Promising a “mini North Hills” for Apex, the developers of the Sweetwater neighborhood returned to the Apex Town Council Tuesday to ask for permission to build 230 apartments above the ground-level retail and office space initially planned for the area.
The 4-1 vote in favor of that request, with Mayor pro tem Nicole Dozier dissenting, was Apex’s first to allow the construction of what’s called vertical mixed-use development, which combines residential and commercial tenants in the same building.
Sweetwater is a 165-acre, mixed-use development on the south side of U.S. 64 in west Apex designed by Triangle-based ExperienceOne Homes. This portion of the development will be managed by the Kalikow Group, a New York-based real estate investment firm.
Proponents of the revised zoning said multiple stories of apartments above the retail district are necessary to help attract quality restaurant and shopping tenants.
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“One of the concerns I hear as a retail specialist is that the retailers are struggling to come to Apex because there’s not enough density,” said Gordon Poulsen, a retail developer working with Kalikow on the project. “That’s hard for me sit here and say to you, but I’ll introduce you to any kind of retailer you want, and they can talk about it. If you want the retailers and the offices, this stuff needs to happen.”
But when the new apartments were proposed this summer, residents of nearby neighborhoods said they worried about how increasing Sweetwater’s density would affect the area’s roads and schools – density they had fought to mitigate when the project was first approved without the apartments in late 2015. As of Tuesday, Sweetwater has now been approved for about 640 new homes – 410 houses and townhomes and 230 apartments.
Dozier, in explaining her vote against the revised zoning, echoed those concerns. No one spoke during the public hearing Tuesday.
Kalikow representatives, meanwhile, downplayed the new apartments’ impact. They said because the initial rezoning would have allowed for 100 to 130 “accessory” second-floor apartments, the rezoning approved Tuesday represented just a 100-unit increase over what already was permitted. The proposed mixed-use buildings are expected to be either three or four stories tall.
Traffic increases will be marginal, they said, because the additional apartments come at the cost of 28 single-family homes and 27,000 square feet of commercial space. Estimates presented by Ramey Kemp & Associates, the transportation consultant retained by the developers, predict a 1.7 increase in morning traffic and a 3.4 percent increase in the afternoon – not enough for the town to require additional road improvements from the developers, who already have agreed to about $5 million in infrastructure investment.
“The important thing about these apartments is it creates the internal capture – people are walking from use to use instead of driving,” said Rynal Stephenson, Ramey Kemp’s transportation manager. “When we analyzed the intersections, they all still operate at acceptable levels of service.”
The town’s planning staff agreed with those conclusions.
Councilman Bill Jensen said he worries that the new apartments would come without a similar increase in the amount of office space available in the development. Jensen has been a proponent of the idea that office space near housing – or, in this case, beneath it – is critical to addressing Apex’s traffic problems.
“We want to have live-work-play, but from what I see here, if you don’t have the adequate work spots, you’re going to just have live-play,” Jensen said. “The only people working are coming from outside to flip the hamburgers.”
Estimates from the developers predicted the development would round out at about 100,000 square feet of office space, but they couldn’t guarantee that figure. Developers’ representatives ultimately agreed to a guaranteed minimum of 80,000 square feet of office space as a condition of the apartments’ approval.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan