Linda Snow said she remembers when she would visit her grandparents’ home during the summer on West Garner Road. She and her friends and cousins would run through the yards of the beautiful homes that surrounded the area.
North Garner during that time, she said, was the place everybody wanted to be. The most beautiful part of the town.
Now 67, Snow has lived in her grandparents’ home for the past 25 years and says she hasn’t seen any improvement. She references the lack of new homes, grocery stores and the boarded up homes.
“If anything, it’s gotten worse,” Snow said. “Maybe we live on the wrong side of the train tracks.”
At recent planning commission meetings and a town council meeting last year, she referred to her side of town as the “forgetten part of Garner.”
Hopper Communities is applying for a permit to build a subdivision at the corner of West Garner and Vandora Springs Road. The project’s developer is hoping to build 41 homes on the property. But it has been met with some resistance from nearby neighbors, who want to make sure they have a say before it is built. The neighbors say they are not opposed to growth. However, they are afraid a new subdivision could affect the wildlife in the area and could cause more traffic.
On the other hand, Snow has been an advocate for the subdivison. She said she would like to see Garner grow more. But each time a proposal from Hopper has gone to the planning commission, it has been sent back.
“White Oak is great,” she said. “It’s all commercial. But this side, this whole corridor, when I used to come as a child, the little cottages were adorable. They’re just not kept up anymore. This whole area has not been kept up.”
Past efforts fell short
In recent years, Garner has been trying to combat that. Prior to 2004, residents had been saying the same. Garner came up with a North Garner plan in 2004 for the next 10 to 15 years to address their concerns. According to the town’s definition, North Garner encompasses everything in Garner north of the U.S. 70 Highway.
Back then some of the negatives of the area included:
▪ North Garner household income levels below poverty were 8.5 percent, compared to 6.8 percent townwide.
▪ The North Garner vacancy rate was the highest in the town
▪ Garner was retaining a higher proportion of rental housing
▪ There were rental properties in North Garner in need of maintenance
▪ North Garner lacked adequate sidewalks
The 2004 plan was intended to guide the development and redevelopment of North Garner for the future. Some of the components included a new transit station in downtown, improvements to roads, new sidewalks, the connection of parks to neighborhoods, and building new roads to connect the east to the west.
Through the North Garner Plan, the town also created a plan for Historic Downtown.
“We’ve accomplished a lot of the goals of those plans,” said Assistant Town Manager John Hodges, “so we will roll those plans into the comprehensive growth plan. Over the last few years, we have been making a lot of substantial investments in North Garner.”
“Whether developers have forgotten about North Garner, I can’t say.”
Investing in the north
In 2013, voters passed a $35.7 million bond referendum. Part of the bond will address revitalizing the historic downtown and other parts of North Garner. Some revitalization efforts include new sidewalks along Main Street and Benson Road and a new recreation center near downtown, that town staff says should spur more growth.
Reggie Buie, the neighborhood improvement director for the town, said the staff has targeted certain areas in North Garner as well as areas south of U.S. 70 for code enforcement, making sure yards are kept up.
He said neighbors can call when they see a residence not being kept up.
“When its quiet, more or less, we may choose a place,” Buie said. “We try to move around town and hit every area. We’ll go to an area for a couple of months and go to another.”
The town bought some of the vacant properties downtown to build the recreation center. They hope it will be built within the next couple of years.
What Snow says is true, in many respects, town council members say. North Garner was, at one point, the most popular spot in Garner. West Garner Road was the main throughfare.
But in the ’70s, U.S. 70 was built. It was good and bad for the town. It runs parallel to West Garner Road. U.S. 70 was quicker, and there was almost no need for drivers to drive down West Garner Road unless they lived that way.
“While that was a wonderful thing, it killed this part of town,” council member Kathy Behringer, who lives in the North Garner area, said. “And for a long time, people just let it happen. All the development was now focused on the south side of 70.”
Everyone wanted to be near the new, and that’s where the town at the time put its focus.
The north side of Garner in many ways had been neglected. She said when she moved there 22 years ago, Main Street was all but deserted.
“A lot of the storefronts were empty and didn’t look good,” Behringer said. “People behind Main Street were doing illegal things.”
A few residents who lived in downtown and cared about their community decided to do something about, Behringer said. It was spearheaded by Pam Cash. They formed a group called “Friends of Historic Garner. ”
Then the Garner Revitalization Association was started.
“We got out there and said we don’t have to live with this mess anymore,” Behringer said. “We let landlords know how we felt.”
And things have slowly picked back up since then. The Garner Senior Center was built and the Garner Performing Arts Center became one of the town’s focal points.
Behringer said although she doesn’t agree with the notion that North Garner is currently the forgotten part of town, she does agree that the new subdivision would be a positive for the area.
“Do we have everything we want? No, we don’t,” she said. “But we do everything we can as we can.”
Hopper Community’s proposal will go back to the planning commission in April. The neighbors are expected to meet with the developer to address their concerns.
Snow said despite how her neighbors may feel, she’ll continue to support the future subdivision that will be in her backyard. She said she just wants the area she lives in to prosper again.
“I’m for Garner,” Snow said. “(Growth) is going to happen. Why not have a lovely development that connects to us?”