Apartments bring growing pains for suburban Holly Springs

akenney@newsobserver.comApril 2, 2013 

  • Change the system?

    Neighbors of the West Main Street condominium project complained that they did not hear about the proposed project until early in March, after the town’s planning board had met to consider it.

    At a recent meeting, staff suggested that residents could have found information about the project on the town’s “What’s Coming to Town?” web page, or by reading planning board agendas.

    In response to the controversy, the town may require that developers host public information meetings early in the planning process, as towns such as Cary do. The move would require council approval.

    The town also could issue an earlier set of notifications about projects on its own dime.

— This town’s latest growth spurt is beginning with a bit of friction.

Hundreds of apartments and multi-family units are on deck, following on the heels of new single-family neighborhoods and shopping areas.

But the town’s increasing density is bringing growing pains for some residents, including neighborhoods near Holly Springs Towne Center and on West Holly Springs Road.

The disputes highlight a bigger question for Holly Springs.

Town government sees high-density development as a step in the maturation of the town, where houses outnumber apartment units nine to one. That policy shift, combined with renewed developer interest, prompted edgy conversations recently between developers, Town Council members and homeowners who feel threatened by “multi-family” construction.

The biggest project in the works is New Hill Place Apartments, which would put 12 buildings of 288 apartments and 500 parking spaces on 21 acres northwest of the Holly Springs Towne Center, which opened this month.

A developer that helped assemble land for the shopping center is pushing ahead with a residential counterpart that’s been planned since 2006.

Ashley Shaffer, a homeowner representing the recently built Forest Springs neighborhood, said she had gathered 37 signatures for a petition in opposition to the apartment project, which would sit just south of her subdivision. She cited a litany of worries common for high-density projects, including perceived increases in crime, drops in property value and heavier traffic and infrastructure loads.

“We’re not opposed to change on this site,” Shaffer said. “However, we want to ensure it is done with the culture of family in mind.”

Mike Hunter, a Cary-based developer of the project, said the apartments could house some of the hundreds of people who have taken jobs at Holly Springs Towne Center’s stores and eateries. He promised construction of the “highest quality” the town has yet seen.

“This is what we wanted, to concentrate that around that shopping center,” said Town Councilman Tim Sack.

The project’s development plans won unanimous approval from the council, and it could open by 2016.

There’s also multi-family interest brewing in the center of town. More than a dozen landowners are attempting to rezone a combined 22 acres for dense residential and commercial development, which would more than double the housing density allowed on the land.

The proposed development could include five acres of commercial space and about 17 acres of apartments or town homes at up to eight units per acre, according to early planning documents.

“Today, we have a very good quality of life here. We have squirrels, we have birds, we have all kinds of wildlife that we can enjoy from our backyard,” said Larry Gillespie, whose house backs up onto the proposed multi-family area. “Tomorrow, if this passes, we are going to enjoy the noise of many neighbors concentrated into a small area.”

Sack said he empathizes with neighbors’ concerns and surprise, but he stressed that they were asking landowners “not to do what they want” with their land, and described planning for density as “part of the process of building the town.”

Ultimately, the council approved the rezoning of the five-acre commercial section and took no action on the residential, leaving the landowners to try again. They have not yet resubmitted plans.

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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