The following is the article that appeared in the November 28, 2010 Compass:
AT WARDS CORNER, PLAN IS AN UNHAPPY SURPRISE
BY: Harry Minium
Wards Corner community leaders have big dreams for the drab commercial strip at the intersection of Granby Street and Little Creek Road.
Wards Corner Now, an umbrella group for civic leagues in the area, is pushing the city to recruit a Target or Kohl’s department store there.
So it was with some consternation that about 75 residents listened for two hours on Saturday as developers pitched, of all things, a thrift store and an apartment complex.
Little Creek Road is already replete with thrift stores, and Wards Corner has hundreds of apartments.
Developer Arthur Collins has proposed building 385 apartments in a project to be called the Landmark at Talbot Park. Located across Newport Avenue from the Fitness and Wellness Center, it would be an upscale apartment community that would attract high-income residents, he said.
Wards Corner community leaders, including Talbot Park Civic League head Jim Mc-Donnell, are skeptical.
Collins told the group that the apartments would have two swimming pools and a community center. However, Wards Corner leaders said he has been hesitant to guarantee those amenities in writing.
Collins said his development would replace 190 units at the Riverside Terrace apartments, which he says are populated largely with low-income residents. He said up to one-third of his tenants are delinquent on their rent.
Originally, he had planned to build condominiums there, but said the decline in the condo market makes that proposal unrealistic.
Collins needs City Council approval for his plans. Councilman Andy Protogyrou , who represents Talbot Park, said he won’t support the proposal until it is endorsed by civic leaders.
Protogyrou has taken the same stance on plans for another thrift store in Wards Corner. ForKids, a well-regarded charity that helps dozen of homeless families in Norfolk, has proposed running one at the southeast corner of Wards Corner.
The strip shopping center there is owned by Chris Perry, who is working with the city on redevelopment plans.
Vera Hartig, a parishioner at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, helped create ForKids, which began as an outgrowth of efforts to fight homelessness more than two decades ago.
The thrift store has the support of Mayor Paul Fraim, who said at the meeting that he’s in favor of the project, but his endorsement is predicated on the approval of area civic leagues.
Fraim said the thrift store would be “a short-term thing” until the economy improves to the point where Perry can redevelop his shopping center.
But Wards Corner community leaders Louis Eisenberg, Martin Thomas Jr. and Jim English said they are concerned that if the area is rezoned, another thrift store could open once ForKids closes. Currently, once a permit is approved for a thrift store, it can continue to operate even if ownership changes.
Fraim said he would ask the city attorney’s office to investigate whether the city could word the permit to expire once ForKids closes.
“I realize this is not Bloomingdale’s or Crate and Barrel,” Fraim said.
No it’s not, and Fraim has promised much to Wards Corner leaders.
Fraim campaigned for re-election five months ago pledging an economic revival of Wards Corner. He kicked off his re-election campaign in a church at Wards Corner and had his campaign headquarters there.
Fraim said development will occur at Wards Corner when the economy improves. “Good things are going to happen,” he said.
But for Wards Corner residents who have waited more than a decade for significant improvements, a thrift store and more apartments are not exactly welcome news.
Harry Minium, 446-2371, email@example.com
This statement by Mayor Fraim lacks that ring of truth: Fraim said the thrift store would be “a short-term thing” until the economy improves to the point where Perry can redevelop his shopping center.
Project several years to the future, and it rings hollow.
I’m not sure what the mayor can do to make a meaningful difference in Ward’s Corner. But his effort to paint a positive picture out of this proposal seems to come up short.
I get the benefit to ForKids. I don’t see much benefit to Ward’s Corner. Am I missing something?