Board sticks with 55 approved in 2018; rejects request to add 26 more
Gibsonville’s board of aldermen again denied a developer’s request to build 81 townhomes rather than the 55 approved in 2018 when they held another vote this week amid the threat of a lawsuit.
The second decision followed the same outcome as one on March 15, when the board broke 3-2 to deny the developer’s request to amend his site plan with an additional 26 townhomes. Aldermen Ken Pleasants, Shannon O’Toole, and Yvonne Maizland voted against the increase in homes, while alderman Clarence Owen and mayor pro tem Mark Shepherd approved the change.
After the initial vote, both the town’s new attorney, Robert Giles, and developer Joe Kupiec’s attorney, Nick Blackwood, told town staff and the board that Kupiec would likely sue since a zoning approved for the property in 2018 allows up to 128 units on the property, or 8 units per acre. Though he attended the March 15 meeting, Kupiec didn’t sit in on the discussion this week.
A hurdle for the developer has been that half of the 16-acre property, located at 962 Burlington Avenue, is marked as floodplain and can’t be built on. Still, the town’s current ordinance doesn’t take into account unbuildable acres, only the total, allowing the developer the same amount of units as if he had access to the entire property, according to town planner Brandon Parker.
Frustration arose among a handful of residents this week, as it has during past discussions on the property, over interpreting the town’s zoning ordinances, with two speakers from nearby Sullivan Court saying that the developer didn’t have the authority to put the unbuildable acres toward a final unit count. The residents also questioned why the town had given the developer a conditional use rezoning in 2018.
In an interview following the meeting, the town planner told The Alamance News that the developer had requested a conditional use zoning as a way to assure the board that he would only be building townhomes, not the array of high-density development — like apartments and condos — that could’ve been built under the more general zoning of the same density.
During this week’s meeting, mayor Lenny Williams gave his informal approval of backtracking on the board’s March 15 vote, seemingly speaking for the board in telling a resident, “We think that the decision that the board made [on March 15] was wrong.”
Williams’ perspective appeared to differ from those of the aldermen who voted a second time to turn down the developer’s request for 81 homes by the same 3-2 configuration as the first time.
O’Toole said that he was “torn” over the decision, not wanting the town to face a lawsuit but wanting to act in the interests of his constituents.
“It’s not this board’s fault or this town’s responsibility to make any specific project profitable,” O’Toole said. “It’s on the builder; that’s on the developer. If that person waits, or there’s a rise in market rates, or the market crashes, or people all want to move to Wisconsin, that is the market risk that one has to endure when they get involved in these types of endeavors.”
The alderman also suggested amending the town’s ordinances to avoid issues arising again over zoning and unbuildable acreage. When the board subsequently held a vote to take back the March 15 decision, O’Toole, appearing conflicted, opted to abstain from voting on the motion to reconsider, making his input an automatic “yes” under state statute. During that vote to reconsider, the board split 3-2, with O’Toole’s vote siding with Shepherd’s and Owen’s own.
The next vote, held immediately after to newly determine if the additional units would be allowed, was equally split. O’Toole, along with Pleasants and Maizland, opted to again deny the developer’s request, while Shepherd and Owen approved of it.
Pleasants, said he agreed with his fellow alderman, adding that the town’s zoning should only count for a property’s buildable acreage.
“We need to have the [rules] in place where this kind of thing won’t happen again,” he said.
Maizland critiqued what she speculated would be small units, with residents “crammed in there like little sardines” and excessive traffic. Additionally, she said, upon asking Kupiec why he had come back with a site plan revision years after the first had been approved, the developer had simply told her that the change was a matter of “construction costs” and “what the market is calling for.” Those answers hadn’t sold her on the idea of approving more units, she explained.
The two aldermen who voted to approve the developer’s request, Owen and Shepherd, remained relatively quiet during the discussion, later saying in their motion and second on the item that their only condition would be a six-foot privacy fence for residents along Sullivan Court.
Following the second, and seemingly final, 3-2 decision on the site plan, the board will now await the developer’s action, which the town’s and developer’s attorneys have suggested may bring the town to court.