Friday, April 12, 2024

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Revised infill project gets more favorable reception from council than earlier version got at planning board

Developer’s & city’s willingness to scrap “connectivity” to adjacent subdivisions,  a usual requirement for new developments, cleared the way for final approval

Mebane’s city council had a somewhat more favorable reaction to a revised layout for an “infill” project targeted for 60.24 acres along Mebane Oaks Road than the city’s planning board did when it heard the original proposal last month. The property is beside and behind the Walmart shopping center, next to Agape Baptist Church on Mebane Oaks Road and just down from one of the city’s fire stations.

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The council approved the rezoning for the revised plan on a 4-1 vote after more than three hours of the developer’s presentation and about a dozen neighbors’ negative reaction.

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See separate story on neighbors’ objections: https://alamancenews.com/neighbors-voice-opposition-to-new-residents-cutting-through-their-subdivisions/


In the final analysis, the key to approval may have been the developer’s, and the city’s, last-minute willingness not to connect the new subdivision with two adjacent, completed subdivisions, Manorfield and Arbor Creek.

Amanda Hodierne, the developer’s attorney, told the council after hearing neighbors’ vociferous objections to the possibility of traffic “cutting through” their developments to Old Hillsborough Road, that they would be willing to allow the main road which was intended to connect to Long Leaf Pine Place instead to terminate with a “stub out.”  Potentially, there could be a connection in the future, but not initially.

The developers had already stipulated that they would not open the connection until after the last phase of construction so that no construction equipment could come through the adjacent neighborhoods, an earlier-expressed fear of residents there.

But the idea of simply ending the new roadway without connecting to the existing street was raised by councilman Tim Bradley who questioned whether it would be “critical” to connect the street, or a “deal stopper” to end the new road without connecting to the Manorfield and Arbor Creek subdivisions.

Historically, most cities, including Mebane, have often insisted that “connectivity” be a central feature of new developments, with “stub outs” included for connections for future developments. When those new developments come along, they are expected to “tie in” with existing roadways.

Mebane city manager Chris Rollins told council members that it had been a principle of the city’s planning to have such connections but said such decisions were ultimately up to the council.

With Bradley’s suggestion, a pending motion from council member Katie Burkholder to approve the subdivision as presented, seconded by councilman Sean Ewing, was scuttled in favor of a revised motion to incorporate Bradley’s idea of simply ending the new subdivision’s road.

While Ewing said he felt eliminating the connection was a “huge lost opportunity,” he and Burkholder both agreed to revise their motion to incorporate Bradley’s suggestion, which then passed 4-1.  Voting in favor were Burkholder, Ewing, Bradley, and Montrena Hadley; voting against was councilman Jonathan White, who voiced concerns about the overall traffic situation aside from the “cut through” issues that especially drew the ire of adjacent neighbors.

After the meeting, White elaborated on his dissent.  “I’m still concerned about the traffic on that side of town,” he said.  “I felt it would be better to be more circumspect” than to approve the project even after eliminating any connection to the adjacent subdivisions.

Heavy traffic, particularly along Mebane Oaks Road – which was variously termed “a challenge, “a disaster,” and “rather chaotic”  – drew much of the attention throughout the discussion.

The pending conclusion of a two-year roadwork project by DOT along the busy thoroughfare, including the widening of the overpass over I-85/40, brought repeated assurances from city officials that the traffic situation should show improvements when the work is completed later this fall.  Adding to that assurance that DOT would institute “signalization” to coordinate traffic lights between the interstate and Old Hillsborough Road, so that traffic flows, rather than backs up, at various traffic lights.

 

Revisions from earlier plan

The new plan cut the number of proposed apartments from 320 to 294 apartments, and the number of single-family homes from 96 to 95. The front apartment building, that will face Mebane Oaks Road, was trimmed from four stories to three (removing 13 apartments from the count), and 13,000 square feet of commercial space was put in place of 13 first-floor apartments.

The original plans were turned down on a 5-2 vote last month by Mebane’s planning board, with one planning board member targeting in particular the number of apartments, originally 320, in the proposed plan.

The developer has applied for conditional rezoning in order to build the mixed-use project, currently named “Evolve at Mebane Oaks.”  The property had been zoned R-20 and B-2.

The developer had also greatly expanded the amenities that would be offered to include: a community clubhouse with Wi-Fi; community recreation area; pickleball court; business center; game room; fitness center; yoga studio; saltwater swimming pool; pool house; grilling pavilion; a playground with rubber turf; and two dog parks with artificial turf and agility equipment.  Other amenities include EV car charging stations and a bike storage facility.  The community recreation area would also feature walking trails, a pedestrian bridge, and a community garden, based on the revised plans that the developer had submitted to the city.

As with the earlier request, the developer offered to donate a 7.44-acre lot to the city for its future use.  The developer had added a $255,457 payment in lieu of an additional 3.73 acres of public recreation space required under the city’s development ordinances.

While that payment was characterized as “a bribe” by one resident, city officials explained that the city’s ordinances allow for developers – in general, not just for this specific project – to make such payments in lieu of providing the additional recreation space.  Those payments are then accumulated by the city to buy property for, or build, larger parks.

The developer has also eliminated its earlier request for a waiver from the city’s maximum building height of 50 feet.  The developer originally wanted a waiver on the 50-foot maximum height in order to build apartment buildings that would’ve been as high as 60 feet.

The apartments at Evolve Mebane Oaks could have rents above $1,500, according to Frank Forde, a developer who spoke on behalf of the project at the July planning board meeting. With high-end amenities shown in pictures to the council, White commented at one point that the apartments would be on the “highest end” within Mebane.

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