Town leaders say the plan to turn some of the land purchased for Knightdale Station Park into mixed-use development is driven by what is best for town development and is not a financially-driven decision.
“It’s not a revenue thing at all,” Development Services Director Chris Hills said.
Hills said the Town Council directed staff to look at development possibilities for about 4.5 acres along the southwest corner of the park split off from the 70 acres former Mayor Billy Wilder sold to the town for the park.
“Anything that’s on the master plan update is reflective of the town’s desires,” Hills said.
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The downtown development is intended to recall the town as it was circa 1910. The Town Council passed a new master plan for the park in January but had been planning on developing the 4.5 acres for at least a year.
Zak Pierce of CLH Design, a landscape architecture firm that is advising the town on the the park and the area around it, said the idea is to create a “gateway to downtown.” He said the addition will bring a vibrancy to the Old Town district that will offset the loss of potential open space.
“We’re setting up that development fabric,” Pierce said.
The development would fit in with the overall concept of the park, Pierce said, which features more development near the road and more “passive” uses such as trails and open space as it goes further back.
Hills and Pierce emphasized that plans could change and the land could be incorporated into the park or left as open space.
“Nothing on the master plan is set in stone,” Pierce said. “It’s just a guiding document.”
“They felt that frontage along North First Avenue was high visibility and had a lot of benefits for the town,” he said. “It’s amazing to see whenever you develop a park, the interest that comes with it. People want that frontage.”
Wake County land records indicate that a portion of the land to be developed includes a plot that Whitman Investment Properties LLC, bought in 2011. The registered agent for that company is Pete Mangum, who was elected to the council in 2015.
The town of Knightdale bought about an acre of that land in 2013 for $115,000, according to county records.
Whitman Investment Properties still owns another undeveloped half-acre parcel that was included in the map CLH designed to show the future development, but town spokesman Brian Bowman said the town has “no immediate plans to buy that land” and that it would be up to the owner to determined how it is developed.
Whitman also owns two plots to the southwest of those parcels, including the one that is home to Oak City Brewing Company.
The development is expected to be two-story buildings with retail, office and restaurant space on the first floor and residential on top. Parking would be added behind buildings and on the street.
The idea is to keep people in the Old Town area in the evenings and weekends, Pierce said.
“If everything is just office, it goes dormant at five o’clock,” he said. “It’s a nice use dynamic that they’re looking at.”
Wilder spoke against developing the land at an April Town Council meeting, saying if he’d known about the plan, he and his family would not have sold the land to the town. Now he seems resigned to the development.
“I don’t care what they do,” he said. “They’re going to do what they want to.”
The mayor at the time, Russell Killen, acknowledged at the meeting that the town had changed its mind concerning the property, but that the possibility of a new, walkable downtown was “something we couldn’t conceptualize at the time” the town purchased the land.
“It will really reenergize downtown,” he said.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826