Graham’s planning board was no more supportive of a plan to expand the city’s downtown business district into a smaller portion of the Maple and Market streets residential area Tuesday night than they were last summer for a similar proposal to rezone an even larger portion of the same area.
Last August, developer Jason Cox asked the city to rezone seven lots totaling 3½ acres – four facing North Maple Street and three more on West Market Street – from residential to B-1, which is the commercial designation for the downtown business district.
The council turned down the request on a 2-1 vote – with council member Jennifer Talley removed by other council members from the deliberations because of what they said was a conflict since a property she owned was adjacent to one Cox was seeking to rezone, and councilman Chip Turner was absent due to a stroke he had suffered the previous week.
This time Cox was back with a variation that proposed less than half the acreage, 1.15 acres, on four (of the previous seven) lots – 302 North Maple Street, and 203, 207, and 213 West Market Street – to be rezoned for B-1, the downtown business district.
But planning board members were reluctant to allow such broad, “straight” rezoning, without any enforceable method for ensuring what would be built.
Cox, for instance, insisted that he would have parking on site, but B-1 zoning, does not require parking on site. So, if Cox changed his mind and didn’t provide any on-site parking, there’s nothing the city would be able to do to compel it, based on discussion among planning board members.
Planning board chairman Dean Ward noted that B-1 zoning allows buildings up to five stories tall, although Cox said that wouldn’t be financially practical. Still, members were concerned that by rezoning for business, there was the potential for such a tall building adjacent to a residential area. (Graham has no buildings currently any taller than three stories.)
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Cox’s general description of his plans was considered vague by some planning board members; Cox said he intended “mixed use, predominantly residential” for the rezoned lots.
Cox characterized the area as having experienced “disinvestment for decades,” and portrayed his project as one that would revitalize this part of the city.
Planning board chairman Ward noted that the traditional B-1 zoning had applied to the one block square in each direction around the Courthouse. Cox’s proposal would be a hundred yards or more away from the closest existing downtown business zoning.
In doing so, it would bring business zoning to a largely residential area behind the Oneida Mill Loft apartments.
“How much further will we allow [downtown business zoning] to expand,” Ward asked, a challenge also made by Sherron Larzelere, who lives across from the Maple Street house and lot proposed for rezoning. “When does it stop?” she asked. “I’m not exactly sure how this fits in,” she said.
Planning board member Mike Benesch summarized his objection to Cox’s plan, “You can’t put a square peg in a round hole.” Benesch ultimately made the motion to recommend to the city council against the rezoning; his motion for denial passed unanimously.
Meanwhile, planning board members hinted or suggested outright that Cox should consider a conditional rezoning request that would outline and specify some of the specific protections that they sought, such as parking, that would apply to a rezoning request. Benesch, for one, told Cox that he hoped he would reconsider and bring that approach back for future consideration.
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/