The developers of Sweetwater, a mixed-use project that broke ground in June, are planning to ask Apex for permission to add 200 to 300 apartments above the retail buildings meant to anchor the project.
ExperienceOne Homes, Sweetwater’s developer, held two neighborhood meetings over the summer, one in June and another in early August, with residents of the nearby Abbington neighborhood – their chief adversary in the battle to win approval for Sweetwater.
Apex Town Manager Drew Havens said the town’s planning board and Town Council won’t discuss this most recent rezoning petition until Oct. 10 and Oct. 18, respectively.
Still, the idea of adding as many as 300 new apartments concerns residents in the still-somewhat rural western reaches of Apex. Many of them opposed the 419 homes already approved for Sweetwater’s residential district, and they say this new proposal will place an unacceptable burden on the town’s roads and schools.
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“The traffic on (U.S.) 64 out by Costco has tripled the commute times for some,” said Ray Petrino, an Abbington resident. “We’re going to face the same problem out this way once Sweetwater and other developments are constructed, not to mention that there will be an immediate, massive need for more classrooms and teachers.”
Lanny Caldwell of ExperienceOne said that additional market research had convinced him and his partners that a larger residential base would significantly improve the chances of success for the development’s commercial district. He said his company is prepared to take on any new road-improvement responsibilities that stem from increasing Sweetwater’s residential density.
“Reviewing the data and the research, it seems that most of the successful ventures these days are incorporating some living space above the retail,” Caldwell said. “Not that it couldn’t happen without it, but you want to do everything possible to ensure the success of your shopping center.”
Sweetwater’s initial bid for approval became a political event that helped spur construction-weary Apex residents into action last November, where voters installed a council with a more cautious approach to residential development.
The upshot of that vote can be seen in Apex’s recently approved mixed-use development quotas, designed to provide balance between residential and commercial land uses in town. The new rules have been derided by some developers as an attempt by town officials to subvert and manipulate the real estate market.
Sweetwater was approved before the 30 percent non-residential quota became an ordinance rather than a suggestion. Its commercial acreage accounts for about 28 percent of the 165-acre development. But apartments built above the first floor of a commercial building don’t count against the 30 percent non-residential acreage requirement outlined in the new rules.
Mayor Lance Olive said that is intentional. He supports mixed-use buildings, which he says both increase the town’s supply of affordable housing and allow residents to shop and run errands without adding cars to Apex’s roads. Olive said he hadn’t yet received Sweetwater’s proposal, though, and that he isn’t prepared to comment on it.
Caldwell said concerns about increased pressure on area schools that could come with more housing might be overstated. He said the market for apartments comprises mainly retirees and young adults without children.
The location of the apartments, at the development’s northern border with U.S. 64, keeps the spirit of the compromise ExperienceOne offered Abbington residents by agreeing to gradually decrease density and increase home values closer to Sweetwater’s border with the upscale neighborhood.
That addresses some concerns about Abbington property values, but not those about congestion along U.S. 64 and Kelly Road.
“We worked very hard to make sure we could somewhat minimize the density of what was finally approved for Sweetwater,” said Kate Macdonell, an Abbington resident. “And we’re very concerned about what an additional 300 units would mean for our main entrance onto 64 and our other entrance on Kelly Road, which is a total disaster. We know there’s traffic mitigation coming, and that’s great, but they’re a few years away.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan