Published: Jan 01, 2013 06:00 PM
Modified: Jan 01, 2013 05:58 PM
APEX - Town leaders have paved the way for another mixed-use development of homes, retail stores and office space.
Westford, a 100-acre development planned for the area off U.S. 64 near Jenks Road, would include up to 550,000 square feet of commercial and office space and up to 900 residential units.
Construction of the $100 million development would likely start in late 2013 or 2014, depending on the completion of a new regional sewage treatment plant, said developer Ron Strom with Blue Heron Asset Management.
The Westford development is one of the largest projects Apex has seen in months, said Councilman Scott Lassiter.
“It’s sort of a vote of confidence for the town,” he said. “It seems people are choosing Apex to make those investments in because of the kind of the reputation we have.”
But Town Council members were split when the project came before them in December. They voted 3-2 in favor of rezoning the property for Westford to become a reality.
Councilmen Bill Jensen and Gene Schulze voted against the project.
Jensen said Westford fell short of being a true mixed-use development. Most of the space is designated as residential, and Jensen said Apex already has plenty of that. The town is about 80 percent residential, according to Wake County tax records.
“If you look at it, the (minimum) amount of commercial being built is 1 percent of the property,” Jensen said. “If we want a mixed (development) then we need to set percentages of commercial versus housing. In a decent (planned development) about 30 percent should be nonresidential.”
Jensen, who was re-elected in 2011 and ran a campaign on creating more live-work communities, did not ask the developer to include more offices or retail space. The council hasn’t been supportive of that in the past, he said.
“I didn’t bother. I’ve become a realist. I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” Jensen said. “I used to ask for higher ratios years ago, and I stopped. If you keep banging your head against the wall, it gets exhausting.”
Apex does not have any rules or regulations about residential-to-commercial ratios in mixed-use developments, but developers have voluntarily added thresholds into their plans, said Apex Planning Director Dianne Khin.
In the case of the 1,000-acre Veridea, developer Tom Hendrickson agreed that residential development will not outpace commercial development, regardless of market conditions. For example, Hendrickson can build up to 1,600 living spaces before he is required to put in retail and office space.
Schulze, meanwhile, said he voted against the project because the council had reduced the amount of conservation space at the developer’s request. No big-box stores
The plan for Westford is to build a neighborhood commercial center with a grocery store as an anchor, Strom said. No big-box stores have been included.
“How much retail, clinic, office and nonresidential can be supported at this location is still a matter that we are studying carefully,” Strom said. The opening of the Triangle Expressway through Apex could boost development, as well as extended sewer lines in the western part of town.
Blue Heron Real Estate Opportunity Fund owns the bulk of the property – 92 acres.
This is the second time a developer has made plans for the site. In 2005, a New Jersey development firm submitted a proposal to build a Walmart within 500,000 square feet of retail space.
Residents fought back, saying the development wouldn’t be a good fit for a residential area. They won.
Apex finally got a Walmart a few years later off the Apex Peakway.