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Monroe approves redevelopment of Piedmont Buggy Factory site

The Monroe City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve The Woda Group’s conditional rezoning request to redevelop the 6-acre site that is home to the historic Piedmont Buggy Factory.

The Woda Group plans to convert the main 50,350-square-foot building into 44 income-restricted apartments for residents 55 years and older. The property, on Miller Street, is adjacent to Don Griffin Park.

Before the vote, Woda Group Senior Vice President Denis Blackburne told the council that the company was seeking low-income tax credits from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, which earmarks allocations in July. It would take another six months to finalize plans, allowing for construction to possibly begin in the first quarter.

Councilman Billy Jordan reminded those present at the meeting that if the rezoning was approved, it would be the first time in many years that a “tax-credit deal” had been given the go-ahead.

“Once you’ve opened that door, it will be a door anyone will feel they should be able to go through,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Debra Duncan responded that the council can review such requests on a case-by-case basis.

Councilwoman Surluta Anthony cast the sole vote against the rezoning without providing any comment.

The Woda Group, an Ohio-based company that provides development, management and construction services from six U.S. offices, proposes rehabbing an existing mill house on the property into a leasing office or storage area for tenants. The company plans to demolish an adjacent warehouse and a one-story cinder-block building. The property also features a steel water tower.

Blackburne told council members that the company planned on keeping the water tower because it is “an emblem that goes with the property.”

Site plans include surface parking for 60 cars, a picnic area, a covered patio, and raised garden beds. Residences in the main factory building would comprise one-bedroom units of about 670 square feet and two-bedroom units of more than 1,000 square feet.

The Woda Group, which has affordable, senior-housing projects in Hickory and Elizabeth City, sought a rezoning from the property’s previous general industrial designation. The Monroe Planning Board recommended the change, saying it was consistent with area plans calling for high-density residential at the site.

The 3 1/2 -story, brick Piedmont Buggy Factory was built in 1910 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building converted to a cotton mill in 1919, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, after the growing popularity of the automobile made horse-drawn carriages obsolete. Its replacement, the Bearskin Cotton Mills, at one time employed 250 workers in the production of yarn. That facility was acquired by Monroe Cotton Mills in 1924, which operated through 1956. The site was later used as a distribution facility and has been vacant for years.

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