Growth, student housing has neighborhood residents near Wake Forest University calling for new restrictions on development | Local News

Residents of Oak Crest are neither blind nor deaf. Their memories are also long.

Compared to many developments around the city, their neighborhood is small.

Oak Crest, while lacking the official designation required for tax credits, is considered historic – primarily for its location either side of Polo Road nestled against the campus of Wake Forest University.

“No New Student Housing in Oak Crest” signs are posted in most yards along Friendship Circle and surrounding streets Aug. 11 in Winston-Salem.

Allison Lee Isley, Diary

But the same proximity that once made Oak Crest an idyllic place for professors to raise families now adds to residents’ concerns that, without official intervention from elected officials, the neighborhood will soon be engulfed in growth and demand for student accommodation.

“If you drive around the other end of Polo Road through the University, you’ll see what we mean,” said Dave Stith, president of the Oak Crest neighborhood association. “Wake Forest was responsive to addressing concerns about students and parties. But so far the city has told us that there is not much to do.

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Visible changes

A nickel tour of the area, narrated by Stith and Doug Cunningham, the president of the University Area Neighborhood Association, shows that their concerns are valid.

Signs have sprung up in the neighborhood on either side of Polo Road: No new student accommodation in Oak Crest.

“Good to see them coming into the yards,” Stith said earlier this month as he drove through the area. “Did you go behind the daycare center (Sunshine House) and see those places?”

New homes just 10 meters apart have been built in clusters in a development called Charlton Farms, clearly aimed at students. Two-thirds of cars and SUVs parked in driveways have out-of-state license plates. Texas, Virginia, Connecticut, Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey outnumber those with the familiar First in Flight beacons.

Oak Crest;  Wake Forest Student Housing

Four pairs of Converse shoes hang from a power line on Ewing Street outside the Villages at Wake Forest Student Housing August 11, in Winston-Salem.

Allison Lee Isley, Diary

Across Polo Road, on Fares Lane and Palm Drive, what appear to be versions of the ‘grandmother’s flats’ approved earlier this year by the City Council are being added. Those too seem to be popular with the off-campus crowd.

“It will be a party here when the students come back,” Stith said. “I’m not sure that’s what the city council had in mind.”

Earlier this year, Council, keen to add affordable housing, approved an ordinance that allows landlords to build “secondary suites” on any residential property as long as they meet certain guidelines.

The ordinance eliminated the requirement for city council approval. Units can be rented to anyone, not just immediate family members.

Seeing this proliferation of student accommodation so close together has therefore made some owners of Oak Crest nervous.

They fear the same type of development in their neighborhood. The value of the property, of course, plays an important role. The same goes for concerns about changes in quality of life.

Neighborhood Oak Crest

An aerial view of the new Oak Crest neighborhood of Charlton Farms student accommodation along Fares Lane on August 27. The development is just off Polo Road and a short drive from Wake Forest University.

Walt Unks, Diary

It’s an extension of the age-old arguments between town and dress that exist in nearly every college town in America.

“Of course, NIMBY (an acronym for Not In My Back Yard) is one of them,” Stith. “We would be lying if we said it wasn’t.”

Still, Cunningham added, neighborhood groups aren’t trying to ban students from renting. “Owners have rights,” he said. “We don’t say that at all.”

Oak Crest;  Wake Forest Student Housing

The Oak Crest Historic District neighborhood sign along Polo Road.

Allison Lee Isley, Diary

What they would like is for officials to add a layer of protection called the “neighborhood conservation overlay.”

An NCO, as planners and zoning officials call them, can prevent landowners from subdividing larger lots into smaller parcels and lock them into certain minimum setbacks for new construction.

“It’s a tool that…makes (new construction) compatible and consistent with what already exists,” said Chris Murphy, director of the city/county’s planning and development services department.

Property rights issue

None of this sounds controversial – at least not until owners’ rights are considered.

State law stipulated that 65% of a neighborhood’s residents must agree to change standards regarding lot sizes and setbacks.

That changed in the 1990s when lawmakers, at the behest of the League of Municipalities, county commissioners and planning lawyers, rewrote planning laws to say that NCOs must be approved by local elected officials.

“Only municipalities can make this change now,” Murphy said.

In practice, unless a neighborhood has more than 75% of landlords supporting an NCO, approvals are rare.

“We have a few here in Forsyth County,” Murphy said. “The Country Club Estates has one. Mallard Lakes and one on Vest Mill Road near doctors offices. Not a lot.”

For Oak Crest, with more than 40% of homes owned by investors and about 15 additional acres recently purchased by a group called Fred’s Road LLC, getting the city council to approve new construction regulations is a long wait.

“We haven’t even decided what we’re going to do, whether we’re going to divide it into parcels and sell lots or build houses,” said Ashley Carros, one of LLC’s owners. “We’re just collecting data on the highest/best usage.”

The construction will add to the city’s tax base, she said, and help improve existing infrastructure.

“We are opposed to (a non-commissioned officer),” Carros said. “Not just for us, of course, but for anyone who wants to build or improve their property.”

Essentially, asking for a neighborhood conservation overlay amounts to a preventative measure that would limit development.

“We’ve heard the concerns from neighbors,” Murphy said, “but there are no specific development proposals in our office.”

As for the emergence of grand grandma’s apartments – in essence, the construction of a second (or third) smaller home on a plot initially limited to one – there’s not much appeal at this point.

“The council was concerned about people trying to build rental communities with the potential to maximize return on investment,” Murphy said. “Theoretically, it could happen. There is no way to prevent it.

“There are limitations in state law — for example, you can’t say the primary dwelling must be owner-occupied — that may allow people to take advantage of the rules.”

Still, that won’t stop some Oak Crest residents from clamoring for every protection possible.

“We have to try,” Stith said. “We can see what could happen.”

Oak Crest;  Wake Forest Student Housing

New homes are clustered at Charlton Farms, a clearly student-oriented development near Wake Forest University.

Allison Lee Isley, Diary

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