Eastern Wake News

Opinions mixed on changes in Wendell development

jwhitfield@newsobserver.com

Opinions were decidedly mixed at a hearing Monday night to determine whether the town should relax development rules for a subdivision that was started before the recession brought the housing industry to a standstill.

Commissioners put off a decision Monday night, opting to wait until their second meeting in September to rule on the request.

Owners of the Edgemont Landing neighborhood were on hand to ask town commissioners to relax some of the rules that were enacted when the town’s Unified Development Ordinance took effect.

Had construction of the neighborhood continued once it started, the developers would not have been obligated to obey the new rules. But because they stopped development, their window for completing the work under their original plans expired.

When that happened, the property owners, including D.R. Horton, Ronnie and Jennifer Mizell, Ammons Acres, Inc. and Helen Strain were required to resubmit their plans to the town and meet the new rules spelled out in the UDO.

Commissioners and speakers were equally divided over the request, which was recommended unanimously by the planning board.

Fire Chief Brian Staples objected to a change that would allow the developers to use vinyl siding on houses without adhering to distance requirements between homes.

He cited two fires in Rolesville in which homes with vinyl siding caught fire and subsequently caught the homes next door on fire as well.

“I can guarantee you that when we have a fire we’re going to be talking about several homes burning if we allow this. This is a perfect storm for burning down multiple houses,” Staples said.

Commissioner John Boyette, