A new housing development was narrowly approved by the Morrisville Town Council Tuesday, gaining preliminary approval on two separate 4-3 votes.
Town Hall North is a proposal from the same developer that created other neighborhoods along Town Hall Drive. It will be located just north of where Town Hall Drive dead ends, at McCrimmon Parkway. The development company, Town Hall Commons, will extend the road and install a traffic light at the intersection.
Town Hall North will bring 116 townhomes to 20 acres. The units will sell for an average of about $325,000, Town Hall Commons representatives told Morrisville’s planning board, and it will be similar to a neighborhood in Cary called Collins Grove.
But some on the council think the developer won’t do enough roadwork, or that the land could be used for a denser development that will bring in more people, since land suitable for residential growth is increasingly scarce inside town limits.
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“I think we can get a better product here, so I’ll vote no,” council member Michael Schlink said. He was joined by TJ Cawley and Vicki Scroggins-Johnson.
But they couldn’t get the fourth vote needed to stop the project. Mayor Mark Stohlman and council members Liz Johnson, Steve Rao and Satish Garimella voted in favor of it.
The biggest divide among the council was over the required roadwork. The town’s transportation plan calls for a 100-foot-wide road for the northward extension of Town Hall Drive, but the developer requested to reduce it to 88 feet.
Cawley said while the town should sometimes make compromises with developers, he doesn’t think giving up right-of-way for a future road is appropriate.
“I understand we cannot pave our way out of transportation issues,” Cawley said. “But we shouldn’t give up payment options.”
Stohlman said the reduction would make the new portion of Town Hall Drive what it already looks like to the south.
“I don’t think we’re taking any steps backward,” Stohlman said.
The owner, Ed White, said there are two main reasons his company shouldn’t build the wider road. First, he said, is the additional cost, on top of the $1.2 million the company already is planning to spend on the road and sidewalks there.
Going from 100 feet to 88 feet also would mean a smaller median and the reduction of inside lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet. The outside lanes will be 14 feet, to accommodate bicyclists.
White said the Triangle Expressway, N.C. 147, will eventually extend into Morrisville via this northern part of Town Hall Drive – and narrower lanes will force drivers to be more cautious.
“If you’ve got an 11-foot lane versus a 12-foot lane, you’re going to be more sensitive to speed,” White said.
The decision to approve didn’t sit well with all council members. Cawley continued to warn against giving up width and thus the option to more easily widen the road in the future.
Concerns over compromise
Scroggins-Johnson said she didn’t like the implications of the town amending its own plans based solely on the request of a private company.
“I really think when we set standards, we need to align with those standards,” she said. “When we deviate, we’re setting a precedent for the future.”
They were also fearful of Town Hall Drive becoming another in a series of “orphan roads” in Morrisville – streets that don’t connect anywhere.
Town Hall North will only be responsible for part of the extension of Town Hall Drive. The developer sold much of the property where the road was planned just before asking for permission for the subdivision, Schlink and Cawley said. The remainder of the road will be up to whoever develops adjacent land in the future.
“That is a challenging parcel, the one that’s not being developed now,” Cawley said. “Who knows when it will ever be developed? I wish they had done it without drawing the lines so they won’t have to build the road.”
Yet despite the concerns among some of the council, Morrisville’s staff recommended approval for the project. That helped convince some council members to support it.
“I’m not a traffic engineer,” Steve Rao said. “I trust that to the staff.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran