Burlington’s planning and zoning commission has made an about-face on a rezoning request that could bring a new gas station to a high-traffic intersection near the main entrance to the city’s largest residential development.
During an online meeting on Monday, the planning commission unanimously declined to endorse the latest iteration of this request, which seeks a limited form of light industrial zoning for some 3.16 acres at the juncture of Bonnar Bridge Parkway and Danbrook Road, near the entrance into Mackintosh on the Lake.
This particular request, like its previous incarnation, seeks a wide range of uses that are permitted in a light industrial zone. Even so, the landowner’s representatives have openly acknowledged their client ultimately intends to develop a Shell-brand gas station on the property, which is located just off the interstate interchange for University Drive.
Owned by BM Deep Water Development, a limited liability corporation affiliated with David Fletcher and Bob Rose, Jr., the site of this rezoning request may seem ideally suited for a gas station that caters to drivers along I-85/40. Yet, this area has also become something of a catch basin for traffic, especially along Bonnar Bridge Parkway, which serves as the primary entrance to Mackintosh on the Lake – the largest residential subdivision in Burlington.
“The city council has approved a lot of things out there, and to me, a traffic analysis needs to be done before the rezoning.” – Planning and zoning commission member James Kirkpatrick
The backups that already plague Bonnar Bridge Parkway were enough of a deterrent to doom the rezoning request with planning commission member James Kirkpatrick.
“The city council has approved a lot of things out there,” Kirkpatrick declared before Monday’s 7-to-0 decision against this proposal, “and to me, a traffic analysis needs to be done before the rezoning.”
A case of déjà vu
The commission’s negative verdict on Monday came as a complete break from its decision earlier this year when it considered another, more open-ended version of this same rezoning request. The commission’s members ultimately conferred their unanimous approval on the original proposal in February – only to see it withdrawn by the applicant in the face of resistance from Burlington’s city council.
Among the council’s misgivings with the landowner’s initial submission was the open-ended nature of the land uses he sought. Framed as a conventional rezoning request, that earlier proposal could’ve potentially accommodated any activity that the city permits within a light industrial district. The applicant’s latest submission pares back those possibilities significantly using the relatively new tool of “limited use” zoning, which the city’s planning department officially introduced earlier this year.
Matt Wall, a Burlington-based lawyer in the property owner’s employ, told the city’s planning commission that he hopes this new, more circumscribed request will make a better impression with Burlington’s city council than its predecessor did when it came before the council in March.
“As a result of that city council meeting, we did rework the application to limit the number of uses that would be allowed,” Wall went on to explain during Monday’s meeting. “With the conventional rezoning, there were close to a hundred possible uses that could be allowed. And we have limited that…to approximately 28.”
Salvation is in the details
The option of limited use zoning has enjoyed a fairly good track record with the council since its debut six months ago. Yet, the latest project it cleared along Bonnar Bridge Parkway was actually packaged as a “planned development” – a much more detailed regulatory instrument that requires developers to submit site plans vetted by a staff-level technical review committee.
Earlier this month, the city council extended its unanimous blessing to a planned development that a Wilmington-based firm had submitted in order to build 252 townhomes off of the same, high-traffic thoroughfare.
Key to this proposal’s success was a traffic study that demonstrated the project wouldn’t overwhelm the local road infrastructure as well as a pledge from the developer to contribute $300,000 to the eventual construction of a new, alternate entrance into Mackintosh on the Lake.
In his presentation to the city’s planning commission, Wall conceded that his client wasn’t obligated to conduct a traffic study as part of the application process for limited use zoning. Even so, the city’s planning manager Conrad Olmedo confirmed that he and his colleagues are, indeed, paying increasingly close attention to the mounting congestion along Bonnar Bridge Parkway.
“Staff are aware of traffic and transportation matters,” he assured the group, “and staff has been working hand in hand with developers to resolve the transportation concerns that have been brought up.”
A road too well traveled
Olmedo noted that the current conditions along Bonnar Bridge are all but certain to worsen due to the residential development that’s already on tap for this part of the city. In the case of Mackintosh on the Lake, the city’s planning manager stressed that the subdivision is already 83 percent of the way to its approved capacity of 1,614 single-family lots. He added, however, that construction has yet to begin on several smaller, peripheral developments that, when finished, would bring the total number of dwellings in the area to about 2,700.
The traffic from these forthcoming homes will eventually have to compete with the vehicles that already clutter this thoroughfare – a substantial number of which are generated by Highland Elementary School, which sits just up the road from the entrance to Mackintosh on the Lake. Yet, the potential addition of a gas station to this volatile mix hasn’t raised much concern for the city’s planning staff, which had endorsed the related rezoning request to the planning commission.
