Planning board initially deadlocked, 4-4, but subsequently voted 6-2 to recommend the project with five commercial spaces, 90 rental townhouses
Mebane’s planning board has endorsed a proposal for a mixed-use development on the northeast corner of Mebane Oaks and Old Hillsborough roads.
The 27.16-acre parcel would have five lots along Mebane Oaks Road for commercial development and 90 rental townhouses behind the commercial area.
During a presentation at Monday night’s planning board meeting, representatives of the developer, Deep River Partners, outlined its plans for 38,000 square feet of commercial space in front of the three-bedroom townhouses.
The commercial component would have five buildings on 6.86 acres with a 20-foot vegetative buffer at the front and eight-foot landscaping buffer behind the buildings.
The commercial buildings would front Mebane Oaks Road (near one of the city’s fire stations and a future location for Summit Church) and back up to an extension of Wilson Road. The preliminary plans show that the commercial buildings would have 50-foot minimum lot widths, with 25-foot front setbacks, 30-foot rear setbacks, and maximum building heights of 70 feet.
The five commercial buildings would have an average of 7,600 square feet each (for a total of approximately 38,000 square feet), based on the preliminary plans that the developer has filed with the city.
Developer Brian Pierce said there are not yet any confirmed future tenants for the commercial spaces. “We’ve talked to a lot of folks,” he said, adding “we’ve got a lot of interest,” but he said he did not expect any firm commitments until the rezoning process is further along.
The residential component of the project would cover 16.86 acres of the total 27.16-acre site. The townhouses would be for rent and would feature three-bedroom floor plans.
All of the bedrooms are upstairs, it was explained, although planning board member David Scott urged the developer to consider ways to include a first-floor bedroom in at least some of the models.
The townhouses would have a total of 180 parking spaces (two per unit), with 47 on-street parking spaces, two of which would be handicap-accessible.
The townhouses would have a minimum lot width of 20 feet, with front and rear setbacks of 20 feet, side setbacks of 30 feet, and maximum heights of 50 feet.
The developer’s preliminary plans show that the townhouses would be constructed as about 19 separate buildings, with three to six units each and a minimum separation of 30 feet between the buildings.
[Story continues below examples of the type of townhouses the developer envisions.]
A portion of the property at the rear of the townhouse buildings would be designated as a common area/open space, which would back up to the treeline, a 20-foot landscape buffer, and the Haw Creek.
Backyard “private recreational space”
The most controversial part of the plan turned out to be the request to consider the backyards of the townhouses as part of the required “private recreational space” under Mebane’s ordinance.
Mebane’s development director Ashley Ownbey acknowledged that the idea is a new one, not previously allowed by the city’s planning department. However, she explained that the rental nature of the townhouses is also a new one for Mebane.
Board member Colin Cannell expressed concerns that the concept “sets up a discrepancy” and that it “would feel very awkward.”
He added, “The whole is less than the sum of its parts.”
Cannell also questioned whether the board was being asked to make up a new policy without thoroughly investigating or deciding what the city’s approach should be toward the concept of allowing backyards to count toward private recreational space.
Initially, the planning board deadlocked, 4-4, on recommending the project to the city council, with the opposition centering on the new concept of allowing backyards to count as part of the overall recreational space.
Board chairman Ed Tulauskas was absent due to foreign travel, according to city officials; vice chairman Judy Taylor presided in his absence.
On the motion for approval, the board was initially evenly split with planning board members David Scott, Kurt Pearson, William Chapman, and Taylor in favor; voting against were Cannell, Keith Hoover, Susan Semonite, and Gale Pettiford.
But Scott, who had made the motion for approval, tried to elicit the reasons for opposition from those who had voted against it.
Scott elaborated that he felt that the rental nature of the townhouses made the backyard designation less controversial or subject to misinterpretation by tenants than it otherwise might be in the case of owner-occupied townhouses.
In response to Scott’s explanation, two board members – Hoover and Cannell – changed their positions on a second motion for approval from Scott, which passed 6-2.
Only Semonite and Pettiford remained in opposition.
Background on the project
The site is near Walmart and Garrett Crossing shopping center and spans a total of 27.16 acres on three separate parcels. The preliminary plans list the street address for the proposed mixed-use development as 1446, 1462, and 1470 Mebane Oaks Road.
The developer, Greensboro-based Deep River Partners, is requesting R-8 zoning for the residential component of the project. The proposed site is currently zoned B-2 for general business and R-20 for residential. The developer is proposing to build 90 townhouses that would have a density of 5.34 dwelling units per acre.
The commercial portion of the project would have an eight-foot landscape buffer along a future extension of Wilson Road, which now runs behind the Chick-fil-A farther up the road. (Wilson Road is currently a short stub that would be extended in the future through several properties and ultimately the Deep River Partners’ land to reach Old Hillsborough Road. Wilson Road is different from a longer, better-known road nearby, Ben Wilson Road.) .
The developer is offering to pay the city $135,000 in lieu of providing 2.07 acres of public recreation space; instead the developer has designated 11,400 square feet (about a one-third of an acre) as public recreation space. Current amenities include a 10-foot multiuse path and common area, also a playground, picnic shelter, and a dog park. The proposed development would be built in a single phase, based on the plans that have been filed with the city.
Streets within the commercial portion of the development would be dedicated as public streets, while other streets connecting to the residential portion would be private and would be maintained by a homeowners’ association.
The three parcels targeted for the mixed-use development are currently owned by: the heirs of D.D. Mebane; the William Weldon Mebane Life Estate and Danny Lee Mebane; and Betty Kerley Mebane, Robert Fitch Mebane, and William Weldon Mebane.
Concerns about taking land on opposite side of road for turn lanes
Two residents spoke up during the meeting to express concerns about whether their properties (on the south side of Old Hillsborough Road) could be taken to provide the extra room for the left turn lane that DOT has indicated would need to be provided into the residential portion of the development. (Another left turn lane would be required off Mebane Oaks Road into the front, or commercial area, of the project.)
Don Windsor noted that “Old Hillsborough is already so crowded now,” and called particular attention to the possibility that a building at the southeast corner of Old Hillsborough Road would have its lot whittled down further by widening the road to provide additional width for the left turn lane off Old Hillsborough.
Robert Workman, who also lives along Old Hillsborough Road, echoed that concern, noting that significant front portions of his and other relatives’ homes have already been trimmed by the widening of the road.
The developer’s attorney, Michael Fox, said the developers do not have control of how the state Department of Transportation (DOT) might configure the turn lanes. “We’re at their (DOT) mercy,” he said.