Trent Court demolition efforts stalled, FEMA requests rebuild plan before work starts

New Bern's Trent Court apartment complex.
New Bern’s Trent Court apartment complex.

Efforts to rebuild on the site of the historic Trent Court apartment complex appear to have taken a step backward and “continue to be a challenge,” according to a recent update from New Bern Housing Authority Executive Director Tiffany Askew. 

Askew said a July 5 email from Gary Thatcher, environmental planning historic preservation specialist with NC FEMA, stated that the Housing Authority’s previous plan to demolish the Trent Court buildings damaged during Hurricane Florence before finalizing a plan to rebuild on the site would not be possible. 

According to Askew, Thatcher said the final plan for the Trent Court property would need to be in place before the demolition work could proceed, possibly pushing the process back months, she said. 

Askew said the email stated that since Trent Court is located in New Bern’s Historic District and listed in the National Register Of Historic Places, the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (NCHPO) will need to review the demolition and reconstruction plans to ensure that the proposed buildings “will not visibly impact the properties” within the project area.

“Which means the thought of moving forward with the demolition first and circling back to reconstruction is not going to be a possibility,” Askew told the NBHA Board of Commissioners during their July 17 meeting. “We’ll need to have reconstruction plans in full to submit before we can do that.” 

Askew noted that the New Bern Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) also requires a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition and reconstruction work to ensure that the replacement buildings will not impact adjacent properties. Additionally, the HPC requires that one of Trent Court’s existing buildings be preserved for historic purposes and that the relief sculptures found on the exterior of the buildings be saved from demolition.

“Again, I thought we were 10 steps forward but obviously we’re 20, 30 steps backwards,” Askew commented. “So we need to provide both of those plans before we can move forward with any action at Trent Court as far as demolishing any of the properties.”

Historic relief sculptures decorate the exterior of apartment buildings at New Bern’s Trent Court.

Askew said finalizing a plan and securing financing is “not something we can do in the next months or even this year.” She said as a “Plan B” she had asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development if the Housing Authority could demolish the Trent Court buildings with using their capital funds instead of relying on FEMA funding.

“They gave me a no,” Askew told the board.

Askew said she had reached out to FEMA consultant Valarie Philipp to ask for a meeting, which she hoped would occur sometime this month. NBHA Commissioner Sabrina Bengel said she had experience working with both the HPC and CHPO and would be willing to lend her time to help move the demolition process forward.

“I know what the demolition rules are. Something’s missing, there’s a piece missing here that’s holding us up to this extent and I’m just offering that I’d be willing to either sit in the meetings or try to help in some way to make some other suggestions,” Bengel commented.

Plans for the redevelopment of the Trent Court property have been ongoing since 108 of the apartment complex’s 218 units were damaged by flooding during Hurricane Florence nearly five years ago.

The NBHA is considering a proposed memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Laurel Street, a Charlotte-based firm that develops mixed-income communities for working families and seniors throughout the East Coast, to help develop a plan for the site.

During the NBHA’s April 17 meeting, Lee Cochran, senior vice president for development with Laurel Street, said the company’s housing developments serve residents who earn 30% of the area median income (AMI) up to those who can pay market value for new homes. 

New Bern Now has requested information on the status of the Laurel Street MOA as well as a copy of the document. 

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