Developers in Apex now are encouraged to set aside 30 percent of the land within their development for non-residential zoning, but that soon could become a mandate.
Councilman Bill Jensen, an advocate of slower residential growth, was the most vocal proponent of the requirement at the March 1 Town Council meeting. The issue was discussed at length and was recommended for further discussion to the town’s planning board. It will come back to the council for consideration April 19.
Jensen, who has supported a non-residential quota of 50 percent, said developers have a financial incentive to ignore or subvert the recommendation as it stands now, citing one instance where a developer overstated by 5 percent the amount of commercially zoned land in the development. A balance of property uses is critical, he said, to reducing the number of people commuting out of Apex and ensuring the town’s tax base isn’t overly reliant on homeowners.
“The market-driven side of it is houses, houses, houses,” Jensen said after the meeting. “The problem is that if you do that in your town, you become a bedroom community.”
But at least two council members expressed skepticism about making the guideline a requirement, saying it could place an undue burden on developers.
“I’m a firm believer in free enterprise, that the market will determine what should go where,” Councilwoman Denise Wilkie said.
Wilkie, along with Councilman Gene Schulze, also expressed concerns that a hard cap would force Apex to reject projects that come in slightly under the 30 percent minimum but could otherwise benefit the town.
“I just want to make sure we don’t turn down something great because we’re not willing to be flexible,” Wilkie said.
Dianne Khin, Apex’s planning director, suggested she would favor a requirement, in part because it would decrease the time her department spends haggling with developers about the meaning of the recommendation.
“Non-residential is a long game – it’s not going to happen in the next three years,” Khin added. “But if you don’t set aside something, you won’t have anything left to make a decision on in 20 years.”
No developers spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
Even if the requirement passes, Jensen said, the town will still have to find a way to discourage a tactic he finds particularly troubling.
Jensen and Interim Town Manager Drew Havens both described a zoning practice that allows developers to count land they do not own toward the mixed-use ratio.
Developers essentially get property-owners within the scope of their development to agree to have their land zoned commercially, Jensen said. Because people who own commercially zoned land are not obligated to sell that land for commercial development, there is the possibility of a disconnect between a piece of land’s zoning distinction and how that land is used in practice.
The council, for the most part, seemed to agree this was a problem. And after a somewhat contentious back-and-forth with Jensen, Wilkie concluded the discussion.
“Most places in North Carolina would die for the development we have,” she said. “They’re happy with whatever they get.
“This is a ‘No. 1 in America’ problem,” she said, referring to the town being named Money magazine’s No. 1 place to live last year. “It’s not a normal problem to have.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @hgargan