Cary News

July 25, 2014

Cary rethinks lot sizes for residential development

The Town Council wants to explore the idea of requiring residential developments to meet a minimum lot size that’s based on square footage.

As development picks up in Cary, town leaders have made a habit of sending residential developers back to the drawing board.

Often, a developer’s plans meet or exceed the number of homes per acre required by town rules. But Cary Town Council members frequently ask developers to make their project less dense.

Now, the council wants to explore the idea of requiring lots in new residential developments to meet a minimum size based on square footage.

A requirement would give residents a better idea of what type of project to expect and would clarify for developers the type of housing the council wants to see, said Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson.

The town’s current method for regulating density is confusing, she said.

For example, land that’s zoned to allow a maximum of two homes per acre gives the impression that lots on the land will be about half an acre, Robinson said.

“However, after land for infrastructure, buffers and recreation space are considered, the resulting lot sizes are often much smaller than citizens expect,” she said. “One might expect 20,000-square-foot lots and, instead, see 8,000 square-foot-lots developed.”

Council members agreed that the discrepancy between what they want and what town rules allow is creating an unpredictable development process.

“Hence the protest petitions ... and all the angst that comes with rezoning,” said Councilwoman Gale Adcock.

The council plans to schedule a special meeting to discuss the idea before acting on it.

The conversation will be watched closely by builders who are already anticipating changes to the development process on a number of different fronts.

A proposal to change Cary’s rules for removing large trees is making its way through town committees. The proposal would raise the standard for trees to be considered valuable, but would also require developers to hire a certified arborist to evaluate the trees.

Some on the council also want to change the process for acquiring a grading permit for residential development.

Builders can currently obtain grading permits on a project-by-project basis. Council members are considering requiring developers to seek grading permits on a lot-by-lot basis.

Developers have said they fear both proposals would cost them time and money.

If Cary requires a minimum residential lot size (that will vary depending on zoning), the town may become less appealing to home builders.

“In general, I’m not for any kind of regulation like this,” said Rich Van Tassel, president of Royal Oaks Building Group. “If you put onerous restrictions on land development, it will go elsewhere.”

If Cary requires bigger lot sizes than town rules currently allow, developers may need to build more expensive homes to make their projects worthwhile, Van Tassel said.

That’s a problem for developers because most home buyers aren’t looking for high-end homes right now, said Tim Minton, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County.

“The next generation of home buyers is OK with living in an area that’s more dense,” Minton said. “If you make it too difficult (to build affordable homes), no one’s going to build there.”

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