In a town north of Greensboro, there's a heated debate between those in favor of new development and those who are not. Conversations have been going on for years about whether Summerfield will be the site of new townhomes and apartments. Without an agreement, there's now the possibility that the land could be de-annexed by the state in order to move forward. 

WFDD's Bethany Chafin spoke with reporter Ren Larson of The Assembly about her in-depth look at this community.  

Interview Highlights

On the land in question:

"A developer named David Couch has assembled more than 900 acres of land, which is larger than New York City's Central Park. He is hoping to be able to develop a mixed-use community, having a village center, some apartments, single-family homes, townhomes. This community, which is 5% of the town's land won't be in everyone's backyard. But for residents who live west of 220, which is the road that people take to get into downtown Greensboro, they'll have to pass through the community to be able to get to Summerfield Elementary, the post office, or the town's beloved coffee shop."

On the feelings of townspeople about the proposed development:

"There are people who strongly oppose the idea of having anything other than single-family homes in their neighborhood. They fear that apartments could bring crime, that they'll add traffic, that they'll overcrowd schools. And there are other residents who are excited at the prospect of having a place with a bathroom where they can get coffee, at having a location that they can move their grandmother closer to the grandkids within biking distance rather than having grandma live in a home in Greensboro. There are people who see the development as a wonderful prospect for themselves to downsize and move into homes that meet their later-in-life lifestyle. While residents have varied perspectives on the development, the one thing that most people united behind was the idea that the land from their community could be de-annexed for the possibility of building apartments. And that was something that no one wanted."

On why de-annexation is being brought up:

"Residents are afraid that David Couch's property could be added to an existing bill to be de-annexed by the legislature. For the past six years, the developer and the city have tried to work together to be able to develop his property in a way that is not just using single-family homes, and after the town council did not pass the text amendment to their development ordinance that would allow apartments, David Couch sought another way to move forward and spoke with a lobbyist who brought up the idea that de-annexation of the property would allow him to develop according to Greensboro and Guilford counties' regulations, and not Summerfields'."

On the role of the Fair Housing Act in all of this: 

"So land use policies and practices that have a disparate impact, or segregative effect can be a violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Town of Summerfield's attorney recognized that the city not allowing apartments could make it in violation of the Fair Housing Act as it would continue to have this segregative effect — not allowing people who are poor, who don't have access to as much capital to buy a single-family home on one acre of land to be able to live in Summerfield.

So Summerfield's practices of requiring large lots where people have to have their own water source and septic system is an example of exclusionary zoning — policies, practices that may be designed to keep certain people out. But with exclusionary zoning, it's hard to show in a court of law that this zoning is a violation of the Fair Housing Act if what is being proposed is simply market-rate housing. And much of what David Couch is proposing in his property is market-rate housing. He is hoping to subsidize 5% of the apartments that he would build, which would amount to, in the most recent idea and vision of his development, 30 out of 600 apartments being subsidized."

What's next for this community:

"We still have the General Assembly in session. And so while the town has hired lobbyists, a land use planner, and has a communications plan against the threat of de-annexation, what we don't know is whether an existing bill filed in the General Assembly could be amended to include the de-annexation of Summerfield. As of now, residents are wondering what David Couch could propose next."


300x250 Ad

300x250 Ad

Support quality journalism, like the story above, with your gift right now.