Second Cherry neighborhood rezoning under review

Four months after a contentious rezoning request from developer Stoney Sellars, Cherry residents are preparing for another rezoning petition, this time to build townhomes and a parking deck along Luther Street property that Sellars owns.

Cherry is a working-class African-American neighborhood near uptown that is increasingly being gentrified. The new development has raised property values and often has removed blighted homes, but some residents are worried they will be priced out of the community.

Earlier this year, the City Council approved a rezoning for Sellars’ StoneHunt Development Group to build two townhomes and 39 single-family homes on 5.71 acres on Luther Street.

Some Cherry residents protested that decision.

The new rezoning is for a $60 million mixed-use project by Goode Properties. The project, known as Baxter Place, would have office, hotel and retail space on a triangular parcel that’s currently a parking lot.

The lot is adjacent to Kings Drive and Cecil Street. It’s owned by Midtown Area Properties.

In addition to the tower, the petition also requests rezoning for two small parcels nearby. One is zoned for business; the other is for residential.

Those two pieces of land are owned by Sellars’ Stonehunt Group and The Asian Herald newspaper, whose offices are next door. Sellars said both owners are partners with Goode Properties, the master developer.

Those parcels – totaling about .75 acres – would be used for a parking deck and townhomes. Sellars said the townhomes would be facing the Cherry community.

He added that the parking deck would be built into a hill, so it would have little impact on neighbors.

“The parking garage is underneath because of the drop-off,” Sellars said. “The townhomes are on top of that.”

Sylvia Bittle-Patton, who collected 1,000 signatures against the rezoning earlier this year, said neighbors are still studying the proposal. She said her initial feeling is against the parking deck and townhomes, but she needs more information before making a formal decision.

The rezoning is scheduled for a public hearing in November.

Sellars has a complicated history with the Cherry community.

In 2005, Stonehunt bought 7 acres from the Cherry Community Organization, a nonprofit whose mission as to provide low-income homes to local residents. Stonehunt paid $1.1 million for the Cherry property.

Some of the homes were in disrepair and have since been demolished. Sellars said he exceeded a commitment to the organization to keep some affordable housing when he built Cherry Gardens, an apartment building for seniors.

But during the earlier rezoning this year, dozens of residents filled City Council chambers opposing Stonehunt. They felt the developer’s plans for market-rate housing would change the character of the neighborhood and that Stonehunt bought the property at a below-market rate.

Sellars said he paid market value for the land.

This summer, after a rezoning was approved for a majority of the property, Stonehunt sold much of the property to developer Virgate 1 LLC for $3 million.

Sellars said he is a partner in Virgate.

The sale to Virgate didn’t include the two parcels of land closest to Kings Drive that are part of the pending rezoning. The Mecklenburg tax office valued those two pieces of land at $509,000.