Sunday, August 3, 2008

More on Glen Lennox

Today's article in the N&O outlines the forces at work in Old v New.

"People are on guard for not having Chapel Hill become a generic place," Mayor Kevin Foy said. "Not everything is open for redevelopment."

"This is almost a test case; it's a line in the sand for how Chapel Hill is going to grow," said Ernest Dollar, executive director of the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill. "There has to be a delicate balance to preserve the idealized Chapel Hill that people come here for but still grow as a town. And I think that unwise growth and unwise development could really hamper and destroy the things we love about this town and brought us here."

Molly McConnell figured she'd die in Glen Lennox. "Really, I thought this was my last stop before God," she said. But now, she said, she's thinking about finding a new place for herself and her beagle, MercyMe Lily Grace Happy Dog.

Foy said the public outcry shows how many people feel about the neighborhood. "Glen Lennox has become one of the iconic places in Chapel Hill, not because of its architecture and not because of its layout, but because of the people who have lived there and the life experiences they've had over the last 50 years," he said. "When you take that and say we're going to take out every trace of that neighborhood, I think people are justifiably appalled."

Glen Lennox Apartments opened in 1950 to address the housing shortage after World War II. Early residents included veterans, married students, retirees and new families -- much the same as its residents today.

The decision to rebuild Glen Lennox was something Grubb said he wrestled with for a long time. He remembered the fervor of the community from his days at UNC-Chapel Hill's law school and anticipated the reaction to the proposed plans to be strong.

But Grubb and his team of architects had a vision: Build a great urban development and help the town grow.

Grubb was at a board meeting in Raleigh a few weeks later when someone said losing Glen Lennox's green spaces and quaint homes would be a loss for Chapel Hill.

"It really hit me, and so I kind of said, 'Well gosh, my momma probably hates the plan we came up with,' " he said.

Developer Roger Perry, who built Durham's Woodcroft and Chapel Hill's Meadowmont projects, said Grubb Properties may have "underestimated the community's psychological ownership" of Glen Lennox.

He said he empathizes with some of the difficulties Grubb has faced.

"What is always troubling to people in my business is people who are not rational and not interested in building consensus and not willing to understand practical realities," Perry said.

The company will participate in discussions about the neighborhood's designation as a conservation district but still intends to come up with a new design. This time, Grubb said, they'll take their time. "I think there's a great opportunity for it [Glen Lennox] to become as special as it used to be," he said. "It doesn't have to happen immediately."

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