Burlington’s city council has signed off on a controversial rezoning request that will allow commercial development to penetrate deeper into the historically residential areas of Maple Avenue that lie south of the interstate.
This particular request received the council’s unanimous blessing on Tuesday, allowing a small retail center or similar commercial endeavor to take root on a .94-acre lot that’s currently home to a single-family abode.
Located at 2632 Maple Avenue, this parcel lies in a fast-changing area near Maple Avenue’s juncture with Anthony Road where gas stations, coffee shops, and other retail concerns sit cheek to jowl with residences that date back to the 1950s and 1960s. The shifting character of this neighborhood was made abundantly clear when the city’s planning director Jamie Lawson presented the particulars of this rezoning request to the council on Tuesday.
“There’s been a lot of activity of commercial uses that has occurred in this area,” she conceded before a state-mandated public hearing that evening. “[A] Dunkin Donuts was recently constructed just north of this site. [A] 7-11 was also recently constructed; [a] Starbucks is under way…and we’ve had a rezoning request further south for self-storage and office use.”
Limits upon limits
Lawson went on to point out that this property’s would-be developers have applied for a “limited” form of general business use that strives to pare back the wide range of projects allowed in a conventional general business zone.
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Although this list initially included more than three dozen options, the city’s planning director stressed that the applicant has dropped a number of the more contentious uses since the request was first shared with the council in September. Among those items that have been kicked to the curb are a bar or a cocktail lounge, a hotel or motel, a carwash, an event venue, and a bottle shop with on-site consumption.
Lawson added that the terms of this rezoning request have passed muster with the city’s planning department due to their compatibility with the city’s overall land use plan for the area. She nevertheless conceded that the request was unanimously ripped by the city’s planning and zoning commission, which voted 5-to-0 against recommending it to the council. Lawson also alluded to some opposition from residents when the request came before the city’s planning commission in August.
“There were a number of residents from the neighborhood,” she recalled, “and they did express some concerns regarding additional commercial development in the area, the unknown nature of whatever could occur on the property, and [the lack of] a clear definition of where the commercial and residential neighborhoods are.”
In response to these sundry objections, Jeff Deal, a broker with Massey Real Estate, offered the council some assurances on behalf of the site’s would-be developer Chellappa Yasin.
Deal noted, for instance, that his client has already revised the request to make it more palatable to neighbors. He also observed that the property’s 40-foot buffers and parking requirements will further restrict any possible commercial development, and he alluded to some decades-old restrictive covenants that give neighboring property owners some added control over the parcel’s eventual use.
Deal’s invocation of these covenants drew an admonition from Burlington’s city attorney David Huffman, who reminded the council that private contractional arrangements lie outside the purview of city officials. In the meantime, an inquiry from councilman Ronnie Wall prompted the real estate broker to admit that a retail strip center is the most likely project his client will undertake.
The only public input that proposal attracted on Tuesday was an inquiry from a resident in another part of the city about the subject property’s geographic relation to residential development.
Meanwhile, the city council voiced some decidedly mixed feelings about the rezoning request. Particularly torn by the decision was council member Kathy Hykes, who recalled that she voted against a nearby self-storage center that ultimately passed despite her opposition.
“I’m going to ask to approve this because the die has been cast,” Hykes went on to note before she made a motion in favor of the proposed zoning. “It’s up to the restrictive covenants to do what they’re going to do.”
Hykes was joined in her support for the proposed zoning change by Wall and councilman Bob Ward, as well as Burlington’s mayor pro tem Harold Owen. The city’s mayor Jim Butler was absent from Tuesday’s proceedings due to an injury.
In addition to the zoning change along Maple Avenue, the council also gave its all-clear to another swatch of “limited” business use on some 4.12 acres at 3832 University Drive.
Situated near University Drive’s intersection with Rural Retreat Road, the site of this second rezoning request was previously marked out for a new supermarket that the Lidl grocery chain had plans to develop on Burlington’s west side. The German-based grocer obtained a hyper-specific form of business zoning before it purchased the property in 2017. It nevertheless scuppered its plans for this site in favor of another location on South Church Street that’s presently home to Lidl’s only grocery store in Alamance County.
Lidl’s change of heart about the University Drive property would ultimately provide an opening for Eric Roeske, a Wake County restaurateur who owns an operates a franchise of the Culver’s restaurant chain in Apex.
This summer, Roeske approached the city’s planning commission with a request that would allow him to set up a second Culver’s location on the acreage that Lidl had purchased along University Drive. Couched as a “limited use” request, Roeske proposal also encompassed other retail uses that he deemed compatible with the proposed eatery.
Roeske’s request ultimately received an endorsement from four of the five planning commission members who reviewed his proposal. It went on to obtain a final nod of approval from the council in a 4-to-0 decision on Tuesday. [Mayor Jim Butler was absent.]