As South End boom spreads, one neighborhood is left behind

The Brookhill Village apartments along South Tryon Street and Remount Road were built in 1951 and are in disrepair. Many are vacant. They are part of a pocket of South End that isn't being redeveloped.
The Brookhill Village apartments along South Tryon Street and Remount Road were built in 1951 and are in disrepair. Many are vacant. They are part of a pocket of South End that isn't being redeveloped.

South End’s building boom is spreading farther south and west, with new high-end apartments planned on industrial sites and vacant land. But at the corner of South Tryon Street and Remount Road, an apartment community from a different era sits unchanged, an eyesore to some and an oasis of affordability to others.

Privately owned Brookhill Village was developed in 1951. More than 100 single-story, wood-sided buildings with two to five units make up the 36-acre community, which sits on gently rolling hills with sweeping views of uptown’s skyscrapers.

But Brookhill Village has seen better days. Paint is peeling off many of the green, yellow, pink and blue houses. Some have falling gutters and plywood in the doors and windows. Black heating oil tanks sit behind the low-slung buildings, arranged around courtyards and winding cul-de-sacs.

As South End booms nearby, it may be surprising Brookhill Village hasn’t been redeveloped. It’s at a major intersection five minutes from uptown, two blocks from Interstate 77, three blocks from the light rail and next to a major park.

But a complicated ownership structure could make any prospective redevelopment difficult: One company, affiliated with a billionaire, owns the land, while another company owns the buildings.

And any redevelopment of the site could force out hundreds of low-income tenants who count on Brookhill as a place to live that’s close to major employment centers and plentiful public transit. Many long-time residents, having heard rumors about possible redevelopment for years, aren’t sure where they would go.

Willie Jones, 82, a retired U.S. Food Service worker, said he’s lived at Brookhill Village almost since it opened – Jones doesn’t recall the exact year – and pays $347 a month for a two-bedroom unit.

“It was beautiful,” said Jones, remembering Brookhill when he first moved there.

Like many residents at the site, he said he expects it will be redeveloped someday soon.

“It’s too close to town. You can see all those new buildings,” said Jones, gesturing to the roofs of new apartment buildings that have sprung up along the Blue Line light rail two blocks away, along with trendy breweries and restaurants. Another 1,200 apartments are planned or underway within half a mile.

“They won’t let this stay,” he said, raking sticks in his neighbor’s yard. “Sooner or later, we’re gone.”

And Jones said that wouldn’t be entirely a bad thing – as long as any new development includes low-income and senior citizen housing to replace the hundreds of units at Brookhill Village. He said the units need maintenance and complained the heating oil is expensive.

“We could use some new housing,” said Jones.

Just down the block, at South Tryon and Benjamin Street, the Charlotte Housing Authority owns and operates Southside Homes. CHA has no current plans to redevelop the 381-unit low-income housing development, spokeswoman Cheron Porter said.

Split ownership for land, buildings

The 36 acres of lightly developed land offer the chance to put together a major mixed-use development. For comparison, Synco Properties is planning to redevelop the 27-acre Colony apartments in SouthPark with almost 1,000 new apartments, a hotel, office buildings, shops and a grocery store.

The actual land is owned by Brookhill Land, a company affiliated with C.D. Spangler, a prominent Charlotte business leader with a Forbes-estimated net worth of $2.6 billion.

Dick Cornwell, a representative of the company, said there are no plans to sell the Brookhill Village site and declined to comment further.

A separate company, Brookhill Village Two, actually owns the buildings on the site. Brookhill Village Two is managed by Greg Pappanastos, a real estate investor and developer who heads Argos Realty. In 2008, Brookhill Village Two acquired the buildings and a long-term lease for the property for $3.3 million, real estate records show.

Pappanastos declined to comment on Brookhill Village or any possible plans for the site.

Apartment developer Faison was rumored to be looking at the site last year as a redevelopment possibility. But Chris Branch, who heads apartment development for Faison, said the company isn’t currently involved with the Brookhill Village site. Instead, Faison is planning to build hundreds of apartments on a site across Tryon Street, at Dunavant and Hawkins streets.

“I think people have their eyes on it,” said Allison Billings, Center City Partners’ vice president for neighborhood development, transportation and sustainability. “It’s a lot of land in an area that’s rapidly growing.”

Having a separate owner for the land and the buildings vastly complicates any potential redevelopment, said Rob Pressley, president of Coldwell Commercial Banker MECA. His father Tony Pressley’s MECA firm led much of the early redevelopment in South End, creating landmarks such as Atherton Mill and the Design Center.

“It can be and will be someday a very interesting and incredible development,” Pressley said.

Affordability is an issue

Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield, who represents the area, said the split ownership structure holds back private redevelopment, and that there is little the city can do.

“If you can’t get ahold of that land, how much will you invest?” she said. “We can’t make them sell, neither do we want to be in the position of making someone sell their land.”

She said that any redevelopment, however, would risk losing one of the last, large apartment complexes in South End that low-income renters can afford. With apartment rents rising 4.8 percent in Charlotte according to the most recent numbers available from Real Data, to an average of $1,000, affordability is a pressing issue.

While apartment developers sometimes voluntarily include some units restricted to low-income renters to help gain City Council approval, the city can’t require private developers to include a certain number of low-income units. That means that redeveloping Brookhill Village could, in theory, replace all of the units there with market rate apartments.

“My biggest fear is that will happen with Brookhill,” said Mayfield.

The residents I spoke with shared her fear – but also said they wish the property was better maintained.

“It’s a great place to stay for people who just need a roof over their heads and their kids,” said Shawn Smith, 38, who was visiting his disabled mother at Brookhill Village. “But they do need to upkeep it a little more.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo