On the agenda for public hearing at the Town Council meeting tonight is the request by Lowe’s Home Care Center (what the rest of us would call a home improvement center, so as not to confuse it with a big-box nursing home) for a modification of its special use permit. Lowe’s wants to sacrifice 113 parking spaces to expand its outdoor display area.
The Lowe’s parking lot melds with that of Border’s Books next door and a park-and-ride lot fronting U.S. 15-501, and I’ve never been out there when every single parking space has been taken, even when the ever-popular “How to lay tile” workshop coincides with a Harry Potter book release party. But we won’t know what the neighbors think of the idea until tonight.
What caught my attention as I was looking over the documents was that the special use permit modification application breezed through the review process in one month. The Planning Board, reviewed and approved it Aug. 3; the Transportation Board, Aug. 12; the Community Design Commission, Aug. 18; and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, Aug. 24. And here it is, slated for public hearing on Sept. 20.
Compare that to Altridge Group, a husband-and-wife real estate development team who bought the former Delta Zeta sorority house at 420 Hillsborough St. that had been vacant and on the market for years. Altridge planned to re-purpose what had been bedrooms on the lower-level into small offices that could be rented on a short- or long-term basis by solo practitioners, start-ups and other small businesses. The larger gathering spaces and kitchen on the upper level could be rented out for catered dinners, parties and business meetings. The property already had a parking lot sufficient for the size of the building, and Altridge would need to disturb no additional surface area. Other than sprucing up the interior, the building was ready to go.
The only barrier is that Altridge is seeking a modification of the special use permit that allowed a sorority to be built in a residential area. Altridge needs a modification so that it can charge rent to entities other than the university. Word from the town is that the process would take at least a year and a half. And when Altridge began building a stone retaining wall to keep the soil from washing onto the sidewalk during the rainy season, the town halted the work.
I asked Phil Mason of the Planning Department staff why such a seemingly simple matter would take a year and a half. He said that going before all the numerous review boards was a very time-consuming process and couldn’t possibly get through any faster. And besides, Mason said, the property is in the middle of a residential area, an inappropriate area for a business.
Altridge isn’t asking for a reduction in parking; all it wants is to extend its client base beyond the university. I doubt the students in the large apartment complexes nearby care whether Altridge’s clients pay with a state check or private funds. It would be nice to see the property in use and, more importantly, bringing in additional tax revenue.
– Nancy Oates