Graham planning board members were skeptical from the outset Tuesday night as they heard a New Jersey developer outline plans for a large multi-family development on 38 acres off East Gilbreath Street.
The project envisions 57 townhouses and 396 apartments, one of the largest multi-family projects in the city’s history.
The zoning request was for conditional residential zoning in lieu of the current light industrial designation. That’s the zoning designation even though the property is undeveloped, mostly woodland.
There would be 80 three-bedroom apartments; 136 two-bedroom units; and 80 one-bedroom units. The 23 apartment buildings would be three stories high with no elevators.
A pool was the primary amenity mentioned, with a clubhouse some distance away from the pool that would double as a rental office. Developer Ben Green said the primary other benefit was the large amount of open space throughout the apartment and townhouse areas.
The developer said that the two entrances off Gilbreath Street were sufficient, although he volunteered that the original plans called for four.
Although the layout shown to planning board members did not show any road improvements, planning director Nathan Page said he anticipates that DOT will require the developer to put in turn lanes for each of the two entrances.
But with no local or even North Carolina projects to point to as demonstration of the builder’s style or quality, planning board members were hesitant to approve a project that had so many unknown dimensions.
The developer provided less information about his plans for the project than most developers do, although he insisted that he had provided what the city’s planning director had asked of him.
Among the most skeptical was planning board member Bobby Chin, who is now running for city council.
Chin pressed on why the developer had not considered single-family homes. Chin worried aloud that the proliferation of apartment complexes that the city has experienced in recent years is “starting to overwhelm our services.”
New planning board member Jerome Bias was also puzzled as to why the developer had not provided more information about building materials for the project, as well as drawings of the potential townhouses.
Neighbors were not impressed with the proposal either. “He’s going to create mess,” said Keith Michaels of nearby Ivey Road, who worried about both traffic and the project’s impact on nearby South Graham Elementary School.
Janice McSherry targeted developer Ben Green’s New Jersey locale – he and his engineer joined the planning board meeting by the Zoom teleconferencing platform. “He has no allegiance to the city of Graham,” McSherry charged, lamenting that a good local developer was not involved who would keep some of the investment profits in Alamance County, rather than going to New Jersey.
Planning board member Chin echoed the point, “to some of these developers, it’s just an investment.” Chin added, “we’re a small town and that’s what is appealing,” he said, questioning the big-city feel of apartments.
McSherry was the first to say that the lack of specificity in the developer’s presentation was a “slap in the face” to the city. Board member Bias agreed, questioning why Green had chosen to “insult the board” by failing to provide more information.
Planning board member Eric Crissman was also exasperated by the developer. “I wish the presenter came with more information,” he said.
Board members divided, 2-3, on whether to allow Green and his organization to gather and present more information to the planning board next month in support of their project. Crissman moved for such a postponement, and was joined by Bias. But Mike Benesch, Chin, and chairman Dean Ward voted against, prevailing in scotching any more time for additional information on the project. (Board members Tony Bailey and Justin Moody were absent.)
Chin then made a recommendation to recommend to the city council against the rezoning proposal, which passed unanimously.