The third time was the charm for Graham developer Jason Cox, at least as far as Graham’s planning board was concerned.
This was Cox’s third time before the planning board, which twice had recommended against his rezoning requests to expand the city’s downtown business district into the largely residential areas along North Maple and West Market streets.
The city council has followed each time with its own negative decision on the rezoning, most recently – just last week – seeking more specificity about his proposal. The original proposal last summer had envisioned a larger area (more than 3 acres), while the newer one has been less than half of that, 1.15 acres.
This time, Cox came with a residential proposal for the 1.15 acres currently occupied by four houses in varying degrees of disrepair. He also made his proposal “conditional,” i.e., one that specifies certain conditions, requirements, or stipulations that planners, planning board members, and council members often find more acceptable.
And planning board members and city council members can add, or define, in even more detail the conditions beyond those that a developer volunteers to include.
While Cox’s proposal was still short on the kinds of specifics often required for obtaining the planning board’s blessing and the city council’s approval, he had enough of an acceptable concept to win a 4-1 endorsement from the planning board at the end of a very long (5-hour) meeting.
Showing conceptual drawings, Cox outlined the possibility of 14 buildings, potentially with as many as three stories, with up to 40 dwelling units in total.
[Story continues below graphic illustration of design.]
The phrase “dwelling units,” discussion revealed, could encompass the possibility of rental units, or apartments, as well as owner-occupied units, such as townhouses or condominiums.
Parking was one concern of planning board members. Cox’s plan did not specify how many spaces would be on site. He emphasized that a public, city-owned lot is within a block (beside and behind the First Baptist Church), is very underutilized, and could provide adequate off-site parking without encroaching on street parking in front of nearby neighbors’ homes.
Much attention ended up focusing on just how high the buildings could be.
Planning board member Jerome Bias was particularly concerned with the possibility that the structures could be 45-feet tall, as Cox’s conditions provided. Bias said he was concerned that the tall structures amounted to “the Great Wall of Market Street” and did not fit harmoniously with the residential character of the neighborhood.
He urged the council to consider a 35-foot limit, with a proviso that the setback from the road has to be one foot back from the lot line for every additional foot in height – with a maximum height of 40 feet.
That proposal was ultimately put forward by planning board member Eric Crissman, but was supported only by Crissman and Bias, failing 2-3; planning board chairman Dean Ward and planning board members John Wooten and Tony Bailey opposed it, saying that they did not object to the 45-foot height.
The final approval allowed the maximum height of 45 feet, but specified that the setbacks from the property line would have to be one foot back for every one foot higher than 40 feet.
Cox had held out the possibility of some form of rooftop amenities, which intrigued several planning board members, who did not want to impede such a novel approach. “Chapel Hill comes to Graham,” as Wooten described it.
Members did accept Bias’ concept that the two buildings facing Maple Street would have to be compatible with the historic nature of other houses in the area.
That final compromise passed 4-1, with Bias opposed. The conditional residential rezoning proposal will go before the city council at its next meeting, scheduled for April 12.
WHAT WOULD BE REPLACED:
See previous coverage of various plans for this location:
City council rejects downtown business district expansion: https://alamancenews.com/graham-city-council-turns-down-open-ended-business-district-in-residential-area-revised-plan-proposes-conditional-residential-development/
Planning board recommends against downtown business district expansion, even if smaller than original: https://alamancenews.com/planning-board-recommends-against-expanding-downtown-business-district-to-maple-market-streets-residential-area/
See coverage of earlier, larger proposal in the same area from 2021:
City council forces Talley out of discussion & vote, but turns down business rezoning on 2-1 vote (August 11, 2021): https://alamancenews.com/council-majority-forces-talley-out-of-discussion-on-commercial-project-which-is-subsequently-turned-down-2-1/
Planning board prefers mixed used, rather than strictly downtown business zoning, as requested (July 22, 2021): https://alamancenews.com/planning-board-prefers-mixed-use-to-all-commercial-for-residential-neighborhood/