Monday, November 28, 2022

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Planning board sides with neighbors against townhouse developer’s project in single-family area of Gibsonville

Neighbors turned out in force Thursday night to demonstrate their opposition to a proposed townhouse development along Cook Road on the edge of Gibsonville.

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The 5.74-acre lot is currently in the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), thus within Gibsonville’s planning and zoning area but not yet within the municipal boundaries of the town.

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What drew the most fire from residents was the proposed nature of the new subdivision – townhouses on a small lot surrounded by single-family homes, indeed “high-end single-family homes,” in the assessment of one of the leading opponents of the project who lives in the one of those adjacent subdivisions.

Even the portrayal of the townhouses by developer Jim Few as potentially being priced in the $350,000 to $425,000 range did not persuade homeowners who insisted that the multi-family option simply “didn’t fit” with the single-family residential character of the area.

Few did not have a final determination on how many townhouses would ultimately be built on the lot, but estimated approximately “35, 38, 40.”

Developer Few anticipated many of the neighbors’ objections, saying that it simply wasn’t economically feasible to build around 10 single-family homes for the same profit that could be made from the townhouse arrangement.

About a dozen residents spoke during a the first one hour and twenty minutes of the planning board meeting, each pleading for the planning board to vote against the project. Most identified themselves as residents of either the Avondale or Westbrook Forest subidivsions, which are adjacent to the proposed rezoning.

In the end, the project was not controversial to the planning board, who essentially sided with the neighbors, voting unanimously, 5-0, against recommending the project to the board of aldermen.

The town’s aldermen will make a final decision on the rezoning for the project – possibly as early as their next meeting, on Monday night. Three members of the board – mayor Lenny Williams and members Yvonne Maizland and Bryant Crisp – were present to hear the proceedings.

Some of the residents’ statements against the project touched on existing issues and what they consider shortcomings in their town:

  • concerns with safety along Cook Road, and especially crossing the busy thoroughfare to get to the the town of Elon’s Beth Schmidt Park across the street;
  • existing water runoff problems in the areas behind the proposed development, which several speakers feared would be made worse, despite the developer’s and town planner’s assurances that state law now requires retention ponds and other means to ensure that new development doesn’t have a subsequent adverse impact on neighbors;
  • that topic was closely related to concerns with traffic congestion and in particular trying to turn onto Cook Road from any of the existing subdivisions;
  • the lack of sidewalks in the area; and
  • a general concern that the small town which straddles the Alamance-Guilford county line is growing too fast, without addressing infrastructure needs to serve current residents.

Steve Codner and his wife Eileen Martin of Driftwood Court were two of the speakers against the townhouse development.

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Steve Codner
Eileen Martin
Byron Bellman
Connie Bishop
David Levy
Ricky Cox
Harold Dixon

Codner, in particular, raised the possibility that rezoning the lot (now agricultural) in the middle of RS-15 and RS-20 zoning could be interpreted as being “spot zoning,” which is prohibited by state law.

Codner quoted from a 1972 court case that found that rezoning a smaller tract of land “surrounded by a much larger area uniformly zoned” could constitute “spot zoning.”

Pastor Ricky Cox emphasized, as did most speakers, that new construction “should be consistent with what’s there [already],” alluding to single-family homes.

Meanwhile, Byron Bellman of Windrift Court focused on the lack of an environmental impact study on the effect of the potential townhouse development.  He said the developer would be “raking in the money, but what are we doing to improve the town?”

He and several other speakers also questioned the impact on schools.

Codner and Connie Bishop of Driftwood Drive also focused on the “already strained” fire, police, and utility services.

Bishop, herself a former member of the board of aldermen, also highlighted that the town’s land use plan is “out of date,” inasmuch as it expired two years ago.

She and others pointed out that zoning decisions are supposed to be consistent with a long-term land use plan which, in essence, Gibsonville no longer has.

Planning board chairman Steve Harrison noted that the town is working on such an update.

Several speakers also targeted the potential rental nature of townhouses, implying that renters would not exercise the same care, concern, or responsibility as a home owner.

Karen Tikkanen highlighted the water runoff problems that have plagued some in the area.  “It’s going to be worse,” she warned, if the new development is approved.

Harold Dixon of Driftwood Drive raised the possibility of having the town buy the property for “green space” or wondered aloud whether the town could subsidize streets or other infrastructure in order to make it more feasible for the developer to build single-family homes.

After hearing from the public, planning board members were solicited by the chairmen for their questions or issues.

Ultimately planning board member Anthony Vicinanza made the motion to deny the rezoning request.  During the subsequent  vote, planning board member first attempt to abstain from voting, but ultimately voted against the rezoning.  Also voting no were planning board members Stephen Ellis, Tim Wood, and chairman Harrison.

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Gibsonville planning board chairman Steve Harrison
Gibsonville planning board members Stephen Ellis and Patty Collins
Gibsonville planning board members Anthony Vicinanza and Tim Wood

Even though the project got a negative recommendation from the planning board, the aldermen will take up the same issue Monday night during their semi-monthly meeting.

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