Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Mebane planning board deadlocks over dense rezoning request

Mebane’s planning board was evenly divided, 3-3, over the merits of a proposed subdivision along Saddle Club Road with 110 single-family houses on a total of 43.32 acres, but the audience members who spoke up were lopsidedly opposed.

The development is just across the county line in the western Orange County portion of Mebane – currently in the city’s extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction, but would be annexed prior to rezoning.

More than a dozen residents spoke out against the rezoning proposal for the “cluster” development which had houses “bunched” too close together – a common theme of opponents who bemoaned the loss of their largely rural setting on the northeastern edge of the city in favor of what the developer termed “workforce” housing.

The current zoning is R-20, but the developer is seeking R-12, which allows smaller lots.

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At least as objectionable to most speakers as what they considered the overly dense new housing development were the athletic amenities that the developer proposed to include: a soccer field and two volleyball courts (which could become four pickleball courts instead), and restrooms to accompany them.

Carla Sevilla, one of the developers with Raleigh-based Glenwood Homes, said the new development was targeted at “entry-level buyers,” which she later defined as those buying homes in the low $300,000 range.

Developer Carla Sevilla of Glenwood Homes

Sevilla would later say that there is a housing shortage – “17,000 rooftops short in this area,” she said, without precisely defining the geographic area.

But Jessica Farrell said there was “nothing ‘positively charming’ – using Mebane’s self-ascribed motto – about crowding these cluster homes” along a small country road. The development was variously characterized as “sprawl” and “row houses” by other speakers.

Beth Carlton, who acknowledged that she was a recent (four-year) transplant to Mebane herself, said that “change needs to be controlled,” observing that Mebane is “growing, growing quite fast.”

Pat Rice said the new development with its soccer field would disturb the “quiet peacefulness” of the area.

Pat Rice

Her mother, Avis Rice, at 89 a 72-year resident of the pastoral outskirts of the city, acknowledged that it’s tough to make changes, but said the particular changes included in the proposed rezoning were not good ones for the area.

Long-time Mebane resident Avis Rice

Larry Dragoo minimized the developer’s much-touted recreation area as having been designated for an area of the parcel was that otherwise “not buildable.”

Larry Dragoo

Planning board member Judy Taylor – the board’s vice chairman who presided in the absence of board chairman Ed Tulauskas – noted that the only path to the recreation area is around the outskirts of the development, but could not be conveniently reached internally.

Planning board vice chairman Judy Taylor, who presided Monday night in the absence of chairman Edward Tulauskas

Much of the neighborhood objection focused on the possibility of invasive lighting from the soccer field and volleyball court until the city’s development director, Ashley Ownbey, clarified that there was no lighting included in the plans at either.

In terms of noise, it was also clarified that the soccer field would be more like a neighborhood, or practice, field, but would not be used for official games or tournaments, unlike the fields at the Mebane Community Park.

After more than an hour of hearing from the developer and neighborhood opponents, planning board member Susan Semonite made a motion to recommend denial of the rezoning request for the R-12 cluster development to the city council.

Planning board members William Chapman, Susan Semonite, and Gale Pettiford

She was joined by Gale Pettiford and Taylor in support of the denial.

Voting against the motion for denial were Colin Cannell, David Scott, and William Chapman.  Cannell emphasized that the development would respond to the shortage of affordable housing in Orange County, where, he said, the typical house costs $500,000 and sells within 9 days.

Planning board members Colin Cannell and David Scott, who both opposed the denial motion

He said not everyone could afford what he termed the “expensive mansions” that would accompany building under the current, R-20 parameters.

The tie vote was also a result of the absence of three members:  Tulauskas, as well as Kurt Pearson and Keith Hoover.

The city council will take up the rezoning item at its July 1 meeting.

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