Burlington’s city council has agreed to let a local developer erect a three-story building to house a self-storage facility and other sundry businesses at the intersection of South Church Street and Ashley Woods Drive, which originates in the town of Elon.
The council effectively cleared the way for this project on Tuesday when its members unanimously approved a rezoning request that developer Adam Parker had submitted for a 1.87-acre parcel that straddles the Alamance-Guilford county border.
Under Parker’s proposal, this now-vacant property at 4183 South Church Street would become home to a three-story edifice with a maximum area of 73,300 square feet – of which 80 to 85 percent would be reserved for self-storage.
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Before the council signed off on this project, its members held a virtual public hearing that had been postponed from its original date in September in order to allow Parker to address some misgivings that his plans had raised among neighboring residents.
These concerns were previously broached with Burlington’s planning and zoning commission, which heard from residents along Ashley Woods Drive as well as the Weybridge development on the other side of South Church Street when it reviewed Parker’s plans in July.
The commission’s members went on to give the project a unanimous endorsement despite these objections, which touched on everything from the height of Parker’s proposed building to the traffic they expect the project to generate.
“Planned development” zoning classification offers “extras”
Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, Mike Nunn, the city’s planning and transportation director, reminded the council that Parker had submitted his project as a “planned development” – a zoning classification that “requires the developer to offer improvements and site design features that go beyond” the city’s regular standards. Nunn added that, in this case, Parker has larded his plans with a whole host of extras in an attempt to win over neighbors as well as city officials.
The city’s planning and transportation director went on to enumerate the developer’s self-imposed conditions, which include the aforementioned limit on his building’s square footage.
“This square footage restriction,” he added, “limits the traffic impact of the site compared to something you would see in a traditionally-zoned commercial or office use.”
Nunn noted that the developer plans to install sidewalks along Church Street and Ashley Woods Drive and has promised to ring the entire site in landscaped buffers. He said that Parker has also restricted the site’s access points to a right-in only entrance along Church Street and a full, unhampered entrance off of Ashley Woods Drive.
In the meantime, he has reserved space on the property for the city to erect a “gateway sign or any other public improvement.”
Nunn pointed out that the concerns which neighbors have raised about traffic have prompted Parker to contact the state’s transportation department about the prospect of a traffic light at Church Street’s juncture with Ashley Woods Drive. He added that the transportation department received traffic data from both the developer and the city.
“They reviewed that data,” he conceded, “and determined that at this time there would not be a traffic signal warranted.”
“We have spent a lot of time and a lot of effort, really trying to enhance that part of Burlington, entering into the city and into the county. We went into this not light hearted[ly]…My personal office will be in that building. We feel it will bring some tax revenue into the city while really improving that corner lot.”
– Developer Adam Parker
The council also heard from Parker about his efforts to make this project more palatable to city officials and neighbors alike.
“We have spent a lot of time and a lot of effort, really trying to enhance that part of Burlington, entering into the city and into the county,” he told the council. “We went into this not light hearted[ly]…My personal office will be in that building. We feel it will bring some tax revenue into the city while really improving that corner lot.”
Parker added that, out of a sense of “due diligence,” he and his colleagues conducted their own traffic study, which ultimately confirmed the transportation department’s conclusions that the proposed development would have a negligible impact on the volume of traffic.
Neighbors weigh in with concerns – by email and during virtual hearing
Before the council opened the floor to the public, Burlington’s clerk Beverly Smith acknowledged that the city had received 17 emails from residents ahead of the public hearing’s original date in September. Smith added that just one more email dribbled in before the hearing actually took place on Tuesday.
The council nevertheless heard from three neighboring residents who availed themselves of the opportunity to weigh in on Parker’s plans during the virtual hearing.
The hearing’s participants included Donna Cathy of Weybridge, who insisted that nothing she heard from either the city or Parker had allayed her concerns about the project’s impact on traffic.
“I would request that the council continue to defer its decision on this,” she added, “until further and additional research can be done around the traffic studies.”
“Aside from the fact that this is going to be a three-story building with lights, it is going to increase traffic.”
– Rebecca Cole-Turner of Ashley Woods Drive
Cathy’s request was echoed by Rebecca Cole-Turner of Ashley Woods Drive, who acknowledged that her own misgivings have persisted despite the several community meetings she has attended.
“Aside from the fact that this is going to be a three-story building with lights, it is going to increase traffic,” she said. “I have a lot of concerns about the traffic going onto Ashley Woods especially when it’s backed up.
“I think this needs to be postponed,” Cole-Turner added. “We need more time to look at these traffic studies.”
“I have sat there trying to make that left turn onto Church,” she admitted, “and it is difficult enough with the current volume of traffic.”
– Ashley woods resident angela mackie
The issue of traffic proved just as vexing for Angela Mackie of Ashley Woods, who reiterated the need for a traffic light at the intersection with Church Street.
The concerns that these residents raised did not go unnoticed by the members of Burlington’s city council.
“I’ve been out there, and it is a dangerous situation out there for sure. I think that eventually there would be a need for a light there…and there will be additional traffic with the new development.”
– burlington city councilman bob ward
The request for a traffic light found particular traction with councilman Bob Ward, who proposed that the city should revisit this measure at the first opportunity.
“I’ve been out there, and it is a dangerous situation out there for sure,” Ward told his colleagues. “I think that eventually there would be a need for a light there…and there will be additional traffic with the new development.”
In light of the state’s reluctance to sign off on a traffic signal, Burlington’s outgoing mayor Ian Baltutis suggested that the council may want to instruct staff to explore “other creative options” for managing traffic at the intersection of Church Street and Ashley Woods Drive.
In the meantime, councilman Harold Owen commended the developer on his attempts to accommodate suggestions from neighbors and city officials, although he, too, acknowledged the troublesome traffic conditions that exist near the proposed site of his project.
“I think that the amount of effort put forth by the staff and the developer is something that we need to honor,” the councilman added before he and his colleagues voted 5-to-0 in favor of Parker’s rezoning request.
See earlier coverage from planning board’s deliberations in July: https://alamancenews.com/planning-board-endorses-rezoning-for-south-church-street-self-storage-facility-on-western-edge-of-city/