Interjurisdictional cooperation could be put to the test by the proposal for an apartment complex that would straddle the Graham-Burlington city limits along East Webb Avenue(Burlington)/West Elm Street (Graham).
Graham’s planning board got a first crack at consideration of the four-story, 48-unit complex that will be targeted to low-income seniors, using special funding from the state to encourage such projects. The building will have an elevator, developer Stephen Brock told the planning board.
The actual apartment building is to be located on a 1.52-acre tract of land that is entirely within Graham. But much of the parking lot, a detention pond, and other wooded natural and buffer areas would be located within Burlington’s jurisdiction on the remaining 3 acres of the 4.5 acre site.
Further complicating matters is that sewer will be provided by Graham while water will be provided by Burlington.
Most of the planning board’s discussion Tuesday night focused on concerns over whether the 48 parking spaces provided for 48 apartment units in the project entitled “Whitford Cove” was adequate, with five planning board members present for the discussion unanimous in their skepticism.
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Discussion revealed that there was no allowance for multiple car ownership by tenants, as well as no accommodation for either guests or staff.
The developer had used a special provision of Graham’s ordinance that allows for one space per apartment unit when the tenants are seniors.
Graham’s normal requirement for parking is 1.5 spaces per apartment, or 72 for a 48-unit complex. (There are 16 one bedroom units proposed, 32 with two bedrooms, but Graham’s parking requirement is the same for one- and two-bedroom apartments.)
Planning board member John Wooten who said he often works with the target demographic of people between 55 to 70, expressed skepticism about the 48 parking spaces. “I don’t know anyone in [that demographic] who has only one car,” Wooten said.
Board member Tony Bailey also noted that residents would be able to get in shape from the fairly long distance they’ll have to walk from some of the outlying parking areas to the building; the developer estimated that the farthest distance for parking was about 250 feet.
In fact, Brock revealed that in discussions with Burlington, that city’s planning staff is requesting both a sidewalk along Webb Avenue, as well as a sidewalk from the parking lot to the building – although it was unclear whether they could require it, since such a sidewalk would extend beyond their municipal jurisdiction.
Brock said both jurisdictions are also working on issues such as who would respond to fire calls or provide other emergency services.
At various points, developer Stephen Brock responded to the board’s collective skepticism with offers to expand the parking by “8 to 10,” or “10 to 12” parking spaces, probably by relocating a gazebo currently slated for a grassy area in the middle of the parking area in front of the complex, which he suggested his architect had volunteered could probably be achieved.
But planning board members still questioned whether that was enough. Even a dozen additional spaces “is not nearly enough,” Wooten said.
Ultimately, board chairman Dean Ward drew the discussion to a close by summarizing that the complex “needs more than what’s shown (48 spaces).” He suggested that about 18 additional spaces, for a total of 66, which he was willing to achieve by authorizing the city to ease some of its landscaping requirements.
Everyone conceded that the “usable” portion of the lot made everything quite tight. A stream runs through the left side of the property (mostly on the Burlington side of the property).
Asked by planning board member Michael Benesch if the developer could possibly reduce the number of apartments, Brock was swift to respond, “I can’t do less.”
Questions also arose about the back of the property and whether a security fence should be erected where none had been planned by the developer.
Ultimately, a six-foot-high opaque fence was recommended for the back lot line, as well as the sides of the property beside the actual building.
Whether to require fencing around a detention pond was left to the developer’s discretion especially inasmuch as several planning board members alluded to the fact that the apartment’s insurer would almost certainly require some fencing.
Planning board members generally praised the idea of additional housing targeted for seniors. “I like the concept of senior apartments in this area,” Wooten said. “They’re very much needed.”
The apartment building will be constructed using brick and Hardie-plank siding, according to Brock.
With Brock signaling from the audience that he felt he could find 18 additional parking spaces by the time the plans are presented to the city council, probably next month, the planning board attached that condition – as well as the requirement for the six-foot-tall opaque fence – before voting unanimously, 5-0, for the rezoning request.
Board members Ward, Wooten, Benesch, Eric Crissman, and Tony Bailey voted in favor. Absent were Jerome Bias and Chad Huffine.
Meanwhile, Burlington’s planning director Jamie Lawson told The Alamance News Wednesday that the Whitford Cove project has not been formally submitted to Burlington’s planning department. Burlington city staff’s comments to the developer based on preliminary discussions, such as about sidewalks, were non-binding at this point, she said.