A lapse in public notification didn’t prevent a standing-room only audience from piling into Burlington’s city hall on Monday for the latest meeting of the city’s planning and zoning commission.
More than a dozen residents attended this advisory board meeting – notwithstanding the failure of city staff members to post the yellow rezoning signs which customarily alert the general public that a particular property is up for review before the planning commission.
The omission of these signs nevertheless prompted the commission’s members to postpone their decisions on all three of the rezoning requests that were up for consideration on Monday. The group put off these votes on the advice of the city’s planning director Jamie Lawson, who herself learned of the oversight mere minutes before the meeting began from a reporter with The Alamance News.
At Lawson’s behest, Richard Parker, the chairman of the planning and zoning commission, broke the news about the postponement to the audience members gathered in the municipal conference room that evening.
“Due to some mix-up, there was no sign posted on any one of the properties,” Parker went on to explain. “[But] we’re going to go ahead with the meeting…We’re not going to send anybody home. We’re going to listen to you tonight.”
The planning commission proceeded to hear two rezoning requests that drew nary a peep from the public. The group resolved to vote on both of these items during a special-called meeting on October 10.
Meanwhile, the commission heard a full-on debate about a third rezoning proposal, which accounted for the unusually large showing at Monday’s proceedings. The group ultimately decided to put off that matter until October 24 in order to give the would-be developer time to share its plans directly with neighboring residents.
“Vision” for Keck Drive
The rezoning request which generated much of the fuss Monday was also the least specific of the three applications that came before the city’s planning commission.
This particular item concerns some 142.57 acres of land off of Keck Drive, a dead-end residential street off of Anthony Road, that are presently zoned for a combination of medium industrial and medium density residential development. The property’s current owner, Carolina Hosiery, has asked the city to rezone all of this property for a “limited” form of medium industrial use in anticipation of its prospective sale to a New Jersey firm called Vision Real Estate Partners.
During Monday night’s meeting, the planning commission’s members heard some background about the Vision from Ryan Fraser, an associate with this out-of-state development concern.
“We are vertically integrated,” Fraser informed the group. “That means we have in-house investments, in-house development, in-house property management, architecture, and leasing.”
Fraser went on to describe some of the project that his firm has undertaken outside of North Carolina. He then yielded the floor to Charlie Yowell, a civil engineer in Vision’s employ, to discuss the particulars of the proposed venture in Burlington.
Yowell told the city’s planning commission that, as part of his client’s “limited use” request, the company has voluntarily ruled out a number of potential uses that are otherwise permitted in a medium industrial zone. These excluded options included a passenger terminal, a telecom tower, and gas- or wind-energy conversion facilities.
Meanwhile, Vision has submitted a much longer list of possible projects that it wants to retain the latitude to develop. Among these 45 items are such disparate uses as a broadcasting studio, a coliseum, a post office, a police or fire station, a makerspace, a truck stop, a warehouse, a light manufacturing facility, a helicopter landing pad, and even a solar energy farm.
Yowell assured the planning commission that each of these uses is in line with the existing industrial projects that have popped up along Anthony Road.
“My client is seeking to bring this property into conformity with the development that is really happening around it,” he added, “and the remaining [45 requested] uses represent the flexibility that the medium density district allows.”
You call that “limited”?
This veritable laundry list of proposals didn’t sit easily with the planning commission’s chairman Richard Parker.
“When you say “limited use,” Parker said as he addressed the firm’s representatives, “you’re hitting us here with 45 different uses – which we don’t consider limited use. Are all these things [really] being considered?”
The commission also heard from five of the dozen or so residents who were on hand for Monday’s proceedings. These individuals had all learned of Vision’s request from a certified letter that the city sent to every property owner within 300 feet of the property up for rezoning. But even though they knew something was percolating in their neighborhood, they were just as puzzled as Parker about what that something may actually be.
“There are 53 medium density uses in the [Unified Development Ordinance],” noted Keck Drive homeowner Diane Stalls. “[Vision] have graciously cut that back to 45, and thank you for eliminating those eight uses. But 45 is still a lot.”
Meanwhile, Stalls’ husband Robert observed that the residents present at Monday night’s meeting disproportionately from the west side of Keck Drive, which is the side closest to the property under review.
“There are as many people who don’t live against the property who are going to be affected by this,” he added. “I think that everybody on the east side of Keck Drive need to be invited to this meeting. Not just the people on the west side of Keck Drive.”
In order to allay these concerns, Paul Koonts, a local attorney who has been hired to represent the developer, revealed that his client intends to hold a meeting with the neighborhood’s residents on October 17. Koonts also asked the planning commission to help smooth the way for this gathering by suggesting some additional uses for Vision to strike from its list of 45 prospective projects.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re here,” he added. “We took a first swipe at it and eliminated many of the heaviest uses. My approach was to come to you and get your feedback.”
Although the commission’s members declined to suggest any specific items to pull, its members agreed to put off their vote on the firm’s rezoning request until October 24 so that the would-be developer can touch based with its prospective neighbors at next month’s neighborhood meeting.
“I hope when you come back,” Parker went on to declare, “you’ll have a shorter, more limited list.”
Multifamily on Whitesell
In addition to Vision’s request, the planning commission considered another limited use application from Darren Lucas of Asheboro.
Earlier this year, Lucas and his brother Brian obtained the city’s permission to develop an apartment complex on 9-plus acres along Whitesell Drive – a dead end street off of Huffman Mill Road. On Monday, Lucas returned with a similar request for another 4.5 acre lot that’s literally within shouting distance of the previously rezoned property.
Lucas has asked the city to reclassify this additional parcel from medium density residential to a limited form of general business development – and as with his previous request, the property’s potential use would be limited exclusively to the development of multi-family housing.
The commission, for its part, agreed to put this matter off until its special-called meeting on October 10.
Meanwhile, a third rezoning request which came up on Monday would potentially allow a Fayetteville-based company to transform a local motel into an apartment complex for 20-and 30-somethings.
Local attorney Frank Longest presented this particular request on behalf of KAPIL, LLC, which owns the Maple Motel at 2444 Maple Avenue. Longest told the city’s planning commission that his client would like to sell this property to Good Homes, which specializes in the conversion of old motels into apartments for the “millennial” market.
“They have experience with taking existing motel property and converting them to multi-family properties,” he went on to note. “Their target market is millennials…This company does not try to target low income [tenants].
Longest added that Good Homes has proposed to set up 145 multi-family apartments that would be aimed at tenants with annual incomes of $45,000 to $100,000.
In order to facilitate this metamorphosis, Longest has asked the city to rezone the motel’s 5.24-acre site, which is presently cleared for light industrial use, to a limited use form of mixed use. Under this proposal, the property could be used for multi-family housing, a hotel or motel, or an indoor restaurant with additional seating outdoors.
As in the case of the other multi-family housing proposal, the commission agreed to put this item off until October 10.