Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Proposal for 492 homes in Hawfields – with $400K townhouses, $450K single-family homes – put on hold

A Greensboro developer’s plans for a large subdivision of upscale single-family homes and townhouses drew opposition from neighbors who said it would disrupt the traditional, rural feel of their area – and crowd the roadways already strained from existing development and a new high school now under construction about a mile away.

The proposal, to be located beside the former Hawfields Presbyterian Home (now known as Compass Healthcare), envisions 492 homes (308 single-family homes and 184 townhouses) on almost 149 acres, stretching from NC 119 through to Farrell Road.

LeoTerra company president Buddy Lyons did most of the talking in support of his proposal and repeatedly offered to accommodate “reasonable” suggestions from neighbors.

[Story continues below photos.]

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LeoTerra president Buddy Lyons
Monday night’s planning board meeting was held at the Mebane Arts & Community Center and drew several dozen observers.

He made several accommodations on the spot during his presentation Monday night before Mebane’s planning board, which ended up not taking final action on the rezoning request.


Project has been pending for years
Even though several neighbors said they were unaware of any building proposal for the property, or even that it was for sale, an earlier developer’s plans date back at least four years.

Lyons noted that his company has taken over the development from the previous developer, Shawn Cummings. As previously reported in The Alamance News, LeoTerra bought the property last November for $8.65 million; Cummings had purchased the property in June 2017 from the Hawfields Presbyterian Home for $1.8 million.

[Story continues below graphic of the sudivision’s proposed layout.]

Cummings had submitted previous plans to the city’s planning department, but had never pursued actual rezoning for the project. Earlier iterations of Cummings’ plans, in 2020, had more single-family homes (354) and fewer townhouses (160), and with higher overall numbers of 514.

An even earlier one of Cummings’ preliminary plans, from 2018, had 487 dwelling units that included 146 senior apartments (as well as 279 single-family homes and 62 townhouses) with a total of 487 dwelling units.


Lyons’ flexibility
Lyons stressed that he “didn’t want a lot of angry neighbors.”

Among the issues on which Lyons indicated flexibility were: the possibility of lowering the number of units by about 20 units; ensuring that a walking trail, eight to ten feet wide, would be in compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA); and setbacks between houses would be expanded from 10 feet, in his original proposal, to 14 feet.

He also offered to provide an “on-site walk-through” on the property within the next week or so with interested neighbors.


Neighbor concerns
Many of the concerns voiced by existing residents were fairly typical for all new Mebane residential subdivisions – loss of natural beauty and area wildlife, adding to crowded schools, for instance.

And while traffic is another perpetual complaint, the specific illustrations mentioned by residents generally involved trying to turn onto NC 119 from Turner Road beside the Hawfields Church cemetery.

[Story continues below graphic/map of subdivision area.]

Examples of the style homes that LeoTerra envisions building in the Hawfields Landing subdivision.

Several complained that the ability to turn onto NC 119, in either direction, is already difficult and would only get worse from the added traffic without the aid of stop light. It was noted, however, that inasmuch as both roads are state roads, any decision on adding a light would be up to N.C. DOT, not Mebane.

“A new light is warranted,” said Cy Stober, the city’s planning director.

Craig Turner, who serves as an Alamance County commissioner, had a different role on Monday night, as an attorney for the Fox Rothschild law firm, which is representing LeoTerra.

Turner described the demand for housing locally as “robust.” Several neighbors expressed skepticism about whether a market exists for the high price points that Lyons had listed as the current estimates for the development – from $450,000 for single-family houses and $400,000 for townhouses.

They also questioned whether existing area residents would be able to afford homes in the subdivision, which Lyons had also pointed out is close to several industrial tenants in the nearby industrial park.

Among the amenities the developer is offering are: a pool and cabana, multi-use field; pickle ball court; walking trail; bark park; picnic area with fire pit; and a playground and grill area.

Neighborhood objections
Heather Merritt of Farrell Road said she objected to “another cookie-cutter development.” She also stressed that Farrell Road “ is not in condition to add more traffic” and, she said, “NC 119 needs to be expanded (i.e., widened).”

She and other residents expressed disappointment or outright irritation that a representative of the firm that did a traffic study, Ramey Kemp & Associates, was not present for the planning board meeting.

Many of the residents’ concerns centered on the traffic impact – on Farrell Road, on the back side of the development where there will be two entrances and exits, as well as the impact on Turner Road and NC 119, where the main entrance is planned.

Tara Cole, also of Farrell Road, echoed the traffic concerns. “Traffic is horrendous [already],” she said. She also wanted to know when the traffic study – that found so little impact from the new development was conducted – arguing that if it was during the coronavirus pandemic “that’s not the same” as the everyday situation.

Cole lamented Mebane’s growth, saying that it had doubled in “less than 10 years.”

In fact, figures for the U.S. Census indicate Mebane grew from 11,393 in 2010 to 17,797 in 2020, an increase of 56.2 percent.

Janet Ecklebarger, who lives off NC 119 near the proposed subdivision, argued that what the area needed was some commercial development, in particular a grocery store. She said the proposed development is “too dense” and “doesn’t fit” the area.

Planning board member Kurt Pearson added that forecasts are for the service at Turner Road and NC 119 and farther down the road at Turner Road and Jim Minor Road are already projected to decline.

Various planning board members essentially invited Lyons to ask that the item be delayed until the board’s monthly meeting next month (May 9), which he ultimately did.

Also postponed was another element of LeoTerra’s proposal, which was to build a pump station that would both serve the new development as well as other homes in that part of the city.

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