Tuesday, November 29, 2022

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Graham council impressed with look of redevelopment, but wants more detailed plans

Graham’s city council agreed to hear a presentation from local developer Jason Cox Tuesday night on a new residential development he is proposing for the edge of Graham’s downtown, despite what they all considered to be the inadequacy of Cox’s site plan for his project.

Jason Cox

As he had earlier in the meeting, council member Bobby Chin, motioned to “dismiss” the item from the council’s deliberations at the beginning of the agenda item, citing the inadequacy of the site plan that Cox had provided.

As councilman Joey Parsons added, “There not a single dimension listed.” There are no measurements of the size of seven individual buildings, two parking lots or individual spaces (Cox said there would be 38), or the total (cumulative) dimensions of the four lots.

Both Cox and Lee Kimrey earlier in the evening had submitted proposals with rough sketches (Kimrey’s appeared hand-drawn, Cox’s perhaps computer-generated) but without the level of detail that is normally provided by anyone proposing a significant project. (While individual homeowners sometimes submit hand-drawn sketches, multi-family plans and commercial proposals considered by the planning board and city council in Graham and elsewhere typically have more details.)

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Graham’s current city council (from foreground) councilman Joey Parsons, mayor pro tem Ricky Hall, mayor Jennifer Talley, and council members Bobby Chin and Bonnie Whitaker.

Chin, and later mayor Jennifer Talley, read from the city’s ordinances about the requirement for “site plans,” to which each usually added the adjective “engineered” to explain the level of detail they said was both customary in the past and necessary, according to council members, in order to have specificity about a developer’s plans.

Cox claimed he was “caught in the crossfire” of changing standards for what was to be expected of plans submitted to the city. “The goal posts have moved,” he said. “I have not heard ‘engineered site plans’ [as a prerequisite] until tonight,” Cox said.

But Talley said that councils in the past had also had more detailed drawings than Cox had provided. She said she had “assumed” Cox would have known to provide more detail.

“I don’t know of a single example of [a city council] approving a conditional rezoning request,” Talley said, without having a more detailed plan than Cox had provided. Talley and Chin had both made similar comments to former councilman Lee Kimrey earlier in the meeting when Kimrey presented a proposed building to be located across from the post office.

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This is Cox’s portrayal of the corner of North Maple Street and West Market Street, which would have two, three-story buildings with nine units in each.
This is Cox’s conceptual design looking from the corner of Mill and West Market streets back toward North Maple Street.

“We expect to see preliminary engineering plans,” Chin said. Chin said, as he had also told Kimrey, “If we start waffling [by approving plans with less information than anticipated by the city’s ordinances] we’ll never see the end of it.”

However, council members were clearly impressed by new materials that Cox did provide (see page 1 and above), which showed very stylish buildings (but without any measurements) which he is planning for four lots totaling about 1.15 acres along North Maple and West Market streets. Most are three stories high.

Cox said the project would provide needed reinvigoration for an area of the city that is poor – he said the lowest-income census tract in the county. He emphasized that because his proposal is within the already-existing areas of water and sewer lines, the city would not incur any infrastructure costs, unlike when the city must run lines to a new area on the fringe of the city. “There is no new water or sewer. No new streets,” he said.

He had accepted the stipulation by the planning board, which wanted no more than 40 dwelling units included.

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Cox elaborated on the number of dwelling units within each of the seven buildings: buildings A & B would have nine units each; buildings D, E, and F would have six units each; and buildings C and G would have two each, he told the council.

While there are no traditional amenities (often a pool, playground, or field), Cox said “the amenity is downtown,” as the project is within easy walking distance (a block or two) from the central business district.

“The project is designed for people who don’t want to get in their cars,” he said.

Cox said the buildings are intentionally unique, to avoid “look[ing] like it was dropped in” from some standardized format.

Cox said the parking, in two lots, is intended for 38 spaces, although they were not marked on the conceptual designs he showed the council.

He said the apartments or townhouses would be two- and one-bedroom “predominant.”

At the conclusion of Cox’s presentation, Talley was effusive in her praise. “It fits in very harmoniously with the neighborhood,” she said.

Parsons said he was “100 percent behind what you want to do,” but reiterated his view that more supporting detail was required before the council could approve it.

After spending about 45 minutes hearing Cox and asking questions, the council resumed consideration of Chin’s motion, seconded by Hall, to “dismiss” the item from consideration.

City attorney Bob Ward advised the council that a “dismissal” was not the same as a “denial”, thereby allowing Cox to return to the council with more complete plans. A denial requires a six-months waiting period before a similar plan can be resubmitted.

The vote for dismissal was 5-0.

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