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Neighbors renew fight against Friendly Avenue development

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GREENSBORO -- Less than two years after a Greensboro neighborhood stood against the development of a shopping center at its edge, residents there are doing it again.

They’re resolved not to give an inch.

The Friendly Coalition held a meeting on Sunday night in opposition to a proposed zone change that would allow Centennial American Properties, a South Carolina developer, to build a grocery store and a drug store at West Friendly Avenue and Hobbs Road.

“I can’t say it any stronger — do not compromise in any circumstances,” said former Greensboro Mayor Keith Holliday. “I don’t care what they say they’ll do.”

Holliday’s comments came in front of more than 160 people gathered at the First Lutheran Church, at 3600 W. Friendly Ave., in the same block as the site.

It is the second time in less than two years the community has rallied to oppose commercial development in the neighborhood.

Starmount Co. owned and subdivided the land for single-family houses in the late 1930s. The company sold the lots with certain restrictions, that spell out how the land can be developed and used. Six homes sit on the site, which is across Hobbs Road from The Shops at Friendly Center.

“If you were here two years ago, this presentation is going to seem much the same,” said Scott Kinsey, a co-chairman of the Friendly Coalition as he explained plans to oppose the development. “It is the same six lots that were under contract two years ago.”

In 2012, a developer proposed building a Trader Joe’s grocery store at the site. That proposal called for a 53,000-square-foot development.

In February, after delays on re-zoning votes and about four months after Trader Joe’s opened a store in Winston-Salem, its lawyer said it was no longer trying to build a store at the Friendly Avenue site.

The current proposal calls for two structures — a grocery store and a drugstore. One is 13,000 square feet and the other is 16,000 square feet, Kinsey said. There would be a buffer between them, and between the stores and the residences behind them. The names of the stores are still unclear.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Trader Joe’s. It doesn’t matter if it’s Wal-Mart,” Kinsey said. “We do not want commercial development in this neighborhood.”

The crowd groaned when Kinsey told them the planned hours for the stores would be 6 a.m. to midnight.

One person in the audience asked if the neighborhood would seem fanatical in their opposition to development if they say, “No compromise.”

Julia Whitfield, a member of the community, said any crack in resolve would be exploited.

“If you don’t stand firm, if you give an inch, they’re going to take the rest of the country,” Whitfield said. “If they get the message, ‘It isn’t going to be possible,’ somebody might come in and build homes.”

Other members of the audience asked if it would be possible for the community to buy the property developers are eyeing.

Kinsey said the price on just five of the six lots in question was $5.5 million.

Organizers of Sunday’s meetings encouraged people to buy their $10 “No commercial zoning” yard signs.

As she bought a sign, Peg Moore said there are plenty of commercial properties for sale elsewhere in the city.

“If it’s going to keep happening, we’ll keep fighting,” Moore said.

Holliday reminded listeners not to compromise.

“They find any little strategy to hang their hat on,” Holliday said. “If you give them that open window, they’ll take it. Don’t back off one inch.”

Contact Joe Gamm at (336) 373-7090, and follow @josephgamm on Twitter.

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