The Holly Springs Town Council did not wait until the new year to tackle one of its top priorities for 2016 – downtown development.
“If you look at our downtown now, if you drive through it, you’ll see mostly houses,” Mayor Dick Sears said. “That’s not necessarily part of the downtown vision.”
Town officials and staff plan to refine their vision for more commercial development and a pedestrian-friendly, denser residential core in the next year when they update the town’s Village District Area Plan. They want to simplify it to ensure that developers know exactly what the town would like for the area.
Officials said they hope this update, in conjunction with other town rule changes, will encourage more developer interest in downtown.
In December, the council approved two amendments to local zoning rules to further this goal, including one ordinance change that would allow residential construction on smaller lots if certain architectural requirements are met.
“What that is going to do is give developers the ability to do really high-density – both single family and multi-family – development in our downtown area, trying to go back to some of those original, traditional, what you would see downtown, lot sizes,” said Gina Clapp, the town’s planning and zoning director. “So really going back to those small lots, bringing the homes up to the sidewalk and really trying to create that village.”
While more commercial development is desired, town staff also emphasize the need for a pedestrian-friendly, denser residential core. Town planner Sean Ryan said that will “fit more into the urban fabric of the traditional downtown or village center.”
“We want to make it easier and more flexible for development downtown, but at the same time, making sure we get the improvements we need, such as sidewalks and curb and gutter,” Ryan said. “Our hope is that having an ordinance like this in place will encourage better residential development downtown and prevent that kind of out-of-character development.”
Town officials and staff said the town’s Downtown Development Investment program may also increase developer interest. Clapp said this grant program allows developers to request money and fee waivers to help offset some of the expenses for public infrastructure, including sidewalks and lighting, for downtown developments.
Sears said Holly Springs has always faced a challenge of building a downtown from scratch, something that nearby municipalities, such as Apex and Fuquay-Varina, have not experienced with their already established main streets.
Sears said other towns have been able to build their downtown by renovating existing buildings, but Holly Springs didn’t have those buildings in the first place.
“I think the bottom line is we just have to stick with it. It’s not an easy task,” Sears said. “A lot of zoning changes have to be made but again ... it’s on the radar and the radar is now turned up to a higher intensity.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon