Molly McConnell is one of the longest-tenured residents of Glen Lennox, having first lived there in the 1970s. She moved back in 2002, and has been a loyal tenant ever since.
The former special education teacher and child advocate said she was “shaking in my boots” when talk of redevelopment began about 15 years ago, fearing she would be evicted from the home and neighborhood she loves.
She had never heard of Grubb Properties, which was based in Charlotte but had a long history of interest in Glen Lennox since founder Robert Lay Grubb once lived there. His son, Clay Grubb, was spearheading the project since his company purchased the entire property in the 1980s.
“I remember calling up one of his vice presidents and saying, ‘what the hell are you all doing?’” Molly said, laughing. “You know about it, and why don’t we know about it?”
Her story speaks for itself — and for many residents.
A self-proclaimed activist, McConnell got involved in a project she coined SAVE GLEN LENNOX – and even had t-shirts made.
“So the first time I ever spoke to the town council was in the spring of 2008 and I said, ‘You just can’t take this place down and displace all these folks.’
“My brother was a developer, but I’ve never seen anything like Clay Grubb in the field of development. He listened to his tenants and not only that was his humility. He went to the town council in the summer of 2008 and stood up there and said, ‘I’m withdrawing these plans. I made a mistake, I’m sorry. And he sat down and he started all over again.’
“We didn’t know Clay Grubb, we didn’t know he was going to be a decent person We didn’t know whether the tenant-landlord laws really protect the landlord. They don’t really protect much for the tenants. We ended up having this town wide community forum that was moderated by the dispute settlement center in February of 2009.
“And a group of people had been asked to come forward to help them plan that afternoon. And, so that’s where I first really met Clay. At that meeting, I was asked to speak and I said, Mr. Grubb, you need to meet with your tenants at least once a month. You need to come hear us. Well, he said, ‘Let’s start today’ and beginning that afternoon in the business office, he came every month on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings. He came for the next year and a half. And whoever showed up, every single tenant was invited to those meetings. And then they would type up the minutes.
“And a different tenant would take the minutes and then our property manager (Vanessa Blackwood-Spinks) would type them up and they would hand them back out to the tenants. It would be on our door.
“And I mean there might be 12 ladies sitting in there and we ranged in age. There was a pregnant graduate student who was the youngest and we had a 93-year-old woman and sometimes an occasional husband would be there. But Clay came every week for a year and a half. Every month from Charlotte and whether eight of us showed up or 35. And he listened. He never told us what he was going to do. He listened to people complain about garbage cans, dog poop, the washing machine room.
“I just was just amazed. He and Todd Williams, one of his vice presidents, would come and sometimes Rodney Alston who’s the chief of maintenance would come. Rachel Russell was a tenant at that point while she was in graduate school and then they hired her as an intern. Clay would bring us squash from his aunt’s garden and said, ‘what would you all like to have?’
“And people talked about, why don’t we have a coffee shop or we’d like to have an ice cream parlor. But he just listened and he wasn’t saying, this is my project and I want it done this way and you all are going to have to, you know, blah, blah, blah.
“And then he wanted to sit on the neighborhood conservation district development committee. I mean, you know how many developers are going to do that? And he flew in designers from Pittsburgh who came and drew up designs for a bike path, and this lasted for two years. For the first year, it was not about what he was going to do. It was about the homeowners trying to rezone themselves and not have these tall buildings up around them.”
McConnell, 72, says the tenants trust Grubb to do the best he can to preserve the past while rebuilding for the future.
“We had these 11 guiding principles that couldn’t actually go into the zoning, but they said things like what we valued. One of the things we valued were trees.
“I don’t agree with everything. But I’m just saying he’s been respectful and the people that he has kept on the staff, like Vanessa who has been there 30 years. Mark Clark, our landscaper, Rodney Alston. I would leave my grandchildren with him if I had any. He came up there one night at eight o’clock on Christmas Eve because my hot water spigot was broken. They are very attentive. I’ve lived in rental housing all over Chapel Hill and trust me, you don’t get this from the maintenance, you don’t get this kind of treatment.”