Commission backs HPU expansion

Nov. 13, 2013 @ 05:22 PM

Plans to expand High Point University’s campus have cleared one phase of the city’s review process.
The High Point Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday recommended approval of requests by HPU to rezone three areas to accommodate new academic programs, student housing and parking.
The City Council on Monday will consider each case, which would change the zoning from residential to conditional zoning public and institutional on three sites where HPU has acquired property on the edge of its campus.
HPU Vice President and Chief of Staff Chris Dudley said the university needs to expand to provide space for a proposed school of pharmacy and health sciences, a planned undergraduate sciences building, new residence halls and parking.
The largest proposed expansion site is a two-block, 8.3-acre area abutting the southwestern edge of the campus that is bounded by Montlieu Avenue, N. Centennial Street, Barbee Avenue and Fifth Street.
HPU purchased and demolished most of the 40 single-family dwellings that were located within the two blocks, and is considering converting the site into parking.
The commission (minus absent members Andrew Putnam, Martha Shepherd and Ed Spivey) voted 6-0 in favor of the rezoning, but spent considerable time discussing the fact that the site is outside the growth area defined in the University Area Plan, adopted by council in 2009, which “provides policies to help protect adjacent residential neighborhoods by guiding the orderly growth of the University,” according to the city.
Commission members asked HPU representatives whether they have a long-range plan showing areas of the city outside the campus on which they would like to grow.
“Are you able to say to residents sitting here that you might come out a half-mile from campus or a mile from campus?” Commission Chair Cynthia Davis asked university officials. “So if they have a home in that area and want to make improvements, at least then they have an idea of where you may go.”
HPU Director of Construction, Renovation & Development Ron Guerra said the university has no master growth plan, in part because it is landlocked and its expansion is dictated by whether it can obtain surrounding properties.
“You never quite know where you’re going to be able to acquire these homes,” Guerra said. “Sometimes we go out and look for properties to acquire and other times, property owners come to us. Some homes are more easily obtainable than others.”
Willis McCoy of Garner, who said he was speaking for “family and friends in this area on Barbee and Montlieu” avenues near the proposed expansion site, said a parking lot would not fit in well with the neighborhood.
“They need to be up front and give the city and neighbors an idea of what they want to do. They cannot have unsustainable growth in any direction they want to go in,” said McCoy.
Davis asked Dudley, “Could we depend on you to approach council or the city and say, ‘We’d like to expand our growth area, because we know we have these needs coming up,’ so residents know where you’re going?”
Dudley replied, “We’d be glad to partner with the city to re-examine the University Area Plan.”
HPU is also looking to expand to a 6.3-acre site south of E. Farriss Avenue between N. Centennial and Fifth streets on the western border of the campus. Officials have not said how they want to use it, but the land is near a possible site for the proposed pharmacy and health sciences school — a $100 million, 170,000-square-foot facility HPU officials say they want to build on campus.
The commission voted 5-1 in favor of rezoning the site, with Davis opposed.
Two properties within these boundaries that front E. Farriss Avenue that HPU does not own are not a part of this rezoning request. Guerra said “we have worked very, very hard to obtain” them but have not reached agreements on sales prices with the owners.
One of them, David Brauns, who has lived at his house on E. Farriss Avenue for 21 years, said noise and light from HPU have become problems for him as the campus has grown closer to his property.   
“It’s just a constant encroachment to where we are now. We had a nice community,” Brauns said. “What is this going to do to my land value? If it’s rezoned to institutional, I can only sell it for institutional use. You are going to hand-tie us to selling to (HPU) at some point or living with whatever (HPU) decides to do.”
The commission voted 6-0 in favor of rezoning the third proposed expansion area — 4.1 acres along the west side of W. College Drive between E. Lexington Avenue and E. Farriss Avenue.
Guerra described this as a narrow strip of land with a stream running through part of it, so HPU would be unable to construct large buildings there. Guerra said parking is a possible use for the site.
HPU owns all of the block except for the home of Clayton Mays on W. College Drive.
Mays said he doesn’t plan to sell his house and is content to live within the campus as long as the proposed conditions attached to the rezoning — such as screening measures aimed at mitigating the impact of noise and lighting — are enforced.