The Town Council stuck with a plan Thursday that could put up to 1.6 million square feet of new development across from Southern Village, rejecting advisory board and consistent citizen requests.
The Obey Creek development also needs the council to rezone the land for more density. The eastern side of U.S. 15-501 was rezoned for low-density residential construction in 1992 as part of a plan to accommodate high-density homes and businesses at Southern Village.
East West Partners has proposed multiple two- to eight-story buildings on 35 acres of the total 120 acre site. The project could include 800 housing units, 475,000 square feet of retail space, 600,000 square feet of offices and a 400 hotel rooms. About three dozen for-sale homes and apartments could be priced to meet the town’s affordable housing guidelines.
A draft development agreement under negotiation sets a minimum amount of space the developer would have to build for each proposed use, giving the company flexibility to meet market changes as the project gets built over 20 years. About 85 acres east of Wilson Creek, behind the project, could become public conservation land.
The council is planning a May 18 public hearing on the development plan, with a vote scheduled for June 8.
Council members and Ben Perry of development company East West Partners talked with members of five town advisory boards Thursday night about their suggestions for improving the project.
Perry agreed to at least 50 advisory board suggestions, from looking at how to ease traffic on Dogwood Acres Drive to providing a 3-D, digital model of Obey Creek from eye level.
He rejected more than a dozen others, however, including Planning Commission advice to consider only rush-hour traffic instead of the average daily traffic in planning road improvements to handle already-busy commuter traffic, plus more cars expected from Obey Creek.
The commission also asked the town to look at the potential outcome if the project were reduced from 1.6 million to 1.1 million square feet. By comparison, The Streets at Southpoint mall in Durham is 1.3 million square feet.
The Planning Commission also suggested the town hire an attorney specializing in construction issues to review the development agreement, Vice Chairwoman Amy Ryan said. It also recommended minimum and maximum square footages for each use, she said, noting American Planning Association guidelines that range between 20 percent and 60 percent for each use to avoid having one predominate.
East West Partners is open to limiting how much residential can be built without more commercial, Perry said. It has been negotiating the agreement with 1.6 million square feet in mind, however, and is not interested in a smaller project, he said.
“We’d have to go back through and take out a whole lot of things that are contributing if that size were to get any meaningful amount smaller,” he said.
Councilwoman Sally Greene challenged that.
It’s inaccurate to say the council has been negotiating for 1.6 million square feet, she said, because the two sides aren’t done talking.
Perry’s comments also reflect many residents’ concerns the developer would refuse to discuss a smaller size as the council neared its decision, she said.
The town has been negotiating for a 1.6 million-square-foot project and knows what effect it will have, Perry said.
If council members now want a smaller project, “we’ve got to throw the agreement out and start over,” he said.
Councilwoman Donna Bell said she doesn’t want to hear in 10 years that Obey Creek is too small, like the town did about the Southern Village market center. The town shouldn’t have used the developer’s money to hire an independent expert if it wasn’t going to listen to the advice, she said.
Consultant Victor Dover and his team at Dover, Kohl and Partners worked with town staff, developers and the community over many months, offering the town advice for how to get the best mixed-use, transit-oriented development.
“We’ve got the picture, we’ve got the information, and so now we just have to make a decision,” Bell said.
Councilman Lee Storrow passed around a proposal last week that would trigger more building once there’s a good mix at the site.
The plan would keep the minimum and maximum square footages, but limit Obey Creek to 1.2 million square feet until 325,000 square feet of commercial and 400,000 square feet of office space are built. Some council members referred Thursday to that proposal.
Storrow’s plan shows the difference made by building the right mix of uses over time, Councilman Ed Harrison said.
“The mix is the more important piece here,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t want a lower number.”