03/01/09 — The house Bell wants to build

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The house Bell wants to build

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 1, 2009 2:00 AM

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John Bell, left, talks with Ashebrooke Apartment resident Keith Holiday on Thursday. Bell wants to build similar apartments in Rosewood despite public opposition from its potential neighbors.

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A row of apartments is seen at Ashebrooke Apartments. The development was built by John Bell, who says the housing he wants to build in Rosewood would be similiar.

John Bell knows about the petition opposing the housing development he plans to build just off U.S. 70 behind the Second Fling Consignment Shop -- one signed by the hundreds of Rosewood residents who met to discuss the issue Feb. 17.

He knows that those same men and women have vowed to voice their discontent to Wayne County commissioners and planners at upcoming meetings.

He knows what their argument will be -- that low-income housing is unsightly, breeds crime and hurts property values in surrounding neighborhoods; that local schools, fire departments and law enforcement could not handle an influx in population.

But the developer is not backing down.

He still plans to ask the commissioners to send a letter of support to the N.C. Division of Community Assistance to help clear the way for the Community Development Block Grant money that would make Rosewood Townes a reality at their March 3 meeting.

And he remains confident that when given an opportunity to "set the record straight about all the misinformation out there," people will see his proposal differently.

Even his opposition.

Bell made his case Thursday from the Ashebrooke apartments off Randall Lane in Goldsboro -- another one of his developments, one he says is "very similar" to the one that would be constructed if the county approves his request.

"These apartments and the grounds speak for themselves," he said. "There has been a lot of misinformation."

Like the notion that low-income housing and crime go hand in hand.

"The chief of police for Goldsboro, he ran me a report of instances where the police department has had to respond out here. The number is quite low," he said. "The crime is not high. Look around. There is no basis for that kind of statement being made."

But knowing that some have "their own views about the kind of people" who live in such a place, he felt the need to defend the residents of Ashebrooke and housing developments like it.

"It's not public housing. In fact, (Ashebrooke) is probably one of the few places in Wayne County that does a criminal background check. If a person has been evicted for non-payment of rent or disturbing people ... they won't be living here," Bell said. "Does that mean that there can't be an argument or a fight or a fender-bender? Certainly not. But you will find that in any neighborhood.

"We're trying to house people who are getting started -- young families, all of those people in that group who need to pay a lower rent -- but that doesn't mean that they have to live in a place that's unsuitable," he added. "When you got out of school, you probably were not earning what you earn today. I certainly wasn't. Most of us start out in housing that is not ... nearly as nice or well-maintained."

But a potential increase in crime is not the only issue Rosewood residents have with Bell's proposal.

They also believe the development will cause an influx in population that local schools, law enforcement and the fire department won't be able to handle.

"I think it's all hogwash," Bell said. "I mean, if 36 apartments are going to overextend the fire department, we are in a lot of trouble."

And he called claims that Rosewood schools couldn't handle additional students "simply not true."

"There are 55 apartments here in Ashebrooke and there are 43 kids of school age," he said. "If 36 apartments are going to overcrowd the schools, the county has got to stop anybody from moving to that area."

Bell also talked about those who fear their property would lose value if a low-income community came to town.

"I would say there is no factual evidence that that is the case. They can talk to real estate people, they can go to other towns in North Carolina ... and they will find no information that will support that statement."

So he hopes that both commissioners and those who oppose the development will take him up on his offer of a tour of Ashebrooke Apartments.

"This is not sub-standard housing by any stretch of the imagination. So they will see that these people, just because they don't make a big income doesn't mean they aren't worthy of clean, safe housing," Bell said. "Our apartments look as good as any in Wayne County, and I would say better than 95 percent of them. And obviously, I'm biased, but the proof is in the pudding."

And when a decision is made, he hopes it will be one based "on fact, not misinformation."

"The commissioners, I hope, are going to listen to the facts, and we are going to present factual information," Bell said. "There is nothing to support (the opposition's) issues."