Morrisville tackles land-use planning

aramos@newsobserver.comMarch 23, 2014 

— In an effort to spur more residential developments and mixed uses of residential and retail space, Morrisville leaders are rethinking the way swaths of land throughout town should be used.

The town is in the process of updating its zoning map that designates which areas are for housing or industrial or commercial growth. Such maps shape the way towns grow.

In some cases, property currently slated for industry could be set aside for new homes. Others could become “activity centers,” which would be anchored by neighborhoods and businesses with a focus on regional transportation and public transit.

The activity centers aim to create a blend of housing, retail, offices and services in a denser-than-usual setting.

Proposed changes have caught the attention of some Morrisville residents. The town received more than 70 written comments and 20 phone calls to its Unified Development Code hotline as of March 5.

Respondents’ concerns ranged from traffic to a historic Civil War battle site.

The town is considering rezoning 18 acres at Morrisville-Carpenter Road near Savannah Drive from agriculture to “very low density” residential. The area saw one of the last skirmishes of the Civil War.

Some residents and history buffs have said they worry the zoning change would spur development on the site and erase a piece of history.

“I am distraught at the idea of development of this property,” resident Rebecca Crandall wrote to the town. “First and foremost it would be a great loss of history not only for the area but also for the country. ... Preservation of the land could potentially be a great draw for tourists to visit Morrisville.”

The property was originally part of the Town Center District, which town leaders hope will become a downtown hub, but was left out when Morrisville decided not to build a Civil War park.

The change in designation would allow a maximum of one home per acre, said Planning Director Ben Hitchings.

Morrisville is no longer a farming town, Hitchings said, so town leaders no longer want to designate areas for agriculture.

A push for more residential

Morrisville is wedged between Durham and Cary, with no room to expand. Land is at a premium, and town leaders want more single-family homes.

The town has a home ownership rate of 48.8 percent, according to U.S. Census data. That is lower than the statewide rate of 67.1 percent.

Cary has a rate of 70.9 percent, while Apex has a rate of 75. 2 percent.

Some property owners aren’t thrilled with the idea of a lot more homes in Morrisville. The proposed zoning map would push for more residential developments in some areas that already see a lot of traffic.

Tommy Moorman hopes to sell about 15 acres on Slater Road for office or industrial use. He wrote to the town and expressed concern that the area might be rezoned for medium-density residential.

The property is near Interstate 40 and N.C. 540, so it wouldn’t make sense to build homes there because of noise from traffic, Moorman wrote.

Developer Roy Mashburn wrote to the town that he was worried about the proposed rezoning of land next to his property at the intersection of N.C. 54 and Cary Parkway from agricultural to low-density residential.

“The intersection of N.C. 54 and Cary Parkway is one of the largest concentrations of commercial uses in the entire town of Morrisville thus ... designating low density single family adjacent to a regional activity (center) in my opinion is not a logical planning strategy,” Mashburn wrote.

Next steps

Morrisville’s planners are working with property owners who express concerns.

The planning board will host another open house April 10 and will then issue its recommendations to the Morrisville Town Council.

The council will also host a public hearing, and the final zoning map will come up for a vote in June.

Overall, the town is on the right track, said developer Ed White, who is responsible for Town Hall Commons, a residential and soon-to-be retail community.

“I support what the town is doing,” White said. “It’s going to make it much clearer. It makes it much more predictable and easier to do things. As a developer, an investor, you want predictability. You can’t control the market, but it helps to know what the town’s long-term plans are.”

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

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