Some opposed to gated Eau Claire housing development

rburris@thestate.comJanuary 29, 2013 

Some residents in Columbia’s Eau Claire neighborhood are up in arms about a new housing development being proposed for the 3700 block of North Main Street.

The development, a gated, three-story complex that includes up to 56 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, according to the Greenville contractor proposing the deal, will be the focus at 5 p.m. today of a closed Columbia City Council discussion.

A public discussion of the proposed development will follow at 6:30 p.m. and include a presentation by the contractor, Creative Builders, and a question-and-answer session. The meeting will be held at Hyatt Park, 950 Jackson Ave.

City officials have said very little about the proposal publicly, which appears to be at least one of the driving forces behind concerns raised about the development. A City Council member opposed to the project told The State that the housing development doesn’t fit the master plan for redeveloping the area.

Also scheduled for tonight’s meeting is a public comment period that includes the Eau Claire Community Council, North Columbia Business Association and the Columbia Empowerment Zone Inc.

A hotly debated community meeting on the ground-up, all-residential development – proposed for a virtually all-commercial strip – was held a week ago. Some residents emerged from that meeting calling the proposed mixed-income housing development “shady.”

“Our neighbors stand completely united to stop this shady housing project deal for 3700 North Main,” said Eau Claire resident Gareth Fenley, in a signed letter emailed to media outlets. “There is still a chance to stop it. The contract has not been signed.”

The Columbia Empowerment Zone Inc. is seeking to develop the approximately two-acre property into the proposed complex with apartments ranging from 850 to 1,250 square feet in size.

“This isn’t something that’s permitted or under construction,” said Will McCauley, Creative Builders’ president. “It’s just a development that we have sought out on the particular piece of property because we believe that it’s a gateway and that our development is going to enhance that corridor.”

In particular, the housing development would complement the adjacent shopping center property, McCauley said, and would fulfill a need for more affordable housing. Columbia Empowerment Zone employees helped the company identify the largely vacant 3700 block, he said.

“As much as … we need jobs right now, it’s just puzzling to me (why there is opposition to the proposal),” McCauley said.

Columbia City Councilman Sam Davis said he opposes the development because it is not consistent with the redevelopment plan for the North Main corridor.

“We’ll be discussing it (Tuesday),” Davis said. “There’s been a good bit of misinformation about it. So everybody’s going to hear the same thing, have the same discussion at the same time.”

Longtime Eau Claire resident Tommy Burkett, who operates an electrical contracting business in the area and whose family once owned part of the property under discussion, echoed those concerns.

“That property, since 2005, when we did the master plan for that area, it was stated for retail/commercial, and also mixed-use, if they wanted to build apartments on the back part of the property,” Burkett said. “On the front part of the property, it would have to be retail/commercial.”

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