The commission, for its part, wasn’t nearly as nonchalant about the Shell station’s prospective development.
A number of the group’s members voiced deep concerns about the project’s potential contribution to the area’s traffic problems. One member – Lee Roane – even put a number on the vehicles that this business could bring to the intersection of Danbrook Road and Bonnar Bridge Parkway.
“A gas station with 12 pumps will serve 850 vehicles, if it’s open 24 hours,” Roane told his colleagues “That’s based on each pump serving three vehicles an hour…Most stations don’t get that much business. But that’s the potential if the station is open for 24 hours.”
“Traffic and noise – I don’t really care that much about it…My biggest concern is with the quality of water and what might happen to it with a diesel gas spill…and I’m not going to vote for anything that would allow harm to come to our primary watershed.” – Planning and zoning commission vice chairman John Black
Meanwhile, John Black, the commission’s vice chairman, shared some concerns about the ecological devastation should a gas leak from the Shell station, somehow, find its way into Lake Mackintosh. “Traffic and noise – I don’t really care that much about it,” Black confessed. “My biggest concern is with the quality of water and what might happen to it with a diesel gas spill…and I’m not going to vote for anything that would allow harm to come to our primary watershed.”
A word from the public?
The commission seemed poised to vote against the rezoning request when Olmedo reminded its members that a large number of residents from Mackintosh on the Lake were also eager to weigh in on the matter. The city’s planning manager added that over 50 people had tuned into that evening’s proceedings, which took place over the Zoom teleconferencing platform due to renovations to the city’s regular meeting chambers.
The commission’s members ultimately went back and forth over whether to allow comments from members of the general public. Black, for one, insisted that the group had no obligation to hear this input since its proceedings, unlike the city council’s, aren’t technically convened as public hearings. Others were more amenable to the idea of public feedback. Meanwhile, Jamie Lawson, the city’s planning director, invoked a general precedent to convince the commission to open the floor to the public.
“While it is not your requirement,” she told the group, “It has been your practice in the past [to hear from the public].”
In the end, the commission deigned to hear from six of the residents who had tuned in to its meeting on Monday. These speakers were, by and large, preoccupied with the gas station’s potential impact on the area’s traffic.
“There’s huge concerns with traffic. There are backups already that go past the firehouse [next to Highland Elementary] to the point that they had to put up a sign that says don’t block the firehouse.” – Ryan Spadaccini, president of Mackintosh on the Lake’s homeowner’s association
“There’s huge concerns with traffic,” insisted Ryan Spadaccini, who identified himself as the board president of Mackintosh on the Lake’s homeowner’s association. “There are backups already that go past the firehouse [next to Highland Elementary] to the point that they had to put up a sign that says don’t block the firehouse.”
“This area is already bottle necked. When you come up to the area where the [Toyota] dealership is [off of Danbrook Road], you can barely get past stop sign because of all the traffic.” – Amanda Palmer
“This area is already bottle necked,” agreed Amanda Palmer. “When you come up to the area where the [Toyota] dealership is [off of Danbrook Road], you can barely get past stop sign because of all the traffic.”
The gas station’s potential allure to interstate drivers also came under fire from Thomas Ozbolt, whose home along West Buckhill Road is located outside the bounds of the Mackintosh subdivision.
“Just to be clear, this is going to have nothing to do with serving the people of our community – in the Mackintosh area. This is going to serve people who are driving by on the highway…This is just a cash grab. They’re going to put up an ugly Shell station…and it has no business being in this location.” – Thomas Ozbolt
“Just to be clear, this is going to have nothing to do with serving the people of our community – in the Mackintosh area,” Ozbolt declared. “This is going to serve people who are driving by on the highway…This is just a cash grab. They’re going to put up an ugly Shell station…and it has no business being in this location.”
Charlie Beasley, a Mackintosh resident who recently made an unsuccessful bid for Burlington’s city council, even went so far as to suggest that the city should halt the approval of any new development along Bonnar Bridge Parkway until it completes the long-mulled new entrance into his subdivision.
‘‘I want to see this area developed,” Beasley added “But not like this – and not as a gas station – until the city has a concrete plan for a third entrance into Mackintosh on the Lake.”
With at least four more prospective speakers still in the queue, James Kirkpatrick made a motion not to recommend the rezoning request to Burlington’s city council. The planning commission went on to approve this motion for a negative recommendation by a margin of 7-to-0.