GREENSBORO — The wooded 23 acres is an unusual sight on busy Cone Boulevard, sitting between two established neighborhoods in northern Greensboro.
As the Kirkwood and Browntown developments were built around it, the park-like setting remained undeveloped for 60 years, a part of the trove of land that master developer Joe Koury bought as a long-term investment.
But the company he left behind, Koury Corp., is now ready to build a gated, $80 million, 480-apartment community on the property at Cone Boulevard and Cleburne Street.
Koury is asking the city to rezone the single-family land for apartments and several thousand residents who live around the site are fighting the request. They say that thousands of car trips in and out of the development every day will choke their small, walkable streets. The buildings, up to 80-feet tall, will tower over the mid-priced neighborhoods, they say, and the sheer concentration of apartments is dramatically out of character with its surroundings.
They, along with Koury Corp., will take their case to the Greensboro City Council on Tuesday night at its regular monthly business meeting. The opponents have requested that the council continue the hearing until its January business meeting, but that will be considered by council members Tuesday.
"Emotions are running high," said Wendy Heise, whose Cleburne Street home is next to the property. "It’s universally opposed. We think Koury’s reputation as a corporate citizen is going to be damaged."
The Greensboro Zoning Commission approved the rezoning by a vote of 9-3 at its October meeting and residents appealed the vote.
At the meeting, Koury attorney Mike Fox presented the company's project.
Fox described the apartments as a "luxury" gated community with architecture designed to blend with the community and underground parking. He said Koury would protect 8 acres of wooded areas on the property and the tallest buildings would be on the lowest elevations.
Although a traffic study commissioned by Koury projects that nearly 4,000 "trips" in and out of the complex every day would be a busy addition to the neighborhood, the apartments would face Cone Boulevard and the only access to the units would be there, not on the side streets.
"This development is specifically centered on Cone Boulevard," Fox said.
But Heise, nearby resident Doug Stone and others contend the new residents would use Cleburne and other quiet streets as shortcuts to other destinations.
Stone has a map that shows 1,000 homes in the 500 acres surrounding Koury's property, while Koury proposes nearly 500 apartments on 20 acres at the center of those neighborhoods.
About 3,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the rezoning and Stone has compiled files of information and maps. The group has also hired an attorney to present its case on Tuesday.
Stone said he has met with City Councilman Justin Outling, who represents the neighborhoods in District 3. And a week ago, the neighborhood hosted interested residents at a meeting attended by Mayor Nancy Vaughan and council members Tammi Thurm and Nancy Hoffmann.
But some residents spoke in favor of the project during the Zoning Commission meeting.
"This property will be developed at some point," said Richard Beard of Schulman & Beard Commercial Real Estate. "It's not a matter of if but when."
And Chester Brown, president of Brown Investment Properties, said, "Koury Corp. has been instrumental in the growth of Greensboro."
Stone and his fellow residents say they're not against development at any cost. But they'd like to see a little less concentration with fewer apartments.
Stone said a rezoning for 12 units per acre, which would amount to roughly half the apartments currently being proposed, would be a reasonable accommodation to the neighborhoods' concerns.
City zoning officials said in their report about the property to the commission that they recommended rezoning the property because it represents a "transitional" neighborhood and satisfies the city's goals of filling in undeveloped areas with higher-density developments to limit sprawl.
"Residential development with a density up to 26 dwelling units per acre is appropriate along a major thoroughfare," zoning officials said in the report.
But the city's report included a word of advice: "Care should be taken with respect to building orientation, building materials, building height, and visual buffers to ensure an appropriate transition to the low density residential on adjacent properties."
"There's nothing transitional about this area," Stone said.
Because, neighbors believe, the project is so much more concentrated than the properties around it, the request amounts to "spot zoning," which is a general term for zoning that stands out of character with surrounding properties.
Stone, in a written outline of the residents' argument, said Koury is taking advantage of the neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"They picked a time during COVID restrictions when people were not allowed to meet or voice opposition in person," he wrote.
The public hearing before council on Tuesday will likely be a more subdued affair than some contentious rezoning hearings that attract scores of people to Council Chambers often dressed in colorful T-shirts that protest the action.
The meeting will be conducted virtually and individual residents will appear in small squares on a screen.