Redevelopment raises concerns in Mount Airy

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MOUNT AIRY, N.C. -- A city redevelopment plan, which once included only city property, may now include 20 properties owned by residents.

The Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission was formed with the idea of refurbishing the old Spencer's plant, which is located just outside the city's downtown area. However, the city has now named 20 other properties which they believe are "eyesores," to possibly be included in the plan.

"It's just time that something else is put here that would make this area grow and be revitalized," said Mount Airy Commissioner Steve Yokeley.

The idea is to fix up some of the buildings, to make them look more inviting to people coming into town and create a gateway to the city's downtown area. However, many of the property owners say their buildings are not eyesores and are in fact historic, or designed to prevent vandalism.

The properties in question are located on Franklin Street, Granite Street, North South Street, South South Street, West Pine Street and Willow Street.

Property owners fear that the city will claim eminent domain on the properties and seize them.

"If the owners are not interested in redeveloping it themselves, which is the ideal situation, it could be taken," said Yokeley.

However, commissioners emphasized that they want to avoid that.

"That would be a very, very last resort and I would be extremely surprised if that would ever happen," said Yokeley.

Owners also fear that if the city declared the buildings to be blighted, or neglected, that tag could result in lower property values.

"If anything, it will greatly increase the value of their property when it's in the redevelopment area," said Yokeley.

Commissioners feel the project would be vital to the area, with many uses to bring people into town.

Yokeley said some ideas which have been thrown out there include "a convention center, condominiums and an arts district," even sports venues or possibly a microbrewery. Yet, he added that none of those ideas are concrete.

"In fact we haven't even started talking about a plan about what can be done," said Yokeley.

The plan is so new, Yokeley said, that there is no timetable for when the project could be completed and no number figure for a cost. However, commissioners hope that much of the cost would be covered by grants and private investors.

Commissioners also promise to help property owners find and apply for their own grants, should they decide to renovate the buildings themselves.

There was a public meeting held Monday evening, where about 70 people showed up to voice their concerns. There is another meeting planned for Oct. 8 at the city hall.

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