City attorney shoots down RDC plan for Jones St. rental housing; New Bern business owner makes new bid

The future of two vacant Jones Street lots remains unclear, with both a New Bern business owner and the city's redevelopment commission submitting plans to bring new housing to the area.
The future of two vacant Jones Street lots remains unclear, with both a New Bern business owner and the city’s redevelopment commission submitting plans to bring new housing to the area. Credit: Todd Wetherington.

After being rejected in his first attempt, a New Bern business owner has made a second bid for property the New Bern Redevelopment Commission previously earmarked for affordable housing rentals units. The offer comes after the commission was notified that they do not have the authority to rent property on a long-term basis.

Pete Frey, owner of Brewery 99, appeared before the redevelopment commission on March 8 to present a plan for the properties at 203 and 207 Jones St. that were purchased by the RDC in July 2021 for $38,000.

Frey placed an initial bid of $15,000 on the two lots last November for construction of a single-family home within the next two years to be used as his primary residence. Based on a recommendation from the RDS’s Housing Workgroup subcommittee, Frey’s bid was voted down during their December 2022 meeting, with the explanation that the RDC was considering the property as a site for affordable housing rental units.

At that meeting, subcommittee member Beth Walker said the RDC had received a verbal commitment from an unnamed investor to fund the construction of three rental houses on the property. She said accepting Frey’s bid would mean the RDC would realize a net loss of about $48,000 on their investment in the property, including the cost for demolition of an existing structure.

“We do not believe that it (Frey’s bid) will provide the highest and best use of the land being that it would be a single home as a residence versus the three homes that we are planning to put there,” she commented.

Another subcommittee member, Steve Strickland, said he fully expected the offer being discussed with the investment group would allow the project to break ground “in a matter of a couple of months.”

RDC Vice Chairman Kip Peregoy said he felt 95% sure that the financial backing was going to “come into play and be real” and that a plan would be in place by January.

At the New Bern Board of Aldermen’s Jan. 10 meeting, Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Aster said plans for the project had been shared with a general contractor, who came back with a price tag of approximately $500,000. Aster asked that the board provide around $75,000 in seed money to get it off the ground. The board unanimously approved a motion to bring the budget amendment back before the board on a future agenda.

However, at the RDC’s March 8 meeting, Assistant City Attorney Jaimee Bullock-Mosley explained that, according to her consultation with the UNC School of Government, the commission can only lease property on a temporary basis to a person or persons who have been displaced due to one of the RDC’s ongoing rehabilitation projects.

“So, you have the ability in a very, very narrow context,” she told the commission.

The information effectively prohibits the RDC from following through with their plans to build rental housing on the Jones St. property.

During the March 8 meeting, Frey appeared with George Tosato, an agent with Keller Williams, and presented the board with a new, updated plan for the property. Frey said he had put in a new bid of $14,415 for the two lots and was seeking permission to build both a single-family home as his residence and a second home to be used as a residential tenant property.

Additionally, Frey pledged to donate the approximately $10,000 of projected annual revenue from the rental to the Stanley White Recreation Center for local recreation programming.

Frey said he wanted to build a home in the neighborhood where he has lived for the last decade because it is close to his business on Pollock St.

“I really love this neighborhood. I moved my business there. I use that (Leander Morgan) park almost every day and I want to be close to my business,” he said. “That’s why this property means so much to me.”

Frey said his new plan would hopefully entice investors and residents to purchase property from the RDC and build more homes in the area.

“You have over 150 other properties where you could build those (rental) homes,” Frey told the commission. “If you did what you want to do on different properties, and I did what I wanted to do on those properties it would be a win-win for everybody.”

New Bern Ward 1 Alderman Rick Prill, an ex-officio member of the RDC who has been critical of the commission’s rental plan, asked if the commission was working on a different concept for the Jones St. lots. He said he was surprised there had not been any discussion on the part of the commission as to their plans moving forward.

Peregoy said the RDC was now working on a plan to develop homes for sale on the Jones St. property as opposed to rental housing and had completed survey work on the site. He said the change of direction meant a new budget would have to be developed for the work.

Peregoy said he expected a presentation on the new plan would be made at the next RDC meeting on April 12 at 6 p.m. in the city hall courtroom.

By Todd Wetherington, co-editor. Send an email with questions or comments.