Desmond Bell is wasting no time in rehabilitating a once-thriving African American community between Kenton Street and Greenwood Alley in Bowling Green.
Now that the 1.3686-acre parcel has been approved for a rezoning by the Bowling Green City Commission, Bell is moving forward with his plan to transform the property that had fallen into disrepair and was nearly turned into a business district last year.
Bell’s Bell Vue Properties LLC was successful in getting the property rezoned from two-family residential and general business to planned unit development. Now his plan to develop the property into a 22-unit residential area that includes apartments and houses is taking shape.
“This has been about a six-month process,” Bell said. “I’ll be glad to get started. We’ll start right after Christmas.”
The development plan encompasses these addresses: 1023, 1027, 1031 and 1033 Greenwood Alley and 1024, 1028, 1032, 1036 and 1038 Kenton St.
Bell said his plan is to rehabilitate seven existing houses on the property, demolish one and rebuild it, construct one new house and build 13 total apartments.
The neighborhood for decades was a tight-knit African American community, but the houses had deteriorated over the years.
Chris Robertson of CSR BG Investments applied in September 2019 to rezone the property from residential to general business and planned to develop two contractor garages and office space on the property.
That plan won unanimous approval from the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County, but it was opposed by current and former residents in the area and was voted down 3-2 by the city commission on first reading before garnering a 2-1 majority in favor on second and final reading Nov. 19, 2019.
Two commissioners who voted against the rezoning on first reading were not able to vote on the binding resolution.
That approval by the city commission prompted an appeal to Warren Circuit Court that was initiated by longtime Kenton Street resident Felecia Bland.
That appeal has since been dismissed, with Bell stepping in to purchase the original 1.114 acres from Robertson plus the house at 1038 Kenton St. that Bell has already renovated and rented out.
Bland believes Bell’s plan is the right medicine for the ailing neighborhood.
“We’re ecstatic,” Bland said. “We wanted to see it stay as a neighborhood and provide affordable housing. We were definitely opposed to it (the general business rezoning), and that’s why we brought the appeal.
“When Bell came with his plan, we saw the potential. He’s going to breathe life back into that neighborhood.”
Bell has already started work on a project he’s calling Bell Vue Heights. He is renovating the existing houses – each of which is about 1,500 square feet – and will then move on to building the two new houses, seven three-bedroom apartments and six two-bedroom apartments.
“We’ll work on renovating two houses at a time,” Bell said, “then we will start looking at renting those out. Some will need major work and some less.”
All 22 housing units will be rentals, Bell said, with monthly payments ranging from $700 to $900.
He’s anxious to rehabilitate a neighborhood that has a rich history, with most of the houses dating back to the early- or mid-20th century.
“I’ve known about that neighborhood, but I didn’t know a lot of the history until I spoke to some of the residents,” said Bell, who said Hancock Bank stepped up with the necessary financing. “I’m excited about the project. I want to clean up that area.”