other fees for first-year businesses in the defined downtown area. It also waived demolition and building permit fees and water tap fees, up to certain limits, and other fees for construction and renovation projects in the district.
In one change from previous years, the proposed resolution to reauthorize the program would make explicit that the incentives are available for residential projects.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.