Tuesday, May 17, 2022

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
Ph: 336.228.7851

Divided planning board recommends against large subdivision along NC 119, 5-2

Many speakers agreed that Buddy Lyons of Kernersville-based LeoTerra Development, Inc. had been one of the most reasonable developers anyone in Mebane could ask for, that he had made more changes and accommodations to address neighbors’ concerns, and the quality of homes he planned to build looked quite impressive.

LeoTerra Development president Buddy Lyons attempts to explain the long route his project had taken to get to this stage of consideration before Mebane’s planning board, including seven rounds with the city’s technical review committee (TRC). His attorney and Alamance County commissioner Craig Turner is seated behind him.

Still, every person from in or near the Hawfields area where Lyons hoped to build a single-family and townhouse community, with almost 500 homes on 149 acres, spoke against the final plan during the planning board’s deliberations Monday night.

And the planning board narrowly sided with them, voting 5-2 against recommending his subdivision favorably to Mebane’s city council, after first failing on a 3-4 vote to recommend it favorably.

Lyons tried to emphasize that the residential zoning he was requesting was “downzoning” from the land’s current zoning designation. He said that the residential subdivision plans his company had developed were intended “as a response to the unprecedented economic growth” Mebane has seen, as well as the “robust demand for housing.”

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Lyons had also trimmed the number of homes from 492 to 472 and agreed to widen the distance between homes from 10 feet (5 feet to each property line) to 14 feet (7 feet to the property line) in an effort to address the density issue.

Lyons’ emphasis on what could go on the portion of the property already zoned for business was seen as a subtle – or, to some, not-so-subtle – threat as to what might come behind his request if the residential project is ultimately rejected.

Audience members during Monday night’s Mebane planning board meeting.

Since the first planning board consideration last month, when neighbors vented their concerns about the project, many of which focused on traffic, Lyons had held a meeting on April 26 at the property, showing about 15 residents who came what he hoped to accomplish.

He also expanded the proposed buffers along portions of the subdivision that would back onto Farrell Road, where many of the opponents live.

The required 30-foot landscape buffer was proposed to be increased to 50 feet, with a 9-foot high berm plus 6-feet tall plantings that would screen the subdivision from the existing residences along Farrell Road.

[Story continues below photographs of speakers.]


CONCERNED NEIGHBORS DURING PLANNING BOARD MEETING

Patricia Coates
Thomas Coates
Chris Cole
Tara Cole, 2200 Farrell Road, holds up a photo of a beautiful sunset that she can see from her house now, and which she fears losing with the potential construction of Hawfields Landing subdivision.
Barbara Faison
Heather Merritt
Al Rowland of Kimrey Road; his house would be across NC 119 from the entrance to the proposed subdivision.
Maria Trinidad
Jenna White
Richard “Ricks” White

Lyons also proposed to put up a plaque and clean up around a small cemetery – some discussion indicated there may be only one grave – that’s on the property.

Lyons stressed that the homes would be good for home values of the neighborhood. He had previously outlined that the single-family homes would sell for about $450,000, while three-bedroom townhouses would be offered for $400,000.

Still neighbors talked about their love for the existing fields and forest – that house beloved birds and wildlife – would be lost if it were turned into a subdivision.

Tara Cole said she preferred the original plans of developer Shawn Cummings, who sold the land to LeoTerra in 2021, because of the designation for housing targeted specifically at senior citizens. The new subdivision is beside the former Hawfields Presbyterian Home, which now operates as Compass Rehabilitation Center.

Cole also lamented that the existing business zoning wouldn’t be used to bring “coffee shops” and other small businesses, or even a pharmacy, to the area, which she described as isolated from many commercial interests.

However, Cole’s position on preferring business was not shared by most other speakers.

Thomas Coates described the subdivision as “really going to destroy our community.” He said Mebane is “building too fast” and that the planning board and city council have “got to draw the line.”

“I don’t see where this will help this side of town,” instead adding, “this will make me thing about leaving.”

Heather Merritt focused on the potholes along Farrell Road. It had been pointed out earlier that the road is maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and, as such, is beyond Mebane’s ability to ensure improvements on the road sought by residents. “Who can help us?” she questioned.

Richard “Ricks” White also expressed concerns about the overall growth of Mebane, terming it “uncontrolled.” He used a play on the city’s moniker as “positively charming” to say that, instead, the city is becoming “positively nightmarish.”

“Developers don’t care about the quality of life in Mebane,” White said, appearing to be on the verge of tears. He said Mebane is almost indistinguishable from the sprawl of the Research Triangle and Burlington.

Jenna White picked up on the theme, “How charming will it be to be squashed up on each other?”

She termed Lyons’ examples of potential development under business zoning as an “implied threat.”

Chris Cole told the planning board, “This side of town will really be a mess,” both with traffic and dense development if Lyons’ project were to be approved.

Janet Ecklebarger told the planning board that they should keep the existing R-20 on the part of the land next to the commercially-zoned section. “This is not different” from other sprawling developments, she told the planning board.

Al Rowland complained of tractor trailers rumbling along Kimrey Road across from the proposed development at all hours of the night.

“We’re inundated with traffic already,” he said, and “overrun with high density developments.” He reiterated, “Traffic is already backed up.”

Craig Turner, an attorney representing Lyons who also serves as an Alamance County commissioner, told the opponents the land is “not going to stay a pastoral setting.”
He emphasized that the “sounds of commercial development would be more obtrusive than residential.”

When the residents finished talking, after about two hours, the planning board discussed the project, with a focus on safety along NC 119, especially in light of the new ABSS high school being built about a mile down the road, and the traffic concerns.

Nonetheless, Judy Taylor, one of the board’s more veteran member who serves as vice chairman, motioned to approve the project. It was ultimately seconded by Larry Teague who said he did so “with a heavy heart.”

Taylor, Teague, and planning board chairman Edward Tulauskas provided three votes in favor of Taylor’s motion for approval. But a four-vote majority – consisting of Gale Pettiford, William Chapman, Susan Semonite, and Keith Hoover – voted against.

Pettiford then made a motion to recommend denial to the city council, which passed on a 5-2 vote, with only Taylor and Tulauskas voting against.

An effort by Hoover, who had raised the possibility of widening the distance between homes – he said he wanted to see 10 feet between the property lines, thus 20 feet between homes – did not get a vote.

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