Apex debates growth, sprawl

08/24/2014 5:59 PM

08/24/2014 6:00 PM

Rural residents, many with decades of bucolic memories on their land, often raise objections when the suburban sprawl of the Triangle comes their way.

Areas of eastern Chatham County and western Wake have experienced this type of culture clash for years.

With a record number of subdivisions under consideration in Apex this year, and the prospect of enormous changes across the county line due to the Chatham Park mega-development, the arguments are likely to continue.

Last week in Apex, Virginia-based developer NVR Inc. was at the center of two projects that have drawn criticism from rural neighbors.

Last Monday NVR announced it would develop Jordan Pointe, a 440-home neighborhood on 316 acres in the unincorporated community of New Hill, in southwest Wake County.

Jordan Pointe is the first development announced in New Hill since Apex annexed those 316 acres in March.

The town paved the way for development in 2011 when it settled a lawsuit brought by New Hill residents opposed to the construction of a sewage plant, which will allow large-scale developments like Jordan Pointe.

“As pieces of New Hill are taken out of New Hill or become Apex, we don’t have a vote,” local resident Rick Ross said after the annexation. “It’s just happening to us. It’s one of Wake County’s few natural rural scenes. It’s such a beautiful place.”

New Hill recently lost 175 local jobs when a manufacturing plant there closed. And an influx of new homes, cabanas and swimming pools – Jordan Pointe promises all that, and more – could further transform it from a blue-collar community to a bedroom community.

Another development proposed

After the Jordan Pointe announcement, NVR was back in the spotlight Tuesday.

The company received a slight setback when the Apex Town Council held off on voting on another of its developments, a neighborhood of 193 townhomes just inside Interstate 540 and U.S. 64. It’s called Hempstead at Beaver Creek.

The proposal meets the town’s development rules, but Apex council members delayed the vote after hearing from several angry neighbors.

The critics told the council they’re concerned about plans to connect the eight-units-per-acre development with their homes on Chapel Ridge Road. They prefer their secluded pocket of barns, horse farms and 2-acre lots.

“What once was designated as a never-implemented driveway to a second house on a farm behind my house is now a proposed access point for 193 townhomes which are 40 (feet) high and 10 feet from my property line,” neighbor Mike Bishop, who spoke at the meeting, wrote in an email beforehand.

Apex Mayor Bill Sutton said he acknowledges the concerns of those families and others in rural areas facing development.

‘Just trying to comply’

A lawyer for the developer said NVR would agree to find some common ground with the rural residents by prohibiting construction traffic on their road and not opening the connecting road until a certain number of homes were occupied.

He pleaded for quick approval but didn’t get it.

“We’re not trying to be difficult,” attorney David York, representing NVR, told the Town Council. “The (development) code ... is not going to change between now and the next meeting, and we’re just trying to comply with the code.”

Apex councilwoman Nicole Dozier said she simply wanted more time to weigh the options. Dozier is the only member of the Town Council who lives in the rural areas west of Interstate 540 and said many residents have contacted her with concerns about development in general.

But she also noted that during her career working to promote health care in low-income counties, she has seen what can happen in places where there’s no development. She said she’s in favor of development as long as it’s carefully done.

Surrounded by growth

Apex has doubled in population, to more than 40,000 residents, in the last decade and is expected to double again within 15 years, according to a study by the town’s planning department.

Cary has already expanded into Chatham County, and Apex could be the next city to do so.

The town has approved 10 planned subdivisons already this year – which would add considerably more than 1,000 homes, apartments and town houses to the area – while denying one proposal. Five others, including NVR’s, are pending.

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