Apex wants more commercial growth on U.S. 64 corridor

aramos@newsobserver.comJanuary 24, 2014 

  • More residential development approved

    Pulte Homes plans to build 254 single-family homes on 99 acres on Green Level Church Road.

    The Apex Town Council recently approved plans for the project, called Greenmoor.

    The development is part of the White Oak basin, where a group of nine developers are helping to build a regional pump station and park.

    Residential development has spiked in Apex. The town is on track to approve about 811 residential units this year, according to estimates. That’s a big jump from 2009, when the town added about 490 residential units.

— Developers and elected officials are wrangling over the future of about 85 acres of prime real estate off of U.S. 64.

Western Wake Ventures wants to turn the property at 400 New Hill Olive Chapel Road into a small residential subdivision.

But Apex officials say a low-density housing development would be a wasted opportunity in an area primed for commercial growth.

Apex has one of the lowest commercial-to-residential ratios in Wake County. About 20 percent of the town’s development is commercial.

The Town Council has been pushing for more commercial growth. Currently, about half of Apex residents commute out of town for work.

The town’s planning staff and the resident-led planning advisory board recommended denial of the Western Wake Ventures project.

But council members decided to give the developers a chance to tweak the project. The council voted to give Western Wake Ventures a month to add more commercial acreage to the project and submit it as a planned unit development, which allows for mixed uses.

Under the current proposal, the entire project is split across two separate developments, with 15 percent set aside for commercial.

That’s not enough commercial growth for that property, said Planning Director Dianne Khin.

“Staff’s argument is that it should be non-residential of whatever type,” Khin said. “We don’t want to pass up this opportunity.”

About 5 percent of the land in Apex’s planning jurisdiction is available for high-density mixed use, while about 60 percent is available for single-family residential development, according to planning staff.

The area where Western Wake Ventures wants to build is near the future interchange of N.C. 751 and U.S. 64, making it ideal for a major commercial project, according to town staff. The Western Wake Regional Water Reclamation Facility will also be completed soon.

Costco as an example

Khin points to the recently approved Nichols Plaza, a shopping center that is slated to bring the Triangle’s third Costco store to Apex.

“The Nichols project took 20 years,” she said. “If we hadn’t waited, we wouldn’t have the economic development project we have.”

The planning board voted 6-2 to deny rezoning the land off of U.S. 64 because it was inconsistent with the town’s long-range land-use plan, called Peak Plan 2030.

Allowing the project as it was proposed would open the door for similar residential projects on that corridor, making it more difficult for any commercial project to be developed, Khin said.

“Eventually, you aren’t going to have any land left for commercial,” Khin said.

Often, Khin said, when homes are built first in a commercial corridor, residents protest non-residential projects.

‘Ink isn’t even dry’

Attorney Jason Barron, representing Western Wake Ventures, argued that a low-density subdivision was consistent with the existing rural neighborhood and would better serve the watershed area.

“The town has ample high-density opportunities in the Peak Plan,” Barron said.

“We feel like we’re being good stewards by putting low density near drinking water,” he continued. “This property could never (become) a North Hills (mixed-use development in Raleigh), but we think ultimately for environmental and practical reasons what we are proposing makes the most sense.”

Former Mayor Keith Weatherly, who resigned from his post last week to take a job with the state transportation department, said the town had an obligation to stick to its 2030 plan, which was adopted in August.

“The ink isn’t even dry on (the) 2030 plan; we spent two years carefully crafting this,” Weatherly said. “I understand the landowner. I certainly understand market-driven decisions. We have an obligation to preserve land tailor-made for commercial.”

Councilman Bill Jensen has been a staunch advocate for more mixed-use growth, especially during his successful re-election campaign. But he argued for the project to move forward.

“I am one of the ones screaming of 80/20,” Jensen said of the town’s residential-to-commercial ratio. “At the same time, the landowner has certain rights to develop this property. I don’t think it has enough commercial that it should have. (But) I think they should be able to do residential.”

Jensen argued the council was not specific enough in its definition of mixed use in the land-use plan, including the ratio of residential to commercial, and developers shouldn’t be penalized.

“We need to be more exacting on that,” Jensen said.

The Town Council is expected to discuss the definition of mixed use at its planning retreat in March.

Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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