GREENVILLE — The 4.5-acre site on the periphery of Greenville’s downtown is largely empty.
A vacant building that once housed a dialysis center stands on one piece of the property just off of Academy Street, while the rest is mostly dominated by trees and grass. Situated along one of Greenville’s most prominent thoroughfares and within walking distance of both Falls Park and Unity Park, the plot is a key piece of real estate amid the city’s continuing development boom.
Since 2020, Greenville-based Saint Capital Development has been working to move forward on a mixed-use project on the site that would include more than 100 units divided between apartments and townhomes, as well as commercial space. The developer, in partnership with the Greenville Housing Fund, plans to set aside up to a quarter of the residences as affordable housing.
Advocates see a major victory in Greenville’s uphill battle to provide more accessible housing.
But from the outset, residents in the neighboring West End community have voiced strong opposition to the project, listing a litany of objections such as the development’s potential impact on traffic, the loss of green space and skepticism that the units will be truly affordable. In July 2021, amid community pushback, the project suffered a defeat when City Council voted unanimously to table Saint Capital’s request to rezone a portion of the property, citing concerns about its design and a lack of detailed renderings.
Roughly one year later, the developer is preparing to submit new designs to the city and plans to go back before the planning commission in August. This time it will request to apply the same zoning standards that govern development in downtown to a portion of the property.
While the submission of the designs comes after extensive communication with the West End neighborhood, including three public meetings in March, residents continued to voice concerns about the latest iterations of Saint Capital’s plan at a meeting July 12.
The preliminary plans presented during the meeting showed a 120- to 130-unit residential development, divided between roughly 42 townhomes and two five-story, mixed-use buildings along Academy Street. The project would also include a 317-space parking garage and a central plaza.
Among the most frequently raised questions at the July gathering, hosted in a conference room at the nearby Kroc Center, was what kind of businesses would be allowed to set up shop on the property under the new zoning if it were approved. Saint Capital Vice President Richard Jackson told the two dozen or so residents gathered that the developer plans to market the largest commercial space to a small scale urban grocer or food court, with room for a shop and office space. Some voiced concern that despite the developer’s plan, the zoning would leave the door open to businesses such as nightclubs or bars in the future, though such uses would require the board of zoning appeals to grant a special exception.
Concerns regarding traffic, residential density, and the character of the new development versus that of the existing neighborhood all persisted as the developers and residents spoke that evening. The lack of homes for sale and the loss of greenspace were also points of contention raised during the 90-minute meeting.
West End Neighborhood Association President Ian Thomas said he is waiting to provide detailed comment until Saint Capital submitted its plans to the city, but that what was presented July 12 was not what some community members expected after the meetings in March.
Multiple residents said they continue to oppose the project as they left that night and felt the developer’s changes had done nothing to address their concerns.
Diane Keller, a former member of the Greenville Housing Authority Board who has lived in her West End home for 50 years, said she is doubtful that the apartments and townhomes would be accessible to low-income renters.
“When you start looking at affordability, you’re talking about maybe two school teachers, or the husband is a firefighter and the wife is a teacher,” she said. “But when you start talking about people who are on food stamps, welfare, they’re not going to be able to afford that.”
Tina Belge, advocacy and community engagement manager for the Greenville Housing Fund, said during the July 12 meeting that while a portion of the affordable units would be priced for people making 60 to 80 percent of the area median income, the development will also accept housing vouchers, opening the door to people with much lower incomes. A portion of the townhome units would also go on the market in 10 years and provide opportunities for affordable home ownership, which Belge said would be a major benefit.
“They said, ‘how can we do affordable housing downtown? How can we make home ownership a part of that? How can we make vouchers a part of that?’ And those are all the things that we’re looking for,” she said of Saint Capital. “So we’re just trying to help everybody get this across the finish line because we need units desperately.”
The developer’s decision to retool plans and continue working with the neighborhood after suffering a major setback with City Council is a testament to their commitment to the project, Belge said.
“A lot of private developers probably would have just walked away, sold this and made a good penny,” she said.
Despite the opposition expressed during the meeting this week, Saint Capital Vice President of Development Bryan De Bruin said he believed the session was productive and that the development team and the community had made progress through open communication.
“In all projects, you’re going to have a few folks that, no matter what is in front of them, if it’s not their idea they’re just not going to like it,” he said. “But this is the fourth recent meeting that we’ve had and the eighth total that we’ve had with this neighborhood, and it’s just gotten better and better.”
Saint Capital intends to continue that dialogue as its plans for the property go in front of the planning commission and City Council in the coming months, De Bruin said.