A crowd of angry residents shouted at Fuquay-Varina commissioners Monday night after they voted to rezone nearly 50 acres north of town to make way for a high-density residential development.
Commissioners voted 4-1 for the rezoning, though it’s inconsistent with the town’s land use plan and against the Fuquay-Varina Planning Board’s recommendation for medium density.
About 40 residents attended Monday’s meeting, with many delivering passionate public remarks against the plan.
The 42-acre development could hold up to 125 homes, as well as about 10.5 acres of open space. There will be a small commercial district on the subdivision’s southern edge, along Hilltop Needmore Road near the intersection with Sunset Lake Road.
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The town already has budgeted nearly $1.3 million to build water and sewer utilities to the property, and some commissioners said high density is necessary to recoup that investment from taxes and fees from future residents.
Commissioners initially considered a rezoning to allow for apartment buildings on the site, but approved a small compromise that will instead allow only one- and two-family units, with about five per acre.
Curt Blazier, a representative for Reliabuilt, said the developer volunteered to make those changes and also set aside more open space to keep in line with surrounding neighborhoods, which have larger lots.
“We heard the neighbors’ concerns, and took those back and looked at our plans,” Blazier said.
But that wasn’t enough for some residents, including Beth Royall, who said she’s not opposed to growth but wants Fuquay-Varina to retain a somewhat rural feel.
“The idea of having neighbors, (but) without living on top of your neighbors, is what brings a lot of people to Fuquay-Varina,” she said.
Residents who live near the future subdivision gathered enough signatures to file a petition against the rezoning, requiring a super majority of the five-member town council to approve of the plan, or four “yes” votes, instead of a simple majority of three “yes” votes.
Commissioner William Harris cast the only “no” vote.
“We haven’t had the infrastructure to keep up with the growth, and I think we can all agree that’s an issue,” Harris said.
“Thank you Mr. Harris,” many of protestors shouted after the vote.
For the rest of the officials, a chorus of boos from the crowd mixed with shouts such as, “That’s a travesty,” “You only listened to the builder” and “We’ll enjoy voting you out.” One woman began crying in the council chambers.
For many of the speakers representing the group, traffic was their primary objection.
Billy Smith, a former member of the Fuquay-Varina Board of Adjustment and the Wake County Planning Board, said many older adults, including himself, are “literally held hostage” in their neighborhoods in the area because traffic is so congested. He said Census records show more than 650 senior citizens living nearby.
“They are afraid to leave their homes and try to go to town, even in the daytime,” Smith said. “I can’t get through town. I can’t get into town. I can’t even leave my own subdivision.
“That is what is happening when we allow high density to continue to come in and clog our roads,” he said.
Mayor John Byrne, who does not have a vote, said he felt for Smith and others concerned about traffic, calling it a “real concern.”
“It happens to be more real on the north side than anywhere else,” Byrne said. “But our whole board is united on transportation as our No. 1 issue.”
But, Byrne said, the N.C. Department of Transportation is more responsible for roads than the town, and funds for road improvements aren’t as available. Road widening plans for the area near the rezoned property are unlikely to happen soon, he said.
“I’m not saying I’m pleased,” Byrne said. “The issue is they don’t have money. I mean, who wants to pay more taxes? No one wants to pay more taxes.”
The developer has said the new homes would have an average value of $325,000 at a minimum. At the town’s current tax rate, the property taxes from the subdivision would bring in at least $154,375 a year, once fully developed.
Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Adcock said the vote, in addition to being a good business decision, also is a step toward filling up one of the town’s designated “Preferred Growth Areas.”
“We are looking from the town’s perspective to try to make good, long-range decisions,” Adcock said.