The Apex Town Council voted Tuesday to deny a CrossRoads Ford dealership, citing fears of an unattractive “sea of cars” at a main entryway into town.
The 4-1 vote came despite the promise of more jobs and what could have been a sizeable boost to the town’s tax base.
CrossRoads Ford had proposed building a dealership on U.S. 64, where Davis Drive and Salem Street intersect. The company would have paid to improve roads and utilities in the area.
But its massive size was a double-edged sword. The council acknowledged its benefits while also voicing concerns about how it would look at a busy intersection just outside downtown Apex that draws visitors from Cary as well as Pittsboro.
“It really comes down to the scale of this project,” council member Gene Schulze said. “It’s just so huge and massive. I don’t think coming into Apex and seeing a sea of cars is compatible with what we want to see.”
Schulze, Bill Jensen, Nicole Dozier and Wesley Moyer voted to deny a rezoning petition for the land that would have paved the way for the dealership. Denise Wilkie voted to allow it.
“We talk about economic development, and talk about economic development, and talk about economic development,” Wilkie said. “And here’s one of the largest developments on the East Coast, and we say no?”
The business would have created dozens of jobs at the dealership and in smaller parcels that could be restaurants or gas stations. CrossRoads said the development would have added $35 million to the town’s tax base. At Apex’s property tax rate of 39 cents per $100 in valuation, that would have meant $136,500 in property taxes every year.
The project had support from neighbors, unlike most controversial development proposals Apex’s leaders have dealt with in the past few years.
“The amount of money that is involved there is unbelievable, and living close to it, I don’t mind it,” said 81-year-old Bill Booth.
The project also was supported by the Apex Chamber of Commerce, former Apex Mayor James Austin and the pilots who use the adjoining Cox Airport. Claude Burkhead, an airport representative, said he and many other pilots were initially against the project but came to support it after CrossRoads made a number of concessions they asked for.
Kevin Hatcher owns most of the land that was being considered. He said his family has lived there for five generations, but he wanted to sell because he believed it would improve Apex.
“This council’s guidance has been less residential, more commercial,” he said. “To be honest, after all that, I’m disappointed that this project has faced so much opposition.”
But the general public galvanized against it, with more than 2,000 people signing an online petition opposing the dealership.
“Aesthetics do matter,” said Sandra Webb at Tuesday’s meeting, adding that she lives near other dealerships on U.S. 64. “Car dealerships are not pretty places. I would ask you not to trade our values and vision for this town for your tax revenue.”
Tuesday’s meeting lasted five hours, and more than half of that was spent on CrossRoads. Developer Bill Daniel gave a lengthy presentation and answered questions from the council.
“This site looks more like a shopping center than a conventional auto dealer,” Daniel said. “We have it broken up. It’s not just a sea of cars.”
Two dozen supporters and opponents then spoke, and the council once again launched into discussion about how to proceed.
Dozier thanked both sides for a passionate yet cordial debate, saying it was a great example of democratic governance.
She explained her “no” vote using an analogy of Apex as a house, and CrossRoads as an appliance that’s useful but shouldn’t be the first things visitors see.
“There’s great value in this commercial development ... but I feel like this entryway is not the proper place,” she said. “Just like an antique stove should be in the kitchen, not the entryway.”
Some said they were concerned that CrossRoads also owns the property directly across the highway. Before unveiling its plans for the dealership on the northwest corner, CrossRoads had the property at the southwest corner rezoned, too.
Schulze, Jensen and several audience members said they feared the southwest corner – which is a more visible part of the entrance to downtown – would be used as an overflow lot for vehicles, or yet another dealership.
“I could live with this development if it wasn’t for the southwest corner that’s going to be more of the same,” Jensen said.
Because of the vote to deny the northwest corner rezoning, CrossRoads will have to wait at least a year to try again, town attorney Laurie Hohe said.
But if the company makes a significant change – such as combining both corners into a single rezoning application and removing the dealership uses in the southwest – that one-year wait would no longer apply.
“There’s no reason (CrossRoads) couldn’t come back,” Mayor Lance Olive said.
Jensen and Schulze said if that happened, they would be more likely to vote in favor of the project, but they made it clear they weren’t making any promises.
Jensen said while he likes the idea of commercial growth, he believes something else at the corner might be able to create more jobs than CrossRoads, even though that also could mean more traffic.
“Any dealership, the job-density per acre – it’s not like it’s a high-tech business or anything like that,” Jensen said.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran