Four adjacent houses on North Person Street have been vacant for years, and they look it. There are holes in the sides, shingles are sliding off the roofs, and paint chips off the walls.
The owner of the houses, the State of North Carolina, has found buyers willing take them on and fix them up. But, after months of negotiations, the sales have yet to go through.
The snag: A dispute between the state and DHIC, an affordable housing developer, over how to provide parking for the apartments for senior citizens in the adjacent Murphey School building. DHIC gave up part of its parking lot years ago to make room for the houses when they were relocated there, but still controls part of the house lots.
Now, neighbors are worried that if a deal isn’t executed soon, the houses will decay so much that they won’t be salvageable, or that their buyers will lose interest. Matthew Brown, who bought the adjacent Lamar House on North Person Street last year, recently wrote a letter to the Raleigh City Council urging it to help resolve the matter.
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“Compared to other cities of our size, we have a very small stock of historic architecture,” Brown wrote in a letter also signed by 20 other nearby residents. Having the deal fall apart “would be a disaster and embarrassment for the City,” he wrote.
The state has offers to buy the houses at 407, 411, 415 and 419 North Person Street for a combined $1,161,700, according to Tim Walton, director of the state’s property office.
City Council members, responding to Brown’s letter, have instructed city staff to help with negotiations and report back with potential options. DHIC subleases the property from the city, which has a 40-year lease from the state dating back to 1989. That was when the city gained control of the Murphey School property with the intent of having it turned into affordable housing.
“We have a lease that’s of great value to us in support of not only senior affordable housing but the potential for rehabilitating historic properties,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said.
“It seems like there’s an opportunity for us to broker a solution,” he added. “I’m hoping staff can come up with some creative options for resolution and put that in their report.”
The situation is complicated not only from a legal standpoint but from a logistical one, said Ken Bowers, Raleigh’s planning director.
The four Person Street houses were built elsewhere but were moved to their current location beside the Murphey School Apartments at the corner of Person and Polk streets. The former school building, on the edge of the Oakwood Historic District, is also home to the Burning Coal Theatre Company.
As part of the move, DHIC gave up part of the parking lot behind Murphey School under the condition that someone would someday pay for another parking lot. The current parking lot is eroding and doesn’t meet the needs of the people living in the 48 Murphey apartments, said Gregg Warren, president of DHIC.
“What we’re trying to do with the city, state and respective purchasers is come up with an arrangement that meets their needs as well as ours,” Warren said.
Not only are the houses a part of Raleigh’s past, but the old Murphey School building is, too. Built more than a century ago, Murphey became, in 1960, the first white Raleigh city school to enroll a black student. The school was closed more than 40 years ago, initially converted into state offices, and then became senior housing.
Contrary to rumors, Bowers said, the delay is more about the design of the parking lot rather than its cost.
There’s limited space between the historic homes and the apartments. The city offered four potential solutions, Bowers wrote. But none of the proposals gained acceptance from each of the three other parties – the state, the potential buyers and DHIC.
There is, however, reason for hope. DHIC recently suggested a new parking concept that has been tentatively accepted by each party, Bowers wrote in a Jan. 20 city memo. Walton, the state’s representative, confirmed that a deal is “very close.”
Once stakeholders agree on the specifics of the parking design, Bowers said the remaining steps should move quickly.
“These include a survey of the property, creating a new recombination plat, drafting a lease amendment with amended boundary, and obtaining approval for the lease amendment from the Council of State,” he wrote.
“Once the amended lease has been approved, the properties should be able to close, with the physical construction to follow later,” he concluded.
Bruce Miller, an Oakwood resident who gives tours of its historic cemetery, said he hopes the process happens sooner than later.
“The houses are deteriorating as we speak,” Miller said. “I just hope those people will still be willing to step in if these negotiations go on for months and months as the houses continue to deteriorate.”