4-29-2020 – Blue Bell work set for early 2021

Posted on: April 29th, 2020 by admin

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April 28, 2020

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By Garrett Stell
gstell@newstopicnews.com

Apr 28, 2020 4:29 PM

 

Local leaders say a newly-approved project involving a historic building in Lenoir may be a catalyst for bringing much-needed housing options to Caldwell County.

 

The Lenoir Planning Board, acting in its capacity as the Lenoir Historic Preservation Committee, has awarded a certificate of appropriateness for a project to convert the Lenoir Blue Bell and Lenoir Cotton Mill properties off College Avenue into 46 market-rate residential apartments.

 

The property consists of three main historic pieces: the Blue Bell building, the Freight Station depot and the Steele Cotton Mill building. Representatives of Blue Bell Lenoir, the property owners, said that the first phase of construction will begin on the Blue Bell property next spring. The project will maintain the building’s white brick exterior and large windows, and it will include a fitness center, patios and yard areas for residents, and on-site parking. It is expected to take 12 months and cost $14.5 million.

 

Because the property was made a local historic landmark last June, the construction project must maintain the historical character of the building, Lenoir Planning Director Jenny Wheelock said.

 

But more importantly, she said, it marks a milestone in the effort to bring more housing options to Lenoir.

 

“In my opinion, we need more housing, period, so even if they weren’t going to do a historic renovation I think it would still be a positive project,” she said. “But I think it makes it that much more valuable to sort of preserve that industrial heritage in those buildings that aren’t really good for industry anymore and give them new life.”

 

Shannon Moser, who represented Blue Bell during the board meeting, stressed that the 46 apartments will be market-rate, meaning they will have no rent restrictions.

 

Wheelock said that adding a large number of market-rate apartments so close to downtown can be a boost for the city and county, since most of the recent apartment projects have been for low-income housing.

 

“What ends up happening is that the newest, nicest apartments in town have a cap on how much money you can make,” she said. “So when businesses recruit employees to come here, they’re not able to find rental housing.”

 

Increasing the availability of rentals for a wider variety of income levels has been a long but elusive goal for county economic leaders, said Deborah Murrary, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission. She sees this new project as a torch-bearer that could show other developers it can be profitable to invest in housing in Caldwell County.

 

“There is such pent up demand for market-rate apartments that the first development to make it across the finish line will almost certainly enjoy fast success,” she said. “I take calls on a regular basis — even in the midst of COVID-19 — from companies urgently looking for suitable housing opportunities for new employees. … This is the bellwether project for multi-family development and should be a home run.”

 

Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons said he hopes that the new development will fill quickly, giving confidence to other developers.

 

“You need that first one to get going and let people see that the economy is moving that way again,” he said. “We’ve already had a lot of interest in other housing developments in our area anyway, but to get something like this off the ground will really show others that the market is here for it. I think this will be the catalyst to kick-start us into where we want to go.”

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