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Elon town council unanimously OKs contentious residential development

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Elon’s town council has bestowed its unanimous nod on a Wake County developer’s plans to build 129 new homes on the northern outskirts of the town’s municipal limits.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the council voted 5-to-0 in favor of a conditional zoning request that will enable the Raleigh-based GreenHawk Corporation to construct these 85 townhouses and 44 single-family homes on just over 32 acres at the northeast corner of University Drive and Shallowford Church Road.

Known as “Parc East,” this particular project is actually GreenHawk’s second foray into this fast-growing section of Elon. Last year, the company approached the town’s leaders with plans for an even larger, mixed-use development; the final outlines of that development, “Parc Northwest, proposes to bring 185 single-family, 200 apartments, and 54,500 square feet of commercial space to the northwest corner of the same intersection.

The earlier project came under fierce opposition from neighbors, who were especially wary about the potential for spillover traffic from the development. GreenHawk nevertheless won over the council with a raft of self-imposed conditions that addressed many of the neighborhood’s objections to the proposal

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Although a much more modest endeavor than GreenHawk’s earlier gambit, Parc East has also attracted its share of flak – particularly from a well-established neighborhood along Cable and Spanish Oak roads that lies just beyond the municipal borders of Elon.

Earlier this month, the residents of this unincorporated neighborhood’s residents descended on Elon’s town hall when the council held a state-mandated public hearing on GreenHawk’s proposal for Parc East. The council ultimately heard from nearly a dozen of these reluctant neighbors, whose primary grievance concerned the developer’s proposed use of Cable Road as a secondary entrance into the new subdivision.

While GreenHawk refused to budge on its plans for this entrance, the company was willing to make a whole host of concessions in an attempt to mollify the neighborhood’s residents.

These proposed accommodations, which included “traffic calming” measures to discourage speeding and a promise to close off the Cable Road entrance during construction, ultimately found their way into an inventory of 27 self-imposed conditions that GreenHawk submitted as part of its rezoning request for the project.

 

This list of conditions also includes information about the proposed layout and composition of Parc East’s 129 dwellings – along with further provisions for parking, sidewalks, greenways, water and sewer lines, and other features of the development. In the meantime, GreenHawk’s representatives added several more items in response to questions and concerns that neighbors had raised before Elon’s planning board – and they continued to flesh out the list as late as Monday, when Jeremy Medlin, an executive with GreenHawk, agreed to incorporate a speed table into a proposed crosswalk that he and his colleagues had previously promised to build.

The developer’s slate of conditions ultimately failed to win over the members of the town’s planning board, who voted 5-to-2 not to endorse the developer’s rezoning request in May. A majority of the planning board wasn’t even swayed by a report from the state’s transportation department, which found the current states of Cable and Spanish Oak roads to be adequate – contrary to the opinions of many a resident.

Yet, GreenHawk’s efforts to appease the neighbors seem to have made a much better impression on Elon’s town council members.

Elon mayor Emily Sharpe

 “I know it is not what you wanted [she told neighbors who had come to continue their opposition to the new project].  Nobody wants a new development in their backyard. But it would have happened one way or the other, and I hope you understand that what you have is better than what you could’ve gotten.” – Elon mayor Emily Sharpe

Prior to Monday’s unanimous vote, Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe assured the project’s detractors that, the plans for Parc East are vastly superior to what GreenHawk or another developer could currently build on the subdivision’s 32-acre site. She noted that the property’s existing zoning allows both single family homes and apartments – the latter of which are omitted from the company’s development plans.

“That comes to about the same number of residential units,” Sharpe went on to observe, “plus there’s the [currently permitted] retail office and restaurant space, which would bring way more traffic than is proposed in the rezoning.”

Mark Greene, Elon’s mayor pro tem, agreed with the mayor’s conclusion that GreenHawk’s plans are an improvement over what they company or another developer already has the right to do with the project’s proposed site.

“If we vote to deny this,” he added, “we open it up to something that can cause a lot more concerns traffic-wise.”

In the end, councilman Randy Orwig made a motion to approve GreenHawk’s rezoning request “based upon the idea that they have downsized what they could do.” Orwig’s motion went on to pass by a margin of 5-to-0.

Meanwhile, Sharpe offered the project’s detractors a few words of consolation about what they’re likely to see now that the developer’s rezoning request has been approved.

“I know it is not what you wanted,” the mayor conceded. “Nobody wants a new development in their backyard. But it would have happened one way or the other, and I hope you understand that what you have is better than what you could’ve gotten.”


Read earlier coverage of the Parc East plans:

Neighbors continue to voice objections to new subdivision (June 15, 2023): https://alamancenews.com/neighbors-continue-to-oppose-129-home-development-near-their-quiet-neighborhood-on-the-edge-of-elon/

Planning board gives delays final decision (April 20, 2023): https://alamancenews.com/elon-planning-board-delays-decision-on-proposed-129-home-subdivision-parc-east-on-edge-of-town/

Neighbors turn out to voice concerns over proposed subdivision on edge of Elon’s ETJ (March 30, 2023): https://alamancenews.com/proposed-subdivision-with-129-units-will-add-to-400-previously-okd-in-parc-northwest/

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