Graham’s city council this week readily approved a rezoning proposal for an infill residential project in the downtown area being sponsored by the city’s mayor and her husband and another couple who are partners in the venture.
For her part, mayor Jennifer Talley notified the council of her conflict of interest on the issue when the topic came up as the first public hearing on the council’s evening agenda, and she asked to be recused from the discussion during Tuesday night’s monthly city council meeting.
She not only stepped down from the dais, as is traditional in recusal situations, but she left the council chambers altogether, returning only after the remaining council members had concluded their discussion and vote on the project.
The project was described by engineer Chad Huffine, who had also described the plan in some greater detail last month to the city’s planning board. The plan calls for entering the residential portion of the complex through a gate off of North Marshall Street. The entrance to the project would be at 105 North Marshall Street, with the exit at 206 East Elm Street.
The gated project would wrap around two sides of the city’s municipal parking lot at the corner of East Elm and North Marshall streets.
[Story continues below layout of proposal and photograph of city parking lot.]
During the planning board presentation, there had been considerable discussion about a large elm tree that could be a significant issue at the Marshall Street entrance into the development.
City standards require a 20-foot entrance, but Huffine told the planning board he feared anything wider than 16-feet might cause the tree either to die or have to be removed. He said he had submitted, and would abide by, the 20-foot standard, but city officials needed to recognize that doing so may cost a large, mature tree.
Huffine told the planning board that the residential units would be for sale, not for rent.
Under the plans Huffine presented, there would be four buildings – three entirely residential, in townhouse style (with two stories each), with two, four, and five units in each, respectively (a total of 11 residential units, each with two bedrooms). There would be 24 parking spaces, some angled and others parallel to the brick wall along the perimeter behind the Harden Street homes.
A brick wall, six to eight feet tall, would surround the project, shielding existing homeowners along West Harden Street and commercial properties on East Elm Street, from the project.
A fourth building would have 2,000 feet of commercial space below, with two, 1,000-square-feet residential spaces above, bringing the total number of residential units in the project to 13. This building, a so-called “live above, work below” space, would face East Elm Street, across from the Rich & Thompson Funeral Home, and beside the parking lot for South Court Drug and Crissman Family Practice.
The planning board had added a stipulation that required more focus on the East Elm crosswalk across an exit driveway, including a large mirror that would enable drivers to see pedestrians and cars.
The city council spent less than 10 minutes on the rezoning request, which drew no opposition speakers or even any questioning of any dimension of the project.
The council adopted the rezoning request 4-0, with Talley recused from the vote.
In addition to Jennifer and Chuck Talley, Christopher Barrow and his wife April Ayers Barrow are the other managing members of the LLC that is planning the development.
The project is directly across Marshall Street from another new, novel downtown project for Graham, 106 North (named for its location at 106 North Marshall Street), an estimated $3.4 million project on the drawing board being developed by builder and former city councilman Lee Kimrey and businessman Jason Cox, who has renovated several historic downtown properties.
The Kimrey-Cox project envisions a three-story building of 30,000 square feet, with mixed use: There would be four business storefronts on the first floor (with between 2,200 to 2,500 square feet each) and 24 one-bedroom loft apartments on the second and third floors, each with about 650 to 800 square feet.