A residential developer’s preparations for a new project in Gibsonville have apparently set off a minor revolt among homeowners from one nearby subdivision in Elon.
Nearly a dozen of these concerned residents from the Ashley Woods subdivision ultimately descended on Elon’s town council on Monday to decry this development’s possible impact on their own, relatively insular neighborhood on Elon’s side of the boundary with Gibsonville.
Dubbed Owen Park, the proposed development behind this neighborhood uprising is a 130-home single-family community that Matt Kirkpatrick of Wake County-based Reliant Partners has been striving to build within Gibsonville since 2019.
Although entirely contained within Gibsonville’s jurisdiction, the proposed subdivision is situated close enough to Elon’s domain to impinge on the roadways and other public infrastructure in the adjacent town.
It was precisely this sort of crossover effect that brought homeowners from Ashley Woods to Elon’s municipal building on Monday. Their primary gripe concerned Kirkpatrick’s plans to tie one of Owen Park’s entrances into Aspen Avenue – a street owned and maintained by Elon that currently dead ends just shy of the border with Gibsonville.
Although one of several points of access that appear in Kirkpatrick’s plans for Owen Park, the proposed extension of Aspen Avenue has loomed like the first sign of the Apocalypse for homeowners such as Julie Waller.
One of five residents who directly addressed Elon’s town council on Monday, Waller initially reflected on the tranquility that she and her neighbors currently enjoy due to Aspen Avenue’s current configuration, which ends in a short “stub out” that the original builder had left behind several decades ago to connect with a prospective future development in Gibsonville.
“When I first saw it, it was like something from Hallmark,” she told the town’s municipal leaders during a designated public comment period that evening. “Now, you’re dumping a lot of traffic on us…and if Aspen Avenue opens back up, what’s your plan for the safety of Aspen Avenue?!”
The fears that Waller and her neighbors shared with the council were based, in part, on a fateful decision that Kirkpatrick made roughly a year ago when he resolved to use Aspen Avenue as an entry point to bring logging trucks and heavy equipment onto his property.
This move on the developer’s part triggered an immediate outcry from neighbors, and it ultimately prompted Elon’s municipal leaders to throw up a barrier at the road’s current terminus.
In his defense, Kirkpatrick insists that he merely made use of the right-of-way that he already has beyond Aspen Avenue’s dead end in order to harvest some mature timber from the future site of his proposed subdivision.
“We had an agreement with [the town] that we would close the road after three more weeks of harvesting, which we had a right to do,” he recalled in an interview with The Alamance News on Tuesday. “We said in the agreement that we would not use [Aspen Avenue] for construction, and we would not open the road until the plat is recorded.”
Kirkpatrick said that he’ll abide by this agreement as he proceeds with the new residential development. He nevertheless stressed that Aspen Avenue’s eventual extension is part and parcel of an overall plan to provide Owen Park with the connectivity, the well distributed traffic flow, and the added emergency access that municipal planners are keen to see in most any residential development.
Kirkpatrick’s open acknowledgement of his intentions to extend Aspen Avenue has apparently had an unintended effect on Ashley Woods residents like Dana Martin.
During Monday’s comment period, Martin confessed that she had assumed the extension of Aspen Avenue was a dead issue until her husband heard otherwise in a casual conversation with Kirkpatrick near the town’s aforementioned barricade. Martin went on add that the developer’s confidence in the roadway’s eventual extension was a big factor in her neighborhood’s decision to march on Elon’s town hall this week.
“He hasn’t applied for it yet,” Martin conceded when she appeared at the podium on Monday.
“But he’s going to…He’ll probably come at the beginning of the year and try to do something behind our backs.”
Yet, the neighborhood’s unexpected appearance at Monday’s town council meeting proved something of a headscratcher for Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe.
“This came up as a surprise.” Sharpe said in an uncharacteristic intrusion into that evening’s public comment period. “The town has no current plan to open Aspen Avenue – as of this moment right now there is no proposal before us…The road is closed, and it would take a vote from the council to open it.”
Elon’s town manager, Richard Roedner, concurred with Sharpe’s overall point that it would take an act of the council to open Aspen Avenue to through traffic from, and into, Owen Park. Roedner added that the town of Elon has full control over the fate of this particular road, which is owned and maintained by the municipality. The town manager nevertheless acknowledged that there’s nothing to prevent Kirkpatrick from seeking to have this road reopened.
“We have not abandoned it,” he added. “We have temporarily closed the road, and it will stay temporarily closed until the council reopens it.”
These explanations offered some comfort to Tom Jenswold, another Ashley Woods resident who was on hand for the town council’s meeting on Monday.
“I’m against opening Aspen at any time,” Jenswold declared during that evening’s comment period. “But you’ve cleared up a lot of things.”
As he moves forward with Owen Park’s development, Kirkpatrick insists that he’ll work with the authorities in Elon to resolve any lingering issues over his plans for Aspen Avenue.
“We have been in ongoing communication with the town of Elon regarding the status of Aspen Avenue,” he explained in a formal statement on Wednesday. “We are hopeful that through continued communication and cooperation, via the appropriate processes, we can address the continued availability of Aspen Avenue as a public road in a manner that is reasonable and beneficial for all interested parties.”
In the meantime, the developer contends that, for all their current anxieties, he thinks his neighbors in Ashley Woods will be pleasantly surprised when they glimpse the final results of his vision for Owen Park.
“It’s going to be a beautiful project,” he added in an interview Tuesday, “and I think people will like what they see when the work is complete.”