Graham’s city council struggled for over three hours Tuesday night, hearing the pros and cons of a developer’s proposal for 72 “twin homes” and neighbors’ vigorous opposition to allowing the subdivision in an area that’s both primarily single-family homes and where traffic (both congestion and back-ups) is already a major concern.
The council ultimately agreed to the new plan, though they trimmed the number of units from 72 to 70 (35 pairs) and added a number of stipulations or conditions – some of which the developer volunteered, others which he appeared to accept under some duress in hopes of getting final city approval for his project.
Developer Will Yearns had repackaged his proposal after the city council unanimously turned down the first iteration in April. Originally, he sought 69, two-story townhouses on the front half of a narrow 14-acre parcel off Hanford Road on the western edge of Graham.
PROJECT: NOW AND PREVIOUSLY
The planning board had cut that number to 61, which the city council still found to be too crowded in the layout presented.
City council members were unanimous in the spring in saying the project was too dense for the area, even making suggestions about how he could revise the proposal to make it more palatable – particularly spreading out the homes over the entire acreage instead of front-loading it, and to consider one-level homes (since some neighbors objected to the new townhouses “looking down” into their existing homes in the adjacent Canterbury subdivision).
[Story continues below examples of the styles the developer proposes to build in pairs at Hanford Landing.]
The developer’s new plans accommodated many of the council’s earlier objections, but they did little to ease the opposition from about a dozen neighbors, both those in the adjacent single-family subdivision and others who live along Hanford or Monroe Holt roads that intersect nearby.
Greensboro attorney Amanda Hodierne did most of the talking for the developer’s project, repeatedly pointing to the changes that had been made from the earlier version.
But there were several points on which nearby neighbors were generally united and very outspoken: they did not like the connection to Nina Drive through their neighborhood that the city had required the developer to include.
The city generally requires subdivisions to provide “stub-out” roads that will ultimately connect when undeveloped properties next door are ultimately built out with their own residential projects.
But while the city required the particular connection to Nina Drive, to be consistent with its “connectivity” ordinance, neighbors objected. Some feared speed demons, as well as additional traffic generally that they said would take a “short-cut,” into the new subdivision, especially to the mail kiosk that would be located along the portion of the cut-through street in the new subdivision.
Another objection, one taken up consistently by several speakers and later by council member Bonnie Whitaker, was that the new homes – variously termed “twin homes,” “patio homes,” or “duplexes” – were not consistent with the otherwise single-family nature of surrounding and nearby development.
Mayor Jennifer Talley expressed dismay to learn that one street feature she preferred – wider streets, 31 feet, rather than 27 feet, as proposed – had also been changed, i.e., narrowed, to accommodate the objection of city officials who preferred the narrower roadway.
Much of the discussion focused on whether city vehicles – particularly trash trucks and fire trucks – could get through to a cul-de-sac at the back of the subdivision if cars were parked on the street along the way.
Also discussed was the rationale for the current requirement for a “second entrance,” in this case along Nina Drive. Fire chief Tommy Cole said that pending changes in the state’s fire code would exempt subdivisions with fewer than 100 homes, which sparked hope among residents that the council might preemptively do away with the second entrance requirement.
But while the council was sometimes focused on fine details about the proposed subdivision, neighbors were uniformly opposed, even when they acknowledged improvements over the earlier plans.
AMONG THE NEIGHBORS OPPOSING THE PROJECT:
Robert “Greg” Sanders, 1225 Hanford Road, acknowledged that the “aethestics of the new drawings are better than what they proposed first,” but added there were “still too many” homes in the proposed development.
Clint Albright who lives in the Canterbury neighborhood next to the proposed subdivision returned to the idea that Hanford Landing residents could “come through Canterbury to get to the mail kiosk.”
