Apex voted to annex the controversial Sweetwater mixed-use development Tuesday night in a split vote, less than an hour before new slow-growth advocates were sworn in as council members.
Sweetwater is a 165-acre development just south of U.S. 64 and west of N.C. 540 and the Abbington neighborhood. It will have 480 houses and townhouses. More than a quarter of the property is set aside for non-residential construction, like restaurants, offices or shops.
The development was annexed in a 3-2 vote – the final step in a long approval process. Scott Lassiter, Denise Wilkie and Gene Schulze voted in favor of the project. Bill Jensen and Nicole Dozier voted against it.
It was Lassiter’s last vote before leaving the council. Lassiter was defeated in November’s election by Wesley Moyer, a slow-growth proponent who may have swung the annexation vote the other way if he were in office.
Critics say the development has too much housing and not enough commercial space and will crowd local roads and schools. Proponents say it’s a positive result of the town’s popularity – a development that will pay for new roads, add millions of dollars to the tax base and create jobs.
The issue of guiding growth has dominated discussion in Apex with election results showing that voters appear to favor the town slowing residential growth.
But Schulze said officials shouldn’t allow a project to go through a costly, months-long approval process only to be shot down at the last minute for political reasons.
“For me, this is a matter of principle,” Schulze said, adding that a “no vote” could harm the town’s reputation in future economic development efforts.
Jensen, though, said public opposition to this project should be enough to convince the council to hold off.
“I’ve sat up on this council longer than anybody else, 16 years,” Jensen said. “And I will say this is the worst development I’ve seen.”
In Apex, the mayor doesn’t have a vote. But outgoing mayor Bill Sutton made the rare move Tuesday of voicing his opinion for a “no vote,” encouraging the council to reject the annexation
It was Sutton’s last action as mayor before being replaced by Lance Olive. Sutton was appointed to the seat two years ago and decided not to run for election. The election showed, he said, that residents oppose this project.
“I’ve never commented on this development,” Sutton said. “I admire Gene’s principles. He’s sticking to his principles. But there’s another principle here. That’s representative government.”
Supporters of the development, though, said the dominant concerns of increased crowding in schools and roads are overstated.
Wilkie said she voted for Sweetwater, in part, because the developers will build an extension of Richardson Road that will vastly improve traffic on Kelly Road. The builders also will pay for improvements on U.S. 64. By the time the new homes are finished, she said, Wake County will have built at least five new schools in the area to keep up with growth.
“We’ve look at this over and over again, and examined it over and over again,” Wilkie said.
Jensen, however, said he’s also concerned that Sweetwater might lower property values in Abbington, a wealthy nieghborhood with hundreds of homes. That would be bad for those individuals, he said, as well as the town’s tax base.
“A 1-percent drop in value in Abbington is $2 million,” Jensen said. “$2 million. Maybe they will drop, maybe they won’t.”
Abbington residents were mostly quiet Tuesday, despite their history of showing up to meetings to protest the development. After the vote to approve, one man was heard booing while about a dozen people – mostly the local families whose land makes up the Sweetwater site – burst into applause.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran