Anticipating a growth surge when the western stretch of the Outer Loop hits town, Apex has approved a plan that would guide the development of 500 acres around South Salem Street, the site of an expected interchange.
The I-540/South Salem Street Small Area Plan calls for single-family homes, condominiums, retail stores, a school, multistoried office buildings, a hotel and a 60-acre town park.
Doug Meckes, the Apex commissioner who served on the Area Plan Advisory Committee, said the committee wanted to "establish the character of the intersection" before growth pressures become intense.
"We were fearful that parcels of land would be sold piecemeal out there, and somebody would decide that they would want to put a big box on a few acres and apartments on another 60 acres," he said. "Somebody now buys a 45-acre plot, they understand this is what goes here. We have literally dictated what type of development would be at the intersection."
Much of the land in the town's western quadrant is now farmland, but the arrival of I-540, expected to reach Apex by 2011, has already brought development pressures. Apex Senior Planner Dianne Khin said developers are inquiring about property.
The adoption of the small area plan puts the town ahead of the curve, she said. Unlike the "big-box" development that I-540 has brought to its North Raleigh interchanges, Khin said, Apex wanted something different.
"Other than shopping malls, big boxes, we wanted to look at this area to be more mixed-use, more pedestrian-friendly, and to allow for the possibility in the future to be a transit area," she said. "We wanted it have a different feel than the others."
If development occurs according to the plan, there would be 167.22 acres of commercial space. In that area would be a 175,000-square-foot community center, a 65,000-square-foot hotel that could be as high as six stories, and nearly 2 million square feet of office and retail space. About 218 acres of the area would consist of single-family lots, townhouses and condominiums, with about 160 acres of greenways and a park.
A committee of town officials, property owners and developers spent nearly four months working on the plan.
Scott Burkhead owns about 60 acres off South Salem Street and was a committee member. He stressed that the plan was a guide.
"Growth is inevitable," said Burkhead, who has lived on his property for 12 years. "I moved to this area because I wanted to live in a rural area that was close to a more urban area. But growth is coming, and now we have a guide to deal with it."
Meckes said it will take nearly 25 years before the plan comes to fruition. Even with the pressure to develop, he said, some families will not sell for 15 or 20 years.
"We stressed time and time again that this is not a town project, but development will ultimately dictate at what pace land is sold and the time frame for which it develops," Meckes said.
Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly praised the overall plan but said he is still concerned about the suggestion to move a proposed Triangle Transit Authority rail station from downtown to the center of the I-540/Salem Street planning area.
According to the plan, moving the station closer to I-540 would allow the surrounding area to develop to the higher densities needed to support a TTA station. The move would allow buses to use I-540 to get to and from Research Triangle Park. But Weatherly is still not sold.
"Frankly, I need to look at that a little more. That's where our growth area is, out west, and that might make sense," he said. "I'm not an enthusiastic supporter of light rail. I don't think it will ever reach the ridership to sustain it, but if they are going to have it, we in Apex need access to it."
Staff writer Demorris Lee can be reached at 829-8937 or email@example.com.