HUNTERSVILLE – An “enterprise center” that would be a key component of a plan to revitalize the ramshackle trailer-park neighborhood of Huntington Green has run into opposition from a handful of the residents the nonprofit behind the project hopes to help.
The opposition to One More Neighborhood’s efforts to build the multi-use business center appears to be driven at least in part by some older residents who resent newer residents.
The three official letters of protest on file with the town, though small in number, are still powerful; they have delayed the project’s rezoning process with the town of Huntersville. Scheduled to begin earlier this month, the process is now scheduled to start Dec. 2 with a Board of Commissioners public hearing and to continue at a Planning Board meeting Dec. 17. The commissioners would vote the project up or down on Jan. 6.
The letters will also make that up-or-down vote tougher for One More Neighborhood, unless the nonprofit’s executive director, Earl Runcan, can pacify the protestors and persuade them to withdraw their letters. By ordinance, letters of protest require a project to receive a supermajority of the six-member board instead of a simple majority, meaning five of the commissioners would have to vote “Yes.”
Runcan said the delay is not important because, he said: “Our short-term goal is to buy residential properties and redevelop and build on them, and we’ve started that program. The enterprise center is a long-term goal. We have a contract on the land, and the money on-hand to buy it, and we would have a campaign to raise the money to build it.”
The basic-services enterprise center that would serve and employ community members would be a two-story, mixed-use retail and office building with 12,000 square feet of floor area on a 0.9-acre tract bordered by Hambright, McCoy and Cimmaron roads, according to a site plan and rezoning application filed with the town July 1.
The vacant land is home to a clutch of trees and undergrowth that is well-known to residents as a hangout for drug-users and a watering hole for winos. On a recent visit, it was littered with empty bottles of Thunderbird.
The group also wants to pave 14,000 square feet of the tract, part of which would accommodate a parking lot with 32 spaces and provide access to Cimmaron Road, the site plan shows.
Initial uses include a 3,000-square-foot two-bay garage capable of minor auto repairs; a laundromat, snack shop and thrift store, each comprising 1,500 square feet; and 6,000 square feet of offices for the One More Neighborhood administrative staff and a small-business incubation center.
One More Neighborhood applied with the town to change the zoning for the tract from a general residential code to conditional highway commercial.
Peterson/Gordon Architects of Winston-Salem prepared the site plan, and MGES Civil Engineering & Land Surveying did the survey work, according to the planning documents on file with the town, but no general contractor has been chosen for the project.
One More Neighborhood was first organized at Lake Forest Church, a Huntersville worship center affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. It was recognized by the IRS as a separate 501(C)3 in fiscal 2012, according to guidestar.org, but has yet to file any financial statements or federal tax returns with the online nonprofit-tracking site.
The proposed office-retail building tract comprises four separate parcels, individually owned by John G. Pribas, Peter Spero, Athena Victoria P. Allgood and Tommy Sam Pistolis, according to the rezoning application filed by Earl Runcan, executive director of One More Neighborhood.
Only a handful of property owners and landlords own most of the land in Huntington Green, a 1960s-era neighborhood that is largely occupied by about 350 mobile homes, Huntersville Planning Director Jack Simoneau said.
About 1,800 people live in the neighborhood, according to the 2010 Census, which is about half-and-half Hispanic and white, along with a small percentage of African-American and Asian residents. The census also shows the median household income in Huntington Green to be far below the region’s average.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department sewer and water lines reach only a few of the residences; most have septic systems and draw water from private or community wells, Runcan said. He also said his informal surveys indicate the high-school graduation rate in Huntington Green is about 30 percent. The streets have little in the way of sidewalks and streetlights.
Simoneau said Huntersville building-code enforcement officers spend much of their time ─ up to 20 percent ─ in Huntington Green citing “minimum housing-code” violations for “structural standards”: broken windows, faulty roofing, dilapidated structures and “anything that poses a safety issue.”
The letters of protest and the white residents who gathered at an Aug. 29 community meeting at Lake Forest Church said their major concern was that if the enterprise center were built and One More Neighborhood were to go out of business, the center would attract criminals and drug-users. They also expressed concerns about increased traffic.
“Our response then and continues to be that we are a nonprofit organization and therefore can continue to fundraise to make up any budget gap in our operations,” Runcan said.
“Part of our strategy is to raise an endowment that will give the project ongoing support. We are not going away; we will lift this up to God almighty.”
Runcan also pointed out that Lake Forest Church draws 1,500-2,000 congregants to its large campus in Huntersville and its satellite in Davidson. Another campus will soon launch in Denver, Runcan said.
“Not by any stretch of the imagination is this a fly-by-night operation.”
As for traffic, Runcan pointed out that a largely supportive planning staff report on the project indicates that so few additional car-trips would be generated by the center, which is within walking distance to the residents it would serve, that no traffic-impact study would not be required as part of the town’s approval process.”
But behind the crime and traffic complaints there appears to be rift in the community along racial lines that is fueling opposition to the enterprise center, and to all efforts by One More Neighborhood in Huntington Green.
A report Runcan filed with the town about the Aug. 29 meeting summed it up this way:
“There is a big divide in the neighborhood between the long-time (white residents) and (newer) Hispanics living in the neighborhood. The Huntington Green residents in attendance see any/all efforts in the neighborhood as helping the Hispanics, not them.”
Sun Maston, a South Korea native who moved into Huntington Green 20 years ago with her Army veteran husband, who is now deceased, owns five properties in the neighborhood: her residence, one that she rent, and three whose structures she tore down because they were home to “thugness” that she said is rampant. She is selling one parcel to One More Neighborhood to build a house that the nonprofit will rent out on a lease-to-own basis, and she plans do the same with more of her lots.
“Yes, it is true: Race is a very, very big problem,” said Maston, who is recovering from a stroke she had a year ago and cannot do the kind of neighborhood improvement she used to. “(Some of) the older residents, who are white, don’t like Hispanics and don’t want blacks. They don’t like Asians either, but they don’t say that in front of me.”
Maston said the biggest problems in the neighborhood are “no sidewalks, no streetlights and no neighborhood association,” which disbanded years ago.
“Mr. Earl, he wants to come in here and do so many things, and I don’t know why people are opposing him. (The enterprise center) is not going to cause thugness but help get rid of it. We need him to help. This neighborhood needs to come together to support him.”