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Fayette plans halted
Feedback prompts changes

Thursday, November 15, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Public concerns about an apartment and office building planned on Fayette Street in uptown Martinsville have sent the Phoenix Community Development Corp. back to the drawing board.

Martinsville City Council on Tuesday was to have considered conveying the city-owned parking lot where the building would be constructed to Phoenix, a nonprofit development organization involved in the central business district’s revitalization. But the consideration was tabled at the request of Ray Gibbs, the organization’s president.

Phoenix has held three meetings with nearby property owners to hear and respond to their concerns about the building and try to modify construction plans to satisfy them, Gibbs told the council.

However, “the requested changes have caused major modifications ... that will increase the cost of the project,” he said, adding that Phoenix is working with architects to find out if the project is “still economically feasible.”

He previously has estimated the building’s cost at $5 million to $5.5 million. Phoenix is trying to obtain loans and tax credits to cover the cost.

Plans have been to erect a three-story, roughly 35,000-square-foot building at the parking lot, which is across from The Sportsman’s Club and next to a former retail building that is to be redeveloped for a planned medical school.

Upscale apartments would be developed in the building. According to Gibbs, a market study showed a need for such dwellings in the Martinsville area, and he knows of local workers who live in Greensboro, N.C., because they cannot find suitable apartments here.

The Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness is to be the building’s main office tenant.

Several construction options recently presented would put the building near the front of the parking lot, with the rest of the lot — including a school bus parking area — being redeveloped for its continued use as a city-maintained public parking lot, a report shows.

Phoenix would lease that lot to the city for $1 a year, according to plans.

But the organization now is looking to build a larger, L-shaped building that would have two exposed basement floors along a slope near the back of the parking lot in addition to the three stories planned, Gibbs said Wednesday.

“You’d be able to enter the building from the lower area” instead of having to walk up stairs along the slope, he said.

The design would incorporate two parking lots — one on either side of the building, Gibbs said.

It would hike the construction cost due to factors such as having to install a concrete retaining wall and a deeper stairwell and elevator shaft, he noted.

“There seems to be the most support” for the L-shaped design from the property’s neighbors, Gibbs said.

Despite tabling its consideration of conveying the current parking lot to Phoenix, the council went ahead with a public hearing on the request.

Barbara Shively, a co-owner of Prillaman’s Market across the street, said a lack of parking spaces could “put all of us out of business over there.”

Louise Schoolfield, who runs the Triple S Beauty Salon, said she has a lot of elderly clients who cannot walk far to get to her shop. Parking is needed in front of the new building for customers at nearby businesses, she said.

Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville-Henry County NAACP, said she thinks the building is not needed right now and funds for its construction could be better spent on workforce training efforts.

With the Martinsville area’s population in decline, plenty of apartments already are available, she said.

“It’s time for you guys to do due diligence ... and say no to people who come to you with pie in the sky,” Hodge-Muse told the council.

Gibbs said he will update the council on plans for the proposed building in January.

In the meantime, “you all are not going to have any back door meetings (about the building), are you?” said Tony Millner, who runs a bail bonding business uptown. Mayor Kim Adkins told him no.

Also Tuesday, the council appropriated $7,615 into the general fund of the current fiscal year’s budget. The money is from donations to the Martinsville Fire Department and expenses recovered by the city sheriff’s office, such as Henry County’s reimbursement for its share of the costs for a litter cleanup.

The council also met in closed session to discuss economic development and personnel issues which the state lets local governing boards discuss privately. No action was taken afterward.

 

 
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