Cary News

Apex reconsiders future as a bedroom community

A horse grazes near the highway in Apex’s Chapel Ridge Road neighborhood. Leaders of the rapidly growing town are deciding how much they want to dictate future development.
A horse grazes near the highway in Apex’s Chapel Ridge Road neighborhood. Leaders of the rapidly growing town are deciding how much they want to dictate future development. File photo

Once sparsely populated with farmers and horses, Apex is quickly filling up as it turns into a bedroom community for Raleigh, RTP and the rest of the Triangle.

But town leaders spoke last week about what role they should play in determining Apex’s identity in the future when it comes to attracting businesses and commercial developments.

After a lengthy discussion, council members town decided to study how much land – if any – should be set aside for businesses instead of residences.

The council voted unanimously to have the town’s planning committee study the issue. No timeline was set for the committee to report its findings.

Council member Bill Jensen, who raised the topic, said the town might not need to have an exact number of acres set aside – but an estimate, or a percentage of designated land, could help in guiding growth.

“We have to set some assumptions to determine where we’re gonna go,” he said.

The idea of creating land-use quotas generated discomfort with some council members.

“I don’t want to be a bedroom community, either,” Mayor Pro Tem Gene Schulze said. “But something like this needs to be market-driven.”

Councilman Scott Lassitter also said different types of businesses need widely varying amounts of land. There’s no way to determine whether a certain amount of land would translate to a specific number of jobs, he said.

Still, Jensen said that with land being snatched up in droves, it’s important to get a grasp of the town’s future ability to attract businesses. He said having more jobs in Apex itself would mean fewer people leaving town for work, and therefore less rush-hour congestion and pollution.

“It reduces our traffic if we do it in a smart, sensible way,” he said. “So it’s not only good for the people with an opportunity to work in town, it’s good for everybody.”

After initially questioning the idea, Lassiter and Schulze agreed town staff should study the issue.

“I think this council, or a future council, will ultimately have to make that philosophical call” of which direction to head in, Lassitter said.

The question is as economical as much as it is philosophical. Homeowners and commercial landowners pay the same property tax rates. But homeowners also tend to call law enforcement more frequently and need other services that businesses don’t.

A 2006 University of Georgia study of select counties in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina found that in residential areas, a typical local government spent $2.11 in services for every $1 it received in property taxes, while spending just $0.27 and $0.36 for every tax dollar received on commercial and agricultural land, respectively.

“The numbers show the fallacy of depending on residential development as a sound growth policy,” the study said.

The study also said local governments should, as Jensen suggested, come up with some sort of approximate ratio for rediential-to-commercial growth in order to keep tax rates down.

“If the ratio is unrealistic ... allowing residential growth will lead to tax increases for existing residents,” the study said.

Schulze also brought up ratios at last week’s meeting, saying Apex officials should consider studying Morrisville for tips on how to encourage smart growth.

“Morrisville has the ideal percentage, 60:40 ratio” of residential-to-commercial acreage, Schulze said.

Council member Nicole Dozier said now is a good time to examine the town’s approach to housing developments as well as business developments, and to decide which might deserve the higher priority.

“We’re growing really quickly, and growth is good,” Dozier said. “But we have to take a step back, sometimes, and make sure we’re growing carefully. ... Making sure schools aren’t overcrowded, and we have enough money for public works.”