SALEM – Salem City Council agreed with residents of Craig Avenue in deciding enough was enough when it voted to deny a rezoning request Monday that would have allowed construction of two apartment buildings on the street.
Nikola Sumenic, a Salem resident who owns the property in question at 805 and 811 Craig Ave., and Salem engineer Barney Horrell originally requested to have the property rezoned from residential single family to residential multi-family district at a Salem Planning Commission meeting last fall. The rezoning was a requirement for building two apartment buildings and the accompanying parking lot Sumenic envisioned.
The commission denied the request the first time after encountering heavy resistance from neighbors, which led the pair to redesign the plans and submit another rezoning request. Sumenic and Horrell came before the planning commission with the new architectural plans earlier this month that addressed the neighbors’ concerns about parking, sight distance, landscaping, storm water management and the type of neighbors the housing facility would attract. Still, neighbors and city planners weren’t convinced, and the commission voted 3-1 to deny the request.
Since the planning commission is an advisory committee, the matter went on to city council for a final vote Monday. Sumenic was not present for the meeting and had requested a continuance, but council decided to proceed since a public hearing had already been scheduled. “I don’t think it’s fair for all parties to keep postponing this,” commented Councilman John Givens.
During the ensuing public hearing, council first heard from Horrell, who spoke on Sumenic’s behalf. He pointed out the changes that had been made to address the citizens’ concerns about the apartments, chief among which was the type of residents who might live there. Horrell noted that many of the Craig Avenue neighbors were leery of Roanoke College students moving into the apartments, but assured council students have to meet certain criteria to live off campus.
Nine Craig Avenue residents spoke passionately during the public hearing and told stories of how college students who live in existing apartments and houses on the street have already caused increased traffic and noise in the area. Jennifer Oliver said she had watched a once quiet, safe street become congested with constant traffic from college students.
“From my back yard, which my husband and I have spent years cultivating, I no longer want to sit out there because I look across two houses over and all I can see is students, red cups and alcohol, noise and drunkenness,” she explained. “We have already seen it go drastically, drastically downhill.”
George Clemons said if the apartments were built, the neighborhood would become a “ghetto” in 10 years. “We, the neighbors, don’t want it,” he said.
Theresa Shepherd also speculated that property values would decline if the apartments were constructed, and asked that council respect the wishes of the neighbors. “It’s the community that is the most important thing here,” she said. “At the time this property was purchased it was zoned residential single family. We encourage the owner to build a house, or two houses, because that’s what the lot’s suited for.”
Fred Lee reminded council that more students are seeking housing this year due to construction of the Cregger Athletic Center and the demolition of Bowman Hall on the Roanoke College campus.
In response to the citizens’ comments, Horrell returned to the podium and stressed that the apartments would satisfy a need for affordable housing for more than just college students. He said the apartments were likely to protect neighborhood property values since the property owner lives locally. He also pointed out that, by law, Sumenic could not prohibit students from living there.
“Not all college kids are drunken hooligans,” he said.
Councilwoman Lisa Garst thanked citizens for their passionate comments and reminded citizens that they were encouraged to voice any future concerns about neighborhood conditions to Assistant City Manager Jay Taliaferro or any member of council. Council then voted 4-0 to deny the rezoning request. Councilwoman Jane Johnson did not vote because she was absent from the meeting.