GPA Urges Public Participation, Careful Planning of State Street Project –

By Jesse Williams/ • 07/20/2021 02:09 p.m. EST

A condo development on a sensitive and central property near Adams Middle School appears to be moving forward with positive support from the town, though some in the community are advocating for an extra cautious approach due to the unique characteristics and location of the potential project.

DeGenarro Development & Construction of Durham successfully petitioned for a tweak to the underlying zoning to lift restrictions that previously only allowed senior housing on the property, which lies to the east of State Street just south of I-95. Ron DeGenarro, who owns the company, said optimistically he might hope to begin construction in early 2022.

But while officials have expressed optimism about the ability of DeGenarro to build a quality project, Guilford Preservation Alliance (GPA) President Shirley Girioni urged the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) and the town in general to spend extra time to ensure that neighboring properties are protected and town development goals are met.

Girioni spoke at a recent PZC meeting and made it clear that the GPA was in fact, supporting DeGenarro’s application, but also hoped to ensure “proper planning” at every point in the process, including looking at potentially adding some affordable housing and making sure to protect nearby historic districts and homes.

“We strongly recommend the reengaging of the Planning Committee to ensure that all these requirements are met,” she said. “The GPA believes that this is a unique opportunity to demonstrate how the applicant, PZC…NGOs, and other property owners can collaborate to create a model for other development proposals going forward.”

State Street is part of the Town Center Historic District, and Town Planner George Kral said a number of homes on that road that would be abutting the street have historical value, including a handful that were built in the late 18th- or early 19th centuries.

Girioni told the Courier that a misfire on the property could have “dramatic consequences” for the town, and it was also important that neighboring property owners, namely Pinchbeck’s Tree Farm, be involved in the process.

“It has such potential to be done really, really well,” she said

DeGenarro said even though he has not submitted his plans for the site ahead of getting the zoning change approved last month, he has already met with land use officials with positive reactions. He added he is entirely willing to collaborate with the GPA and continue to mold the project to fit what the town is hoping to see.

“A lot of it is architecture,” he said. “We want it to have like a cottage feel to it, like multiple different styles so they’re not all the same units.”

In the past, DeGenarro added that he is used to having multiple preliminary meetings with commission members and stakeholders after putting together initial plans.

“The whole process with the town of Guilford has been great,” he said. “They really thought about what we were going to do.”

PZC member Richard Wallace said that the project was “by far the best plan that I’ve seen for this parcel.”

The property has a significant history and has remained undeveloped for years, according to Kral. A developer who had intended to build senior housing more than a decade ago never followed through, he said, but it was also farmed during some of the intervening time.

The zoning regulations explicitly require involving nearby property owners, according to Kral.

Girironi also emphasized how close the property is to the town center. She said she didn’t necessarily believe the GPA needs to be directly involved in the application process, but that she wanted to “motivate” stakeholders to stay involved to maintain these important community assets.

“I think the more [DeGenarro] hears the interest of the public, the better,” Girioni said.