The real estate lawyer who narrowly failed to get Burlington’s planning commission to endorse a new Muslim cemetery on Monday [See separate story this edition: https://alamancenews.com/planning-board-deadlocks-over-rezoning-for-muslim-cemetery/] also whiffed his shot at another rezoning request concerning the redevelopment of a now-defunct golf course as a residential community.
Lawson Brown, a partner with the Vernon Law Firm who also serves as Mebane’s city attorney, was ultimately unable to get the planning commission to sign off on a change that would increase the number of homes that Greensboro developer Paul Milam already has permission to build on the grounds of the former Shamrock Golf Course.
Burlington’s city council originally gave Milam permission to construct 219 homes on this 100-acre site in 2018 after he reached an accommodation with the residents of Shamrock Estates – a subdivision which has ringed the former golf course since its foundation.
Among the concessions that Milam made to the golf course’s neighbors was to trim 22 units from the 241 homes that he had originally planned to develop. This change, as well as a raft of other revisions, persuaded a majority of the golf course’s neighbors to drop their objections to Milam’s proposal. It nevertheless failed to sway three holdouts who enlisted an out-of-town law firm to fight the development – unbeknownst to Burlington lawyer Frank Longest, who had represented Shamrock Estates in the negotiations with Milam.
Brown, who had served as Milam’s attorney throughout this ordeal, recounted the whole wooly saga when he appeared before the planning commission on Monday. The developer’s legal representative also acknowledged that the three holdouts are still pursuing a lawsuit they filed shortly after the city council approved Milam’s proposal.
Although Milam has yet to break ground on the proposed subdivision, Brown told the planning commission that his client is still eager to move forward with his plans to redevelop the golf course. To this end, he asked the appointed advisory board to increase the developer’s housing allowance from 219 to 241 dwellings to ensure that the project remains viable after 2 1/2 years of litigation.
“The neighbors were the first to balk or renege…saying ‘no we’re not going to stand by those conditions that were negotiated,’” Brown went on to argue. “Now, it’s  1/2 years later, and it has been excruciating from a financial perspective what the neighbors have put on the developer.”
Brown told the planning commission that development costs have shot up about 40 percent since Milam received the city council’s permission to redevelop the golf course. He also pointed out that the intervening years have seen the city enact a new unified development ordinance that’s more favorable to the sort of “cluster” development that Milam has envisioned for the former golf course.
The developer’s attorney added that, under the new ordinance, Milam could put up some 300 townhomes on the 100-acre site under the zoning that it already has.
Brown went on to assure the commission’s members that Milam intends to honor all the other conditions that he negotiated with the golf course’s neighbors in 2018. Among other things, he has agreed to leave much of the site open for the community to use as recreational space, and he has promised not to use the Shamrock name for his own future development.
Milam’s request for more homes also received a nod from the Joey Lea, the city’s zoning and subdivision administrator. Lea gave his blessing to the additional homes even though he acknowledged that Milam’s proposal technically deviates from the recommendations of Burlington’s land use plan.
“This is one of those [proposals that conflict with the land use plan],” he added, “that we feel is consistent with the area around it and is good for the area.”
Lea also conceded that he hasn’t heard any objections from the site’s neighbors despite having mailed out 90 notices about Milam’s request to people who own property within 300 feet of the former golf course.
Milam’s proposal nevertheless raised some misgivings for several members of the city’s planning commission. Among other things, the appointed advisory board balked at the ongoing litigation and the lack of a recent neighborhood meeting about the increased housing allowance. Brown’s allusion to the unified development ordinance also suggested to some of the commission’s members that Milam wanted the city to reevaluate his plans under the new, more generous rules. John Black, the commission’s vice chairman, even declared that the developer’s request sounded like “grandfathering in reverse,” until Lea pointed out that the Milam could build 300 townhomes “by right” under the city’s unified development ordinance.
Some of the commission’s qualms were later reiterated by Bryan Brice, a Raleigh-based lawyer whose firm represents the three holdouts in their lawsuit against Milam.
“I haven’t been able to talk to my clients about it at this juncture,” Brice told the commission’s members. “[But] it sounds like they’re asking for the things they had agreed with the city council to do to be changed.”
In the end, commission member Earl Jaggers made a motion to reject Milam’s request. His motion was seconded by Nancy Rosborough, an alternate on the commission who filled in for an absentee member on Monday, and it went on to receive the support of Black and Bill Abplanalp. James Kirkpatrick and the commission’s chairman Richard Parker voted against the motion not to recommend the request, which nevertheless passed 4-to-2.