Correction: A previous version said the Apex Police Department recommended traffic elements requested by residents. Town staff made the recommendation, not police, after working with police officers and reviewing a traffic study conducted by the police department.
The town council discussed possible rule changes Tuesday that would weaken the homeowners associations’ power to prevent speed bumps, stop signs and other traffic devices from being built in their neighborhoods.
An impassioned plea from residents of the Cameron Park neighborhood convinced the town council to take a second look at its rules. The council wasn’t legally permitted to take a vote right away but could decide sometime this summer.
Town staff have recommended the traffic elements the residents have requested to slow down speeders, but the town’s rules prevent it from taking action.
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Al Garcia, a local real estate agent who lives in Cameron Park, led the request. The neighborhood is bounded by Apex Peakway to the east, Olive Chapel Road to the north and Apex Barbecue Road to the south.
Garcia said cars speed through the neighborhood, primarily on White Dogwood Road, as a shortcut, endangering residents and especially children. Some cars have been recorded going as fast as 60 mph in the 25 mph zone, he said.
“We can’t control the traffic, but we can control the speeding,” he said.
He said more than 70 percent of neighborhood residents signed a petition in favor of installing speed bumps, additional speed limit signs and possibly stop signs. They also collected 10 percent of the total cost.
“We have a stretch (of White Dogwood Road) from Apex Peakway to Olive Chapel, probably a mile, with nothing,” Garcia said. “It’s dangerous.”
But town rules say that in addition to contributing fees and signatures, these types of requests also must be approved by all HOAs that will be affected. Garcia said there are three HOAs in the area. One of them is mostly inactive, he said, but has one member who is objecting to the request.
Mayor Bill Sutton instructed staffers to come up with some proposals that would allow petitions, with strong support in general, as a way to get around the disapproval of one or two individuals on an elected neighborhood board.
Town Manager Bruce Radford said a proposal would be presented at the council’s May 5 meeting, although a vote wouldn’t happen until later this summer.
Some town leaders questioned, however, if local government should be involving itself in neighborhood squabbles.
“I’d suggest you go back and either organize your HOA, or vote ‘em out,” said Mayor Pro Tem Gene Schulze, a former HOA president in Shepherd’s Vineyard.
But council member Denise Wilkie questioned why the town can’t decide on its own to put speed bumps on roads it owns.
“If there’s police evidence that all this stuff is needed, do we really need to go through the HOA?” she said.
Several residents voiced concern that while the town goes through the steps to review its rules, tragedy could strike.
Council member Bill Jensen suggested that police officers be assigned to patrol the neighborhood more often.
“The more police presence we have out there, the slower people would go,” he said. “Especially if they see the lights on someone else.”
The council also heard from another group of residents, a family worried that another rule change could harm them.
Staley Smith said his family owns a large property just south of N.C. 64 and just west of Abbington and the Sweetwater mixed-use development that was approved last month.
Smith said the family is a year into negotiations to turn it into a large subdivision.
But Jensen and Wilkie, as members of the town council’s economic development committee, formally suggested rezoning the land – and several other large properties in the area – to allow only commercial growth.
“Now, nearly a year after discussions began and contracts are being signed ... the economic development committee would like to change the plan,” Smith told the council. “This amendment, if passed, would derail the sale of our property.”
Council member Scott Lassiter sided with the Smith family and butted heads with Jensen, who often opposes new residential developments.
“We’re trying to dictate the market and use this board to solve all these perceived problems,” Lassiter said.
He and Jensen launched a long and sometimes sarcastic argument about the role of local government in guiding development.
Jensen said he wasn’t asking for a vote on the land use changes immediately and wanted to start public hearings and debate.
Schulze cut off the discussion by offering a compromise – to ask property owners in the area if they oppose Jensen’s idea.
“I’m not going to dictate to these people out there that, ‘Hey, this is going to be nonresidential,’” he said. “But I’m open to it if they want nonresidential.”
The board voted 4-1 for a version of Schulze’s proposal, to review several properties on the north side of N.C. 64 between Goodwin Road and Wimberly Road.
Lassiter voted against it, saying the town’s land-use plan won several awards and doesn’t need to be revised.
Town officials will leave the Smith property alone, allowing it to potentially become a new neighborhood.
If built out, the town would require the developers there and at Sweetwater to construct Richardson Road between N.C. 64 and Olive Chapel Road. That would save Apex taxpayers millions of dollars and ease congestion on existing roads, officials said.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran