Monday, June 24, 2024

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Graham council OKs new Windsor Homes subdivision with mix of single-family homes and townhouses


Special use permit approved, 4-1, over neighborhood objections and persistent criticism by one council member

Distraught neighbors and an increasingly distraught council member Jennifer Talley failed Tuesday night to derail a special use permit that will allow Greensboro-based Windsor homes to build another subdivision in Graham. Windsor’s newest subdivision proposes a combination of 109 single-family homes and 70 townhouses, on 59.5 acres on the back side of Broad Acres, a well-established, mostly single-family home neighborhood off Rogers Road in southern Graham.

A development with 109 single-family homes and 70 townhomes is planned for the back side of Broad Acres near the intersection of Rogers Road and Wildwood Lane.

About a dozen neighbors, many of them seniors, registered their opposition as they had last month to the planning board which nonetheless passed along a recommendation for approval by 4-0.

See story on earlier planning board discussion about this and other Graham projects:

Under the special state provision governing a “special use permit,” the council was sitting as a “quasi-judicial” board, which meant, among other things, that all witnesses desiring to give testimony had to be sworn in. The special use rules also required that “expert testimony” was required on six standards that any developer must prove in order to secure a city council’s approval of the special use permit.

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The standard in evaluating evidence, under the statute, is that “competent, substantial, and material evidence” must be presented. The council is, to some extent, sitting in a judicial forum, rather than with its traditional, legislative focus.

In another difference between their normal legislative business, council members are not to have made, or accepted, contact with either side of a pending special use request. Peterman said he had not read letters received from residents, while Talley said she had merely relayed a procedural response to one resident who had contacted her.

Greensboro attorney Amanda Hodierne coordinated the developer’s advocacy of the subdivision, calling expert witnesses who addressed traffic concerns, engineering issues, and appraised values in the neighborhood.

In the end, mayor Jerry Peterman pronounced that the developer had proven that the developer met each of the six standards for obtaining the special use permit. He suggested that the council had no alternative but to approve the request lest the city be faced with litigation from the builder.

Talley disagreed with that assessment and argued that various components of the developer’s presentation were not objectively or conclusively proven.

Talley and some of the neighbors argued, for instance, that the 179 homes on the tract was even more dense than a different proposal by a different builder that the council turned down in 2020 – for being too dense.

Talley had led the charge against that 2020 proposal last July, which had 158 single- family homes; the council turned it down 4-1, with only council member Melody Wiggins in favor.

But Hodierne dismissed the comparisons, by neighbors and Talley, that the previous plan had any relevance to Windsor’s 2021 proposal.

Hodierne also dismissed most of the neigbhors’ hour-long comments – all via the Zoom teleconferencing platform – as “opinion testimony,” which “shouldn’t have any weight” in the council’s decision-making. The council met in person for the second consecutive month; Hodierne and her expert witnesses were present, as well as the newspaper’s reporter, the fire chief and a few firemen and a few other city staff.

Talley was critical of the fact that the builder had not sought a meeting with neighbors to try to work out some of the issues in contention in advance – as, she pointed out, developers often do in order to try to reduce the level of opposition. Instead, Hodierne said, she had written a letter to neighbors explaining the developer’s plans, although at least half of the residents who spoke said they had not received one.

(Story continues below maps.)

For their part, the neighbors generally focused on concerns with traffic and safety. In particular, some parts of the existing neighborhood do not have sidewalks, resulting in residents walking in the streets; several expressed fears about cars moving too fast on the residential streets off Rogers Road.

They also drew a contrast with the “compatibility” of the new development, particularly with respect to the planned townhouses. While existing residents generally have two-car garages, Windsor’s townhouses will have just one.

Windsor Homes has been a major builder in Graham in recent years. The latest proposed subdivision, approved this week by the city council, will have 109 single-family homes and 70 townhouses off Rogers Road near South Graham Park. Their Forks of Alamance subdivision (above) is being built farther south on Rogers Road, also in Graham.

Much criticism centered on the traffic study, which focused on two, two-hours periods on one day. Neighbors said, particularly having been conducted during the pandemic, the tabulation of 1,700 additional car trips per day understated the impact the new development would have.

But Graham mayor pro tem Chip Turner, himself a retired DOT employee, questioned whether, in fact, the traffic study may have overstated the impact; Turner questioned whether residents in 179 new homes would make an average of 10 trips per day, as the study suggested.

At the end of more than two hours of statements and back and forth among the developer’s experts, residents, and council members, Talley tried to initiate a motion to deny the special use permit. But her motion failed for lack of a second.

Melody Wiggins then motioned to approve the special use permit, which passed 4-1, with only Talley opposed.

See story on earlier planning board discussion about this and other Graham projects:

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