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Commissioners say ‘non’ to developer’s request to use French spelling in name of new road

By 3-1 vote of county commissioners, Parc Northwest subdivision in Elon will have to use Village Park Drive rather than Village Parc Drive

Alamance County’s elected leaders have refused to “pardon the French” of a Wake County developer that had wanted to use a Francophone spelling in the name of the main access road into a new subdivision in Elon.

A majority of the county’s board of commissioner ultimately ordered Raleigh-based GreenHawk Development to use the English rendering “Village Park Drive” for this primary entryway into the Parc Northwest subdivision, which is presently under development within Elon’s municipal limits.

GreenHawk’s representatives had initially hoped to use the French spelling “Parc” to christen this road so that its sobriquet would match the Continental timbre of the subdivision Parc Northwest’s official name. The commissioners, who considered the matter at some length on Monday, raised no objections to the name of the development itself. But they did find fault with the firm’s preferred spelling for the new access road in light of its conflict with the county’s rules for street names and addresses.

In the end, the commissioners voted 3-to-1 against GreenHawk’s request on the advice of Marlena Isley, who serves as the director of Alamance County’s Geographic Information Systems. Isley reminded the commissioners that unconventional spellings are discouraged under the county’s 12-year-old addressing ordinance due to the problems they can potentially pose for telephone operators in the county’s 9-1-1 center.

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“Our biggest issue with this is that residents and visitors will have to spell this street name every single time they call 9-1-1,” she explained before Monday’s decision. “Many things can delay the response time, and we don’t need the street name’s spelling to be one of them…Even if it’s just one letter, it can add 60 seconds to that call.”

The subdivision at the center of this orthographic dispute is actually one of two unconventionally named projects that GreenHawk currently has in the offing in Elon – at the well-traveled juncture of University Drive with Shallowford Church Road.

Formally known as Parc Northwest, this particular project is presently slated to comprise 200 apartments, 184 single-family homes, and 54,000 square feet of commercial space – a relatively massive assemblage by the modest standards of Elon. Due, in large part, to its sheer scale, Parc Northwest drew stiff opposition from neighbors when it came up for review before Elon’s town council over a year ago. The council nevertheless signed off on the subdivision’s obligatory zoning in August of 2022, enabling contractors to break ground on the project in July of this year.

Since Parc Northwest’s approval, GreenHawk has also unveiled plans a smaller, purely residential endeavor known as Parc East. This second project, which is situated as the same intersection as Parc Northwest, also came under intense scrutiny from neighbors before its approval by Elon’s town council in June.

In defense of their non-traditional spelling for “Village Parc Drive,” GreenHawk’s representatives emphasized the time and expense that they’ve poured into Parc Northwest and its sister development in order to imbue them with their own sense of character.

“Like Coke and Ford and other big outfits, we’re trying to create a brand,” declared Jeremy Medlin, a GreenHawk executive who has been intimately involved in these projects. “Yes, it is French. I’m not French. I’m Irish by ancestry. But we’re trying to create a unique destination in your county.”

Medlin went on to emphasize the enormous investment that GrteenHawk has already made into Parc Northwest based on its “unique” vision for the development.

“When you’re talking about the value of the land, the value of the infrastructure, all the sticks and bricks, we’re talking about $150 million,” he added. “It’s a big investment, and a big commitment we’re making here in your county.”

In her own remarks to the commissioners, Isley recalled that GreenHawk’s representatives had initially wanted to use the French variant of “Parc” for several streets within the new subdivision. Isley added that she and her colleagues eventually “talked them down” to just one street – namely the broad, scenic boulevard that is to serve as the development’s primary entrance. She nevertheless conceded that this single instance was still more than she and Katie Harper, the county’s addressing administrator, were willing to countenance based on the county’s relevant ordinance.

Isley said that, in addition to the confusion that GreenHawk’s preferred spelling could wreak at the county’s 9-1-1 center, she and Harper were concerned about the precedent this unorthodox rendering might set for other developments – including Parc East, GreenHawk’s other newly-approved venture in Elon.

The county’s GIS director went on to inform the commissioners that GreenHawk’s representatives had initially tried to persuade her and her colleagues that the Gallic spelling of “Parc” had previously received an all-clear from their counterparts in Wake County. Isley added that their subsequent inquiries revealed that, while GreenHawk had indeed proposed the same, unorthodox spelling in its home county, it was nevertheless rejected by the powers that be.

“Wake County did not allow this,” she acknowledged. “They struck a line through it…because they have an addressing ordinance very similar to ours.”

Before the commissioners rendered their verdict against GreenHawk’s preferred spelling, they heard an additional plea on the company’s behalf from Chad Huffine, a locally-based civil engineer in the developer’s employ.

In order to settle the question of precedent-setting, Huffine assured the county’s governing board that his client has no intention of using the French spelling of “Parc” to name any of the streets in the Parc East subdivision. He also informed the commissioners that he believes GreenHawk has stumbled on a potential solution to Isley’s concerns about delays in the dispatch of emergency vehicles.

Huffine went on to explain that the 9-1-1 center’s dispatch system automatically completes names that operators key in using close matches which appear in the county’s database of addresses.  He added that this feature should instantly bring up “Village Parc Drive” when an operator types any string of characters that begins with “Village Par…”

“I believe this is a workable situation,” the civil engineer argued. “And we’ve gotten endorsements from the town – both the police and the fire – who will be responding from the calls.”

Huffine’s suggestion received some backup from assistant county manager Bruce Walker, who had been involved in the database overhaul that followed the implementation of the county’s current addressing ordinance. Walker nevertheless said that he sees no reason to foist a potential complication on the 9-1-1 center even if its computer-aided dispatching system is capable of handling the problem under ideal circumstances.

“If we have it set up right, it can automate a lot of it,” Walker acknowledged. “But a lot of times, it does not.”

In the final analysis, GreenHawk’s contentions proved sufficiently persuasive to commissioner Craig Turner.

“The safety concern – to me – is not that significant,” he told the rest of the county’s governing board. “So, I would vote to approve it.”

Yet, none of the other commissioners were willing to join Turner in his support for GreenHawk’s proposal.

In the end, the five member board voted 3-to-1 to deny the developer’s request – with Turner casting the lone vote of dissent against the prevailing motion.

John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, took no part in this decision as he was recovering at home from an injury that morning. Although Paisley was able to tune in to Monday’s proceedings remotely, he was prohibited from taking part in any of the board’s votes – including the one it took on GreenHawk’s proposal.

Even so, the board’s chairman happened to utter a remark from his bedside that seemed to aptly sum up the consensus opinion on the developer’s request.

“I think we ought to stick to the ordinance,” he said with the aid of some teleconferencing application. “The safety issue is my primary concern.”

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