Holly Springs Town Council members listened to the loud protests of residents Tuesday and unanimously denied a rezoning that would have brought 235 new homes to the north side of Avent Ferry Road.
Residents filled the council chamber’s seats, with dozens more spilling out into the lobby and an adjacent conference room.
They were there to voice their concerns about a proposal by CalAtlantic Homes for 50 acres of land across from the planned site of Buckhorn Creek Elementary School, near the intersection of Avent Ferry and Cass Holt roads. Detached houses were proposed for the west side of the property while townhomes would be on the east side, closer to Avent Ferry Road.
Those who objected to the development said they feared it would worsen traffic along the already congested road. They also cited the shifting soils and steep topography of the land, the safety of children crossing the road to get to the new elementary school, and the effects of more traffic on the area’s ability to swiftly evacuate in the event of a nuclear or natural disaster.
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After a 90-minute public hearing, interrupted by frequent applause and outbursts from the crowd, the council denied the request.
When the rezoning was first requested in February, it was met with outcry from nearby residents. Jason Barron, the lawyer representing CalAtlantic Tuesday, said he and the developer have spent the intervening months working with the town and residents to mitigate the development’s impacts on traffic.
“We’ve heard their concerns, and we debated stepping away from this project a while back because of this issue,” said Tom Beebe of CalAtlantic. “But we’ve come to believe we can make this traffic situation better with our development than without it.”
As a condition of the rezoning, CalAtlantic would have widened Avent Ferry Road along the roughly half-mile of frontage the homes would share with the property. Avent Ferry Road is slated to eventually become a four-lane, median-divided thoroughfare.
“Deny our zoning, and traffic will be somewhat better along N.C. 55 and Main Street, but there will be no improvements along this section of Avent Ferry,” Beebe said. “The traffic situation will remain as frustrating as it is, probably for years.”
Calculations provided by CalAtlantic’s traffic consultants said about four out of every 100 trips made along that stretch of Avent Ferry Road would originate from the new homes. Beebe said this figure would be more than offset by the added road capacity the road-widening contribution would contribute.
Outgoing council member Linda Hunt Williams voted to deny the rezoning, but said she thinks developing the property, and similar properties, are necessary for the town’s future. It was Williams’ last meeting before she joins the N.C. House of Representatives as a Republican, taking over the seat held by Republican Rep. Skip Stam of Apex.
“Many of you here tonight might not have been here very long, but many people on this council have seen this grow from a farm community to what it is today,” Williams said. “You think you have impatience about traffic, but all this has popped out of the ground in a matter of years. Don’t demonize us when we make decisions that we know are best for the town.”
Her words were met with a chorus of “Bye!” from people in the audience who were aware it was Williams’ last meeting.
Council members Cheri Lee and Hank Dickson questioned the project’s timing and said they would like to wait to see the impact of other planned road improvements in the area before approving new homes there. They, as well as many residents, weren’t satisfied with CalAtlantic’s statement that the project would improve traffic or that it wouldn’t make things worse.
Others, including Councilman Tom O’Brien, objected to the project’s sole focus on housing, which they said would be a wasted opportunity in an area the town had singled out for mixed-use development in its 2006 comprehensive plan.
Williams, though, said approving more housing would be the right economic decision in the interest of growing a customer base for potential commercial development nearby.
“We have businesses that have asked about coming to Holly Springs, and they expect to have customers,” Williams said.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan