Apex officials voted 3-2 to rezone 165 acres Tuesday, making way for a mixed-use development known as Sweetwater that residents and officials say could drastically alter western Apex.
The town has approved mixed-use developments before, but Sweetwater is especially large in size and ambition.
Developers with ExperienceOne Homes, who also built the Village of Apex, Kitts Creek in Morrisville and other neighborhoods in Wake Forest and North Raleigh, said Sweetwater will be their nicest project to date, with offices, retail, dining and homes.
It’s located along U.S. 64, brushing up against the western edges of the Abbington neighborhood.
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Council members Denise Wilkie, Scott Lassiter and Gene Schulze voted for the rezoning with Bill Jensen and Nicole Dozier voting against it.
Jensen, who has long opposed residential growth, said he would rather try to turn the site into a large office park. An office park would help the town keep workers in Apex, instead of having them commute to other parts of the Triangle.
“For those of you who decide to vote for this, you’re not really looking to the future,” Jensen said. “You’re just looking to the next few years, and that’s a mistake.”
He also expressed concerns about the increase in traffic and children to Apex’s already crowded schools.
A site plan hasn’t been finalized, but preliminary plans include 418 houses and townhomes intermingled with parks, a clubhouse, shopping, restaurants, and one or two medium-size office buildings.
“Sidewalks (will be) located on both sides of the street,” said Glenda Toppe, a former planner for Apex and Cary who’s now consulting for Sweetwater. “We’re looking forward to it being a very pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.”
The developers also will spend $3.5 million on road improvements. They will extend Richardson Road from U.S. 64 halfway to Olive Chapel Road and will transform the nearby section of U.S. 64 into a superstreet, similar to N.C. 55 in Holly Springs.
Lassiter and Schulze both questioned the viability of Jensen’s vision, saying if this mixed-use development doesn’t happen, it’s more likely the area would become a large subdivision instead of a large business park.
“The problem is there’s plenty of open office space in the Triangle right now,” Schulze said. “So developers aren’t exactly clamoring for office space.”
The developers already have whittled down their residential vision, dropping from 600 homes to 418 at the request of the town council. They also plan to build at least one 50,000-square-foot office building, which would hold about 200 workers.
Wilkie was the swing vote. She said she saw pros and cons in the project, but ultimately supported it because the developers are willing to pay for roadwork as well as other infrastructure the town normally would pay for, such as water and sewer lines.
Before voting, she asked an ExperienceOne Homes representative to promise that the work on Richardson Road and U.S. 64 would be finished before any homes are built.
The developer also promised that construction traffic wouldn’t go through Abbington and that they would install traffic calming devices on Abbington roads connected to Sweetwater.
“Will that make y’all happy?” Wilkie asked, turning to the dozen Abbington residents who attended the meeting to protest the development.
“No,” they shouted back.
Their concerns primarily are related to traffic on U.S. 64 during rush hour.
“I can only imagine what it’s going to be when there’s another 500 to 1,000 (vehicle) movements in the morning,” Steve Ulrich said. “I already wait three or four minutes to make a right turn in the morning.”
Apex Transportation Engineer Russell Dalton said there would be no substantial difference in traffic.
“You may notice a few more cars queuing,” he said. “You may notice 30 seconds of delay. But it’s not gonna be backed up into the neighborhood.”
Dalton also said the extension of Richardson Road will alleviate heavy congestion on Kelly and Olive Chapel roads.
Other Abbington residents also are concerned about worsening school crowding. Yet ExperienceOne representatives said most of the homes – which will range from $200,000 to $700,000 – will be marketed toward retirees and empty-nesters.
Even some of Sweetwater’s potential competitors wanted it approved. Matt Hobbs, who represents the Westford mixed-use development on U.S. 64 on the other side of Sweetwater, said its developers are excited about the homes and road improvements promised by Sweetwater.
Westford was approved more than two years ago but has yet to materialize.
“We’ve been working hard to find the right commercial developments to come to Westford,” Hobbs said. Sweetwater could help with that recruiting, he said.
The Sweetwater developers plan to hit the ground running, they told the council. Now that their zoning is approved, they have to begin working on Richardson Road and U.S. 64, as well as drawing up site plans for the development itself.
They said they plan to have the entire development built by 2019.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran