The fourth effort could be the charm for a Graham developer who has made several false starts, at least from the city council’s perspective, since last year to develop and revitalize several lots along Maple and Market streets.
Developer Jason Cox is proposing the conversion of four lots with old homes in varying degrees of disrepair into an urban cluster, with 38 units, in eight buildings on 1.15 acres at the corner of Maple and Market streets.
This was his fourth, and most detailed, proposal for development, which began more than a year ago.
Background: three misfires
Jason Cox initially proposed an open-ended downtown business zoning designation for a 7-parcel area along Maple and Market streets in July 2021. The lots totaling 3½ acres – four facing North Maple Street and three more on West Market Street – were being proposed for rezoning from residential to B-1, which is the commercial designation for the downtown business district.
The council turned down the rezoning on a 2-1 vote, with then-mayor Jerry Peterman insisting, and making a motion, that then-council member Jennifer Talley be recused from discussion and voting on the project since she owns property adjacent to one of the proposed lots.
Cox returned earlier this year with a smaller configuration, focusing on the four lots (with 1.15 acres) at the corner of Maple and Market streets – 302 North Maple Street, and 203, 207, and 213 West Market Street – again proposing a downtown business rezoning. The planning board unanimously recommended against, and the city council unanimously rejected the idea, 5-0, in March.
Cox next tried a residential layout for the same 1.15-acre area (of four lots). City council members said they were impressed by some architectural renderings that Cox presented at their April meeting, but insisted that he had to provide more detailed drawings in order for the council to consider approving a rezoning request.
None of the designs gave any building measurements, for instance. As councilman Joey Parsons noted at the time, “There’s not a single dimension listed.” There were no measurements of the size of seven individual buildings, two parking lots or individual spaces (Cox said there would be 38), nor the total (cumulative) dimensions of the four lots.
The council members voted unanimously, 5-0, to “dismiss” his rezoning request, with the suggestion that he return with more information on this plans.
While Cox protested that the council was changing its rules, Talley responded, “I don’t know of a single example of [a city council] approving a conditional rezoning request,” without having a more detailed plan than Cox had provided.
“We expect to see preliminary engineering plans,” Chin said. “If we start waffling [by approving plans with less information than anticipated by the city’s ordinances] we’ll never see the end of it.”
However, council members were clearly impressed by new materials that Cox provided, which showed very stylish buildings.
At the conclusion of Cox’s April presentation, Talley was effusive in her praise. “It fits in very harmoniously with the neighborhood,” she said, but joining all colleagues in insisting on a more detailed representation of his plans for the four lots.
The fourth version
So, this week, Cox was back with just the kind of engineered layout that council members had requested.
[Story continues below layout of proposed development.]
He also let an attorney, Amanda Hodierne, do most of the talking about the project. Hodierne said the new proposal “fits so nicely into your downtown.”
The primary hang-up for the planning board members was the issue of parking and whether Cox had provided enough parking spaces to accommodate the 38 units in his development.
With 28 one-bedroom units and ten two-bedroom spaces, the city’s ordinances assume about 57 parking spaces (1.5 spaces per bedroom), but Cox’s drawings showed 38 standard spaces plus four handicapped-accessible ones.
In previous presentations, Cox has insisted that the kind of people who would be drawn to his residential cluster would want to avoid cars, and he has also said some could park in a nearby city-owned parking lot about a block away. For her part, Hodierne listed as examples of likely tenants singles and newlyweds.
But planning board members worried that, in reality, there would be spats among tenants over parking (especially when visitors came), inevitably trying to draw the city’s police force into enforcement issues.
Also drawing some criticism from the one neighbor who spoke, Sherron Larzelere, was the height (three stories) of the buildings directly across from her home at 305 North Maple Street. The three-story height “wouldn’t fit in,” with the neighborhood, she said. She asked that he consider reducing that part of the project to two stories.
Cox had revised his earlier plans to provide that the two buildings facing Maple Street would have facades in keeping with the residential look of that street. Meanwhile, two of the main buildings facing Market Street would emulate a more industrial “mill look” similar to the Oneida Mill Lofts across the street from his project.
Other buildings include what Hodierne described as “smaller Southern cottage-style” buildings.
Planning board members spent some time analyzing where Cox might be able to squeeze out some additional parking spaces. Most of the focus was on getting to a point where there would be one parking space for each of the 48 bedrooms in his plan, but not the 57 or so required by the city’s ordinance.
Meanwhile, planning board member John Wooten felt that the city should stick to the requirements of the city’s ordinances, insisting on the 57 spaces. He warned that doing otherwise would set a precedent for requests for exceptions on future projects, as well.
The new configuration drew praise from members. Chad Huffine described it as a “beautiful project”; planning board chairman Ward called it a “great, great project,” while adding that he felt there was room to add some more parking spaces. Crissman declared it an “excellent project.”
[Story continues below architectural renderings of the project.]
In the midst of the planning board’s focus on parking, Hodierne tried to re-focus on the overall advantages of the project and the improvement it would bring to that part of Graham. “What is the prevailing priority?” she asked. She said parking problems, if they arose, could be dealt with in the future, but she urged approval for the overall plan.
As members debated what specific number of total (or additional) parking spaces to put in their recommendation to the city council, Hodierne asked that members concentrate on a formula approach, rather than a specific number.
Crissman made the final motion for approval, specifying that there be 9 parking spaces for every 10 bedrooms in the plan, resulting in 44 parking spaces (or two more than in Cox’s submitted plans).
The final vote in favor was 5-1, with Wooten opposed. Ward, Crissman, Huffine, Tony Bailey, and Jerome Bias voted in favor; Michael Benesch was absent.
The plan will next go to Graham’s city council at their September 13 meeting.
WHAT WOULD BE REPLACED:
See coverage of previous efforts:
Council likes latest look for development, but wants more details (April 14, 2022): https://alamancenews.com/graham-council-impressed-with-look-of-redevelopment-but-wants-more-detailed-plans/
Planning board approves third version of proposal for Maple & Market streets (March 16, 2022): https://alamancenews.com/breaking-tues-night-planning-board-gives-ok-to-third-version-of-maple-market-street-development/
City council rejects downtown business district expansion (March 15, 2022): https://alamancenews.com/graham-city-council-turns-down-open-ended-business-district-in-residential-area-revised-plan-proposes-conditional-residential-development/
Planning board recommends against downtown business district expansion, even if smaller than original (February 17, 2022): https://alamancenews.com/planning-board-recommends-against-expanding-downtown-business-district-to-maple-market-streets-residential-area/
See coverage of earlier, larger proposal in the same area from 2021:
City council forces Talley out of discussion & vote, but turns down business rezoning on 2-1 vote (August 11, 2021): https://alamancenews.com/council-majority-forces-talley-out-of-discussion-on-commercial-project-which-is-subsequently-turned-down-2-1/
Planning board prefers mixed used, rather than strictly downtown business zoning, as requested (July 22, 2021): https://alamancenews.com/planning-board-prefers-mixed-use-to-all-commercial-for-residential-neighborhood/