Friday, August 19, 2022

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Neighbors press council to intervene in pastor’s proposed subdivision project

The quip “there goes the neighborhood” may have felt a bit on the nose for one group of residents who recently descended on Burlington’s city hall to oppose a proposed development in their neck of the woods.

About two dozen people from this residential alcove near North Fisher Street ultimately converged on the city’s meeting chambers last Tuesday night in order to apprise Burlington’s city council of their concerns with the project.

But unlike most clashes between residents and developers, this particular neighborhood uprising didn’t come in response to a rezoning application, a subdivision request, or anything else that might demand the approval of Burlington’s elected officials.

At issue in this case is a previously-cleared subdivision dubbed Apple Ridge that’s slated to be developed on a large, vacant parcel off of Apple Street.

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This project calls for a mix of apartments and single-family homes that are already permitted under the property’s zoning – and which initially secured the blessing of a staff-level technical review committee in 2019.

The plans for this project also entail some internal roadwork, including a potential connection between Apple Street and nearby North St. John’s Street, which currently dead-ends at the edge of the development’s site.

This proposed connector has nevertheless raised the hackles of homeowners along St. John’s Street and Crescent Avenue, which currently form a closed loop off of Morningside Drive. According to these residents, the current configuration of these streets has created a refuge amid the hustle and bustle of the thoroughfares that crisscross this part of the city, and as they see it, the construction of the new road is nothing more than an existential threat to the veritable Shangri-La that they presently call home.

Although the controversy over this new development wasn’t on the council’s agenda, its members nevertheless had a chance to hear the concerns of its neighbors during a designated public comment period that rounded out their meeting last Tuesday.

Among those who addressed the council that evening were St. John’s Street residents Doris Allen and Mike Faucette, who insisted the new road would effectively bulldoze the quiet, serene lives that they now enjoy.

“We have talked to the developer who is a local pastor, and there were some things he told us that we found out tonight aren’t true. . . We were told that no road was being opened from North St. John’s to Apple Street. . . and we were also told by the developer that there would be no apartments.” – Tim Jeffers

Tim Jeffers
Mike Faucette
Doris Allen

Faucette offered a particularly descriptive account of what he and his neighbors believe is at stake if the plans for the Apple Ridge subdivision are consummated.

“We live in a neighborhood that’s quiet, peaceful, with no crime,” he told the council. “You can sit outside and hear nothing but crickets…and if you’ve never been to North St. John’s Street and Crescent Avenue, you would not know this existed.”

The council also heard an extensive critique of the proposed development from Tim Jeffers, a Crescent Avenue resident who has emerged as an unofficial spokesman for the neighborhood’s homeowners. In addition to sharing his objections with the project itself, Jeffers also lambasted its would-be developer Greg Hargrave, a pastor at Gospel Tabernacle United Holy Church who also once served on the city’s planning and zoning commission.

“We have talked to the developer who is a local pastor,” Jeffers informed the council, “and there were some things he told us that we found out tonight aren’t true…We were told that no road was being opened from North St. John’s to Apple Street…and we were also told by the developer that there would be no apartments.”

In response to the neighborhood’s concerns, Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler acknowledged that there’s no legal or regulatory mechanism which the council can use to forestall the subdivision’s development.

“This is not a rezoning matter, and this is not a matter that has to come before the council for approval,” the mayor said. “The developer has vested rights… But I think it’s important to this council, and it’s certainly important to staff, that if there’s some discontent, we would like take that to the developer.”

Butler went on to suggest that members of Burlington’s city staff could intervene with Hargrave in the hope that the pastor will make some voluntary concessions to placate the neighbors. The mayor’s recommendation didn’t draw any protests from Burlington’s city attorney David Huffman, who conceded that the city can share the neighborhood’s concerns with the developer even if it can’t exactly coerce him to revise the project.

Yet all these assurances were cold comfort to Faucette, who acknowledged as much in his remarks to the council last Tuesday.

“If this developer is not willing to make any changes,” the resident noted, “there’s pretty much nothing we can do.”

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