Planning board votes 3-2 against 252 more apartments near entrance to Mackintosh on the Lake and Highland Elementary School
Burlington’s planning and zoning commission has narrowly voted not to endorse a 252-unit apartment complex near the entrance to Mackintosh on the Lake, which ranks as the largest residential development in Burlington.
In a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the commission’s members voted 3-to-2 not to recommend that Burlington’s city council accept this proposed project, which if approved would be built on nearly 16 acres along East Buckhill Trail.
The brainchild of Wilmington-based Zimmer Development, Zimmer’s representatives have submitted this particular project to the city in the form of a “planned development.” This relatively new addition to Burlington’s planning and zoning repertoire requires an applicant to present detailed plans that must be vetted by a staff-level technical review committee before the developer can seek the appropriate zoning approval.
Zimmer’s new venture is merely the latest of several high-profile developments that have been floated near the intersection of Danbrook Road and Bonnar Bridge Parkway – not far from the interstate interchange for University Drive. In recent years, this crossroads has been a flashpoint for conflicts between developers and residents – due, in part, to the nearby location Highland Elementary School as well as the role which Bonnar Bridge Parkway serves as the primary gateway to the upscale market Mackintosh subdivision.
A company with some experience plying these contrary currents, Zimmer has already completed one 288-unit apartment complex called Milltown along nearby West Buckhill Road. The company’s representatives highlighted the success of this earlier endeavor when they appeared before the city’s planning commission, and they asserted their new project will be just as much of an asset to Burlington if it’s approved.
[Story continues below graphic of proposed apartment layout.]
Company promotes its good track record with nearby complex
Adam Tucker, an executive with Zimmer, told the members of the city’s planning commission that they needn’t take his word for the high quality of the project; they can simply examine the specs of this planned development for themselves.
“We’ve been through [the city’s technical review committee],” he said during the group’s meeting on Monday. “We’ve got a plan that we feel good about. So, you know what you’re getting with us.”
Tucker and his colleagues also insisted that the traffic improvements they made during Milltown’s construction will preempt any need for additional upgrades as part of their new 252-unit proposal. Most notably, these enhancements include a left turn lane and a traffic signal as well as roadwork near the elementary school.
In addition to these earlier upgrades, Zimmer has also pledged $300,000 as part of its latest endeavor toward the city’s prospective construction of an alternate entrance to Mackintosh on the Lake.
In this case, the technical review committee has signed off on the schematics for 252 dwelling units that would be developed in seven three-and-four story structures on some 15.69 acres of land. Zimmer’s proposal also calls for a clubhouse, a multi-use path on an AT&T utility easement, an advanced drainage system beneath the development’s main parking lot, and other amenities that were presented to the city’s planning commission.
Planning staff OK, neighbors not
Although Zimmer’s request came to the commission with the blessing of Burlington’s planning staff, it also attracted intense scrutiny from nearby residents. A handful of these neighbors shared their misgivings by email prior to the commission’s meeting. About a dozen also voiced their concerns directly to the group’s members on Monday.
Particularly vocal in his objections to the project was Thomas Ozbolt, a homeowner on West Buckhill Road who emerged as something of an unofficial spokesman for the neighborhood’s residents. Ozbolt urged the commission’s members not to allow “out-of-town developers” like Zimmer to turn the area around Mackintosh into “a swamp of apartments.”
“I love my family, and I love Burlington,” Ozbolt told the commission. “I want to see what’s best for them and that’s not having out-of-town developers transform our city into a sea of apartments…They walk away with briefcases of cash while we reap the whirlwind.”
One family splits over proposal
The commission also heard a passionate plea against the development from Rhonda Raynor, whose husband Ethan serves as an alternate on the planning commission. In her remarks to the group, Rhonda Raynor observed that her own home along West Buckhill Road is overshadowed by Milltown’s three-story edifices, and she feared that a similar fate may await neighbors in the penumbra of Zimmer’s next venture.
The commission received a much different take on this project from Raynor’s father, Bob, who owns a business at 1687 West Buckhill Road. In an email to the city’s planning department, the elder Raynor acknowledged that he had been opposed to Zimmer’s plans for Milltown because he dreaded that they’d bring crime to the area and spoil the bucolic view he enjoyed.
“The ‘country view’ is gone,” he added, “but Zimmer is making efforts to add shrubbery and trees along Buckhill Road to provide a pleasant view…We’ve experienced no incidents at all from the apartment residents. The impact to my property is minor…Therefore, I would be supportive of the new multifamily project on Bonnar Bridge.”
Final vote: 3-2 against
In the end, Zimmer’s request won the support of commission members James Kirkpatrick and John Black. It nevertheless tanked with the group’s chairman Richard Parker, regular member Lee Roane, and alternate Ethan Raynor, who voted with the rest of the group despite his geographic proximity to the project’s proposed site.
This 3-to-2 vote against the request does not prevent Zimmer from taking its plans before Burlington’s city council for a final decision.