Richard Pearl, 605 Monroe Holt Road, said the subdivision represented the latest example of Graham “growing too fast,” pointing to too much traffic along his road. Pearl drew smiles from council members and the audience when he invited council members to “come sit at his home” between 2:30 to 5:00 to watch the traffic back up; “I’ll supply the iced tea,” he said.
Damian Miszuk, 500 Nina Drive, expressed concerned about the fundamental concept of allowing a multi-family subdivision next to a single-family one. Miszuk expressed concerns that the new subdivision’s mail kiosk “will be out his front door.”
Candy Plumley, who lives on Monroe Holt Road near its intersection with Hanford, reiterated the point that the new twin-home subdivision “doesn’t blend” into the single-family style of adjacent and nearby neighborhoods. She also expressed frustrations that the developer would not specify the size of the new homes, saying explanations had varied from 1,600 to 2,500 square feet.
Janice Murray, 1241 Hanford Road, expressed concerns about the potential lighting in the new development. Explaining that she lives right across from the entrance to the proposed subdivision, she said she “doesn’t want light shining in her home.”
Crystal Drury and Brittany Hoffman, who both live along Monroe Holt Road, said traffic was their biggest concern, although Hoffman also lamented the loss of deer and other wildlife whose habitat is being disturbed by both this development and an even larger one just around the corner and across the municipal line in Burlington.
Mike Hook, 1202 Hanford Road, said he and others would welcome single-family homes, but objected to the patio-style homes.
In response to the fusillade of negative reactions, Hodierne offered several accommodations, intended to win over the council and assuage the neighbors.
On behalf of the developer, she said he would be willing to allow a 20-foot buffer around the development where the new twin homes would abut existing houses.
She agreed to the mayor’s call for 31-foot wide streets, and she said they would “flip” the kiosk to the other side of the entrance road, thus away from the Nina Drive neighbors who felt it would attract short-cut drivers through their subdivision.
In response to calls to ensure that the houses would only be one story, she offered to define the maximum height as 35 feet, not wanting to get into quibbling in the future over whether certain house plans had partial floors or split-levels.
Hodierne also said the developer certainly would agree to eliminate the Nina Drive connection, which she had repeatedly emphasized was only added to comply with what city officials said was Graham’s connectivity requirement.
City councilman Bobby Chin, who had made several of the April suggestions to the developer, said he found the new layout “appealing,” and particularly approved of spreading the homes over the entire 14 acres instead of just the front portion of the lot.
But council member Bonnie Whitaker, while conceding that the new plan was an improvement over the earlier one, did not believe the council should approve the twin homes next to a single-family residential area, saying is “doesn’t fit in.”
Councilman Ricky Hall said the plan represented a “really nice subdivision,” especially compared to what the developer could build without seeking city approval of its specific, or conditional, requests.
The current zoning would allow 54 homes, it was noted, which could be two stories high, a feature to which neighbors had objected back in April.
Hall did suggest that the council add a proviso that there be no on-street parking in the cul-de-sac.
Councilman Joey Parsons downplayed the impact of traffic, speculating that it appeared to him the twin homes would “cater to the aging population,” who would drive less frequently than working couples.
Ultimately, it was Talley who cobbled together a package of stipulations. She originally wanted to cut the number of twin homes from 72 to 66, but ultimately compromised with the developer’s request to allow 70.
She added in the landscape buffering, the 31-foot-wide street, no parking on the cul-de-sac, putting the mail kiosk on the far side away from Nina Drive, and agreeing to have the developer build the paved connection, but establish a “control gate” or other method to ensure that there would be no “open connection” along Nina Drive except when needed for emergencies, as determined by the city.
With those stipulations, the council passed the rezoning 3-2, with Talley, Chin, and Parsons in favor. Hall and Whitaker were opposed. Hall said he strongly disagreed with cutting off the access to Nina Drive, predicting that it will set an unfortunate precedent in which other developers will also want to have isolated subdivisions.
In an interview afterwards, Whitaker reiterated her view that the twin homes were simply not compatible with other single-family residential areas in that part of the city.