A seemingly minor detail in a fairly average subdivision application has blown up into the Town of Clayton’s most contentious project in more than a year.
Developers are clashing with the town’s planning department over cul-de-sacs and stub-outs in Warrick Park, a proposed large-lot subdivision on the western edge of town. The town council was scheduled to approve or deny the project at its Jan. 3 meeting but deferred its ruling until next month, with councilmen saying they needed more time to consider last-minute changes brought by the developers.
Off of Old High 70 near Shotwell Road, Warrick Park proposes 26 lots on 25 acres. Three of those lots would be on Old Highway 70, while the rest would be on two new streets next to Fieldstone subdivision.
The developers are seeking two waivers from the town’s code – to not build sidewalks on both sides of the streets and to build a cul-de-sac rather than a required stub-out to an adjacent tract. The latter request would effectively shut the subdivision off from neighboring land.
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At the Jan. 3 meeting, James Lipscomb, one of the project’s developers and a member of Clayton’s planning board, told the council that the lot configuration in the subdivision could change in the near future to avoid turning-lane requirements from the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Lipscomb was the third member of the development group to speak and mentioned these changes well into the presentation on the subdivision. For the council, specifically Councilman Michael Grannis, the goalposts appeared to be moving.
“I’m not going to be forced into a vote with comments that are being made on the night a vote is being requested,” Grannis said. “I want to be able to study this thoroughly, and I’m not being given that opportunity. ... To make a decision in a matter of minutes is, I think, very inappropriate.”
Lipscomb argued that while the changes might have seemed last minute, the overall footprint of the subdivision would be the same, just with fewer lots, not more.
“I feel like to hold us up another 30 days just so we can make changes to a map that we’re already describing to you is punitive on us, because we have contracts,” Lipscomb said.
“I think it’s punitive on you to be suggesting these changes on the night the council is to vote,” Grannis said. “I am not in favor of voting on those changes that you’re bringing forth this evening. You have not afforded us the appropriate amount of time to thoroughly review this.”
Lipscomb said the project is looking for a sidewalk on just one side of the street and no payment in lieu of the missing sidewalk on the other side. He said that would mirror the nearby Cassedale neighborhood off of City Road. But the planning staff said it could find no evidence that Cassedale did or did not pay a fee in lieu of sidewalks.
Mayor Jody McLeod suggested Lipscomb might be disappointed. “That sounds like have your cake and eat it too,” McLeod said. “I want to put in half of what you’re asking me to and I don’t want to have to pay a fee for not putting it in there.”
Lipscomb said the town should reconsider mandating sidewalks on every street in town, and he pointed out that Clayton doesn’t follow its own rules on its most prominent street.
“Personally I think having sidewalks on both sides of the street on every street in the Town of Clayton is ludicrous,” Lipscomb said. “You can walk down Main Street and you’ve got sections of Main Street that don’t have sidewalks at all.”
Up until this month’s meeting, the proposed subdivision had largely served as a battleground for a philosophical debate on connectivity in Clayton and how the rural swaths still found close to downtown might not be that way forever.
To the north, the Warrick subdivision would butt up against the mostly undeveloped 29-acre property of Kit Creasey. She has signed an affidavit, delivered to the council, stating that she has no intentions of selling her land and wishes not to have a street built up to her property line.
Throughout the review process, the town’s planning staff has said it’s taking the long view of Creasey’s land, believing that sooner or later, it will become a subdivision too. Planning director David DeYoung noted that the Warrick land, on which a Warrick family member will continue to live, bears a striking resemblance to Creasey’s land.
“I’d point out that as we sit here and talk about Ms. Creasey and the fact that she doesn’t want to develop her 29-acre lot, that we’re sitting here talking about Ms. Warrick’s 25.33-acre lot that was once a farm, and she currently still holds her house and farm property on the front part of this property,” DeYoung said. “I’m sure at some point if you’d have gone to Ms. Warrick and asked, ‘Are you interested in selling your property?’, she might have said yes; she might have said no. But she held 25 acres, which is the exact same size as the Creasey tract.”
The planning department argues that without stub-outs leading to future development, subdivisions will become compartmentalized and closed off, forcing traffic only onto main roads and increasing travel times within neighborhoods. Town planner Jay McLeod showed the council a map from Fort Meyers, Fla., where it would take six minutes to drive from one house to another a few dozen feet away simply because the neighborhoods have no connecting street.
“In the case we have now before us, there’s been no evidence that staff’s aware of that indicates there’s any compelling reason connectivity should not be required in this subdivision,” McLeod said.
Reid Smith, developer of Riverwood and one of the Warrick partners, said he appreciates connectivity, but in the case of his project, it would be overkill.
“Connectivity versus over-connectivity is the discussion,” Smith said. “I’ve learned a lot more about connectivity than I probably want to know over the last 30 days. I’ve learned that it is important, first and foremost; towns plan and towns have good connectivity for their citizens. But there’s such a thing as over-connectivity, connectivity that is not common sense, connectivity that can hurt growth.”
From a marketing standpoint, Smith suggested a big difference between a stub-out, which dead-ends to nowhere except some possible future development, and a cul-de-sac, which punctuates a street. He said in Riverwood, one particular stub-out has become a dumping ground for trash and Christmas trees.
“We have to think about the quality of life for people in this town in hypothetical scenarios versus reality,” Smith said. “Jay pointed out this property may be developed 50 or 100 years from now. That doesn’t change the fact that citizens have to live here in reality during that period of time.”
The council didn’t take up the connectivity issue in any significant way on Jan. 3, instead keeping the public hearing open for 30 days. The Warrick tract will appear on the agenda at Clayton’s first meeting in February.