A score of residents from the semi-rural outskirts of Elon descended on the town’s municipal building this week for a much-anticipated showdown with a developer that plans to build a 129-home subdivision in their neck of the woods.
This “community meeting,” which took place on Tuesday evening, had been organized by the GreenHawk Corporation of Raleigh in order to gather public input about its proposed subdivision, which would occupy the northeast corner of the intersection where University Drive and North Williamson Avenue converge near the confluence of Elon-Ossipee and Shallowford Church roads.
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A requirement of Elon’s unified development ordinance, this gathering had been welcomed by some of the project’s prospective neighbors as a chance to bloody the nose of the project’s would-be developer. Yet, in the end, Tuesday’s get-together proved to be relatively amicable exchange between GreenHawk’s representatives and the nearly two dozen neighbors who were on hand for the meeting.
A blockbusting sequel
The project unveiled at Tuesday’s community meeting wasn’t exactly GreenHawk’s first foray into the fast-growing territory on Elon’s northern perimeter. In fact, the company made its grand entrance into this area last summer when it obtained the town’s permission to build 400 homes and 100,000 square feet of commercial space in the northwest corner of the same intersection where its latest project is slated to go.
The newest project is dubbed Parc East; the firm’s earlier venture had been consciously modeled on the trendy “master planned communities” that pepper the Triangle. Like other developments of its type, Parc Northwest envisions a relatively compact residential community that’s located within walking distance of retail, offices, and leisure activities. Based on traditional neighborhoods that predate the automobile, this concept was nevertheless something of a novelty for Elon, which had just added a conditional zoning option to its development ordinance in order to deal with precisely this sort of non-standard subdivision.
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Shots from Tuesday, March 28, 2023 meeting at Elon town hall
Despite protests from a large number of neighboring residents, Elon’s town council ultimately signed off on the conditional zoning request which GreenHawk had filed for Parc Northwest.
Since that project’s approval, GreenHawk has been corresponding with the town’s planning department about a sequel to its successful debut with the council.
Known, somewhat predictably, as Parc East, GreenHawk’s current endeavor is more modest in scope than its previous project in Elon. According to the plans that the developer presented on Tuesday, this new development would feature 60 townhouses, 44 single-family homes, and 25 “attached” single-family dwellings. This last category consists of townhome-style residences that would, counterintuitively, have narrow gaps between them in order to let more natural light into each home.
GreenHawk intends to build these 129 units on a 32-acre tract that currently comprises three separate parcels, which are respectively zoned for suburban residential, neighborhood residential, and “village center” development. The company has asked the town to rezone the entire site for a conditional form of urban residential development.
According to Jeremy Medlin, GreenHawk’s executive vice president of real estate, the “conditional” aspect of this proposed designation has as much to do with what’s omitted from this development as what would be included.
“We’re not looking to do any non-residential commercial [on this site],” Medlin told The Alamance News shortly before Tuesday’s community meeting, “so we’re conditioning out non-residential uses.”
Since they submitted their rezoning request, Medlin and his colleagues have gone back and forth with Elon’s planning department to hammer out the project’s particulars. As part of this technical review process, members of the town staff have vetted things such as road access, sidewalks, provisions for emergency vehicles, lot setbacks, stream and property buffers, water and sewer services, and stormwater drainage.
With the completion of this technical review phase, the developer’s plans can go before Elon’s municipal planning board, which is tentatively scheduled to take up the proposal in May. But, first, the town’s development ordinance required GreenHawk to present its plans to Parc East’s potential neighbors and hear whatever feedback they have on the project. In advance of this meeting, the town mailed out notices to every property owner within 500 feet of Parc East’s proposed site, and these invitations drew quite a turnout from the long-established neighborhood that lies to the east of the property.
During Tuesday’s community meeting, Tony Tate, a landscape architect with TMTLA Associates, tried to explain the purpose of this mandated confab to the 22 residents who had squeezed into the town’s meeting chambers to hear about GreenHawk’s plans for their neighborhood.
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“Before the plan goes to the planning board, we have to have a community meeting,” Tate acknowledged at the start of the meeting. “We’re here to answer any questions that you have. If we don’t have answers tonight, we’ll get you those answers.”
Tate then launched into a presentation about GreenHawk’s development. It wasn’t long, however, before he was hopelessly waylaid by questions and complaints from that evening’s predominantly elderly audience.
One of the first queries that Tate fielded on Tuesday concerned the poor quality of the site maps that had accompanied the town’s notices about the community meeting. From there, he and his colleagues were barraged with observations and gripes about everything from ice cream socials and reckless college-age drivers to the fallout from a failed development nearly two decades ago.
Amid this avalanche of feedback, Tate and his colleagues were able to provide a few more details about the residential development they have in the works.
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According to GreenHawk’s representatives, the project’s 44 single-family homes are expected to have 2,200 to 3,100 square feet of floor space packed in a frame up to 2 1/2 stories in height and will each be accompanied by a two-car garage. The developer also plans to build the attached single-family homes to a maximum of 2 1/2 stories, while the some of the 60 proposed townhouses may rise to a height of three stories.
In addition to the dwellings themselves, Tate told the neighbors about the project’s pedestrian accommodations, which include walking trails along the three streams that cut through the site as well as a crosswalk for people who venture across University Drive.
“All of our streets will also have sidewalks on both sides of the streets,” he added, “and we’re providing a site for a transit stop should the bus system ever come to that area.”
A few audience members complained about the safety issues that may come with the additional foot traffic. But a far bigger concern for much of the neighborhood was the developer’s provisions for road access – and in particular, an outlet onto Cable Road that would be one of the project’s two primary entrances.
On the beaten path
The lion’s share of the crowd at Tuesday’s proceedings hailed from a mature neighborhood beyond Elon’s municipal limits that’s flanked by Cable Road to the west and Spanish Oak Road to the east. The residents of this neighborhood were quick to decry the primitive state of these roadways, which they feared will be pummeled to pieces by the construction equipment that GreenHawk plans to roll in. They were also aghast at the thought that cut-through traffic will invade their rustic enclave once the construction of Parc East is complete.
“We all socialize in the middle of the road,” declared Cable Road resident Marian Christian, “and this will ruin our quality of life.”
“We have just grown up in that neighborhood,” agreed neighbor Kay Sykes, “and we feel like you are going to take that away from us.”
Justin Culbertson, a younger resident of Spanish Oak Road, expressed his angst over the project’s potential impact on his four children.
“This is where we walk, and this is where my children walk,” he said. “I wish I could say my kids are always right beside me. But sometimes they’re not.
“Our community is just that,” Culbertson went on to note, “and it would be unfortunate if we had lost that because of this development.”
In response to these concerns about spillover traffic, Medlin observed that the town has recommended “traffic calming measures” to address drivers who may speed through the area. The neighborhood’s residents generally seemed unimpressed with this particular assurance. They appeared more receptive, however, to a proposal from Tate to block off the Cable Road entrance during construction.
The mood of the room also benefited from the consoling words of Chad Huffine, a local civil engineer in GreenHawk’s employ who was on hand during the community meeting. Huffine assured the neighborhood’s residents that their complaints about the complaints about the local road conditions had registered loud and clear.
“We have heard a lot about the condition of Cable Road…and the quality of life for you and your neighbors,” he told the audience. “It is important to the town’s planner, to the developer, and to me to preserve that.”
Huffine went on to promise that he’d relay the neighborhood’s concerns about Cable Road to a district engineer with the state’s transportation department. He added that, it is only through community feedback that state and local officials can learn that there are people on the outskirts of Elon living on what amounts to “a 20-foot horse path.”
The way ahead
Aside from the issues of road access and pedestrian safety, the developer’s representatives also heard calls for larger, more ample property buffers and a reduction in the proposed density of Parc East’s residences. A couple of residents also shared their apprehension that the developer’s homes might end up housing college students despite GreenHawk’s assurances that they’ll won’t be marketed as rental properties.
Meanwhile, Culbertson excoriated the company over its public relations, which struck him as lacking any genuine concern for the community.
“It feels like you’re doing this as a gesture, as a show,” he objected. “I feel like the way this is being done is: minimize cost, maximize profit.”
But by and large, the residents who attended Tuesday’s community meeting seem somewhat allayed in their fears about the proposed development. Meanwhile, Huffine declared that he and the developer’s other representatives have a lot of additional work to do thanks to the community’s feedback.
“This our first opportunity to get everybody in the room and hear about the specific things that you’re concerned with,” the developer’s civil engineer said, “and I can tell you, from thirty years of civil engineering experience, that there are a lot of good things that come out of these meetings.”