Mebane’s city council members, if not all neighbors, were generally receptive to a proposed mixed-use development with apartments and retail space planned for the site of the former Kingsdown mattress factory in downtown beside the railroad tracks.
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The two-block site has been largely abandoned in recent years as Kingsdown has built new facilities, both nearby and along I-85/40.
A Raleigh developer made many changes since the plans were first revealed at a planning board meeting in July. There, planning board members were critical of the density (268 apartments originally proposed), the lack of parking (with auxiliary parking lots to be used by tenants and customers), and the height of the buildings, most of which would have been four stories, the highest in the downtown area.
Planning board members were so unimpressed they voted 7-0 against recommending the rezoning for the project to the city council.
That prompted the developer to seek a two-month delay from the planned August consideration so that changes could be made, hoping to make adjustments and concessions sufficient to win approval – if not from neighbors, from the council itself.
Those changes largely seemed to work.
While a succession of neighbors near the project continued to voice opposition to the city council this week, several local businessmen spoke up in favor of the potential impact the additional residents could have for downtown merchants.
One building, the so-called “Cotton Building,” at the corner of Washington and Third Streets, would be preserved. Other parts of the Kingsdown office and manufacturing facility would be torn down to make way for buildings designed to have retail space on the first floor, with apartments above.
Among the changes:
In its revised plans, the developer has agreed to reduce the density of the project, one of the key reasons for opposition from planning board members and some neighbors. The reduction also improves the ratio of parking, another of the points drawing opposition at the July planning board meeting.
The three proposed buildings along West Holt Street would be reduced from four stories to three, with a reduction in the number of apartments from 268 to 217.
The two new buildings along Washington Street would remain four stories, with some retail space on the ground floor and apartments above.
However, the retail space intended for the ground level of two of the buildings facing Washington Street would be more than halved, from 21,056 square feet to 9,396.
The effect of both changes will be to have on-site parking sufficient to support the residential and commercial aspects of the project.
The developer is still pursuing a contract with the Methodist Church across the street for use of one of the church parking lots, long previously used by Kingsdown during the workweek. The developer now envisions use only for retail customers, not tenants of the apartments.
Other updated changes to the plan include modifying the internal lighting to be more concentrated within the project, rather than spilling over to adjacent, particularly residential, areas; providing open space on top of the two, four-story buildings along West Washington Street; and adding 10 parking spaces explicitly for electric cars.
On-street parking on three sides of the project (all along Holt Street and Second Street (across from the Mebane Library) and a portion of Washington Street) would be “cut out” from the existing property, i.e., recessed in from travel lanes on each of the affected streets.
Most of the sidewalks would be five feet wide, by virtue of removing some of the utility poles that now encroach on the future sidewalk area, except that some portions around the one remaining building, the Cotton Building, may not allow for such widths.
Two other changes were agreed to during Monday night’s consideration. The developer agreed that the dog park proposed as an amenity for the project would be open to all residents.
Also 4,200 square feet of meeting and event space in the former Cotton Building would be available without a rental charge to tenants and residents alike, although a reasonable cleaning fee may be imposed.
Some councilmen asked questions hoping to find answers that would also keep one of the other main manufacturing buildings. But architect John Plageman said that the combination of the seven-foot ceilings (shorter than desired) and the lack of “structural integrity,” based on an engineering assessment, simply would not accommodate the kind of development envisioned in the new construction on the site.
Neighbors still don’t like it; it “doesn’t fit in”
Residents trouped to the council podium to continue their objections.
Lorraine Werts, 113 Somerset Court, off South Third Street, told the city council the project was “too grandiose” and would bring “too many people to Mebane.” She said, “I don’t think it fits. I don’t want to see it change – this much,” she added.
Josh Woodard, 500 South Third Street, also said the three- and four-story apartment buildings did not “fit with the character” of single-family homes to which they’d be adjacent.
Woodard also complained that the all-rental nature of the project “is missing an opportunity” to have ownership via a condominium structure, rather than apartments.
“I’d love to see a portion of these units be for sale,” he suggested.
RESIDENTS SPEAK OUT – MOSTLY AGAINST, BUT A FEW FOR
– AGAINST –
Debra Kaufman, 207 West Holt Street, who has lived directly across the street from the future project for 33 years, said she did not like the idea of the apartment buildings “looming over us.” While the developer had cut the heights of the three buildings facing Holt Street from four- to three-stories, Kaufman still didn’t like the idea.
Gene Jester, 209 West Holt Street, also directly across from the project, said that while he appreciated the changes made by the developer “I can’t get too excited” about the overall plans. “There’s nowhere else in town,” Jester said “where there’s this [much] concentration on just six acres.”
Another resident, Barbara Wilkerson, 304 South Fourth Street, joined the chorus of residents telling the council that “this doesn’t fit.”
Mary McFarland, 307 North Wilba Road, told the council, “We don’t need an ‘urban center’ in Mebane.”
Kevin West, 414 West Lee Street, criticized the council for not having initiated a purchase of the former Kingsdown property.
But the council also heard from some business supporters of the concept. Steve Krans, a downtown businessman, told the council that the 217 units with new Mebane residents will begin “driving traffic and business downtown.”
Dan Shannon, 4681 Mebane Rogers Road, also supported the likely impact the apartments would have on downtown.
Colin Cannell challenged the statements made by some residents, noting that while many had lived in Mebane many year, “most of this town has been here less than 10 years. Mebane is younger than most towns,” he said, adding that this is just the type of that residence that many younger residents like.
Council mostly favorable
Councilman Tim Bradley challenged the speakers who had said, or implied, that the council’s primary interest in approving the project would be in order to gain the property tax dollars from the higher value of a new project.
Bradley said he had “never” voted on a residential project based on its impact on the city’s tax base, and that was not his nor other council members’ motivations, he told the audience.
Councilman Jonathan White said he had mixed opinions on the project. “There are some aspects that are not my favorite,” he said. But some other aspects are “very attractive.”
Councilman Sean Ewing wondered aloud why the developer’s revised plans had not gone back to the planning board before coming before the city council.
City officials explained that as long as a project is modified, or reduced, between planning board and city council, it doesn’t usually have to go back before the planning board.
White ultimately offered a motion to approve the rezoning with the conditions that the developer had offered, which was approved 4-1. Ewing voted no. In an interview with The Alamance News afterwards, Ewing said that while he supports the revised project, he thinks the planning board should have seen it again.
For his part, developer David Allen said it would probably be next spring before his company would be able to close on the property, which would be first step toward beginning more final preparations for construction.