In the weeks leading up to the Town Council’s approval of 70 homes on what’s known as the Stadelmaier property, opposition from traffic-weary residents emerged online. Even after the vote, frustration has continued to simmer.
“Every time there’s a new development coming in, and nothing’s getting done with the roads, it seems like no one’s listening,” said Rachel Withers, who lives in the town’s Providence Place neighborhood.
An 18-acre parcel along Morrisville Carpenter Road was rezoned July 26 from the town’s lowest-density zoning to a medium-density designation, which will allow for 70 new homes. Along the way, property owners agreed to several concessions, including conditions that prohibit construction until the town is awarded funding to begin widening Morrisville Carpenter Road. The town also would receive close to half a million dollars from the land’s developer toward that project.
Some residents said they understand that the 70 homes won’t make things substantially worse by themselves. But some said the council’s 6-1 vote for the project signals its unwillingness to say no to development, clearly communicate priorities and take residents’ concerns seriously.
“This particular vote seems to have crystallized for a lot of people the overall situation as they see it in Morrisville,” said Amanda Cadran of Morrisville’s Downing Glen subdivision. “Meaning the traffic situation, the congestion, the overall sense that we’re not aware of what projects are happening or when construction will happen.”
But council members who approved the rezoning said opposition was stirred by inaccurate and incomplete information about the nature of the development and its potential impacts on traffic in the area.
Councilman TJ Cawley, the only council member to vote against the rezoning, wrote about his concerns online on the popular neighborhood forum Nextdoor.com. He outlined three concerns, followed by a 16-point commentary on his colleagues’ reasons for supporting the rezoning. The post was also sent to Cawley’s email newsletter subscribers.
At the bottom of the post, Cawley asked residents to email the council at least a week prior to the vote, followed by an example of an email residents might send to voice their opposition to the rezoning.
Cawley said in an interview that his opposition to the rezoning had more to do with setting precedent and sticking to the principles he believes will allow the town to grow sustainably. He said he felt the discussion was always about what concessions could lead to a “yes” vote rather than whether the proposed number of homes would be appropriate for the area.
Mayor Mark Stohlman said he found much of Cawley’s online statement misleading or inaccurate.
“Not only was that misinformation put out there, but people were given a template to send to us,” Stohlman said. “A lot of what we received was boilerplate from residents at the direction of Council member Cawley, so it’s hard to gauge exactly what the opposition is.”
Cawley said his post was substantially accurate, though he acknowledged one claim – that the rezoning would “more than triple” the homes’ potential traffic impact – was corrected by town staff shortly after he posted it. It would only double, staff told him.
“The council has only a handful of opportunities to truly alter our town’s future,” Cawley said. “I felt there was still an opportunity to pursue the adopted vision of an 18-acre park in the center of Morrisville rather than another 70 homes on small lot sizes.”
Mayor pro tem Steve Rao also wrote a statement a few days before the vote, a condensation of the rezoning petition and its agreed-upon conditions, to ensure that “our citizens are not provided inaccurate information on social media blog sites.”
“I think part of the problem is that the minority makes it sound like there’s more of a problem than there is,” Rao said in an interview. “There’s a lot of misinformation, and one council member was contributing to that.”
Cawley said he’s happy to support the decision now that it’s been made but that he wanted to challenge some of the presuppositions his colleagues had about the deliberation process.
“I was trying to get my colleagues to dig into the issues, and I’m hoping in the future we can get into discussions about people’s interests before everyone’s dug in their heels,” Cawley said.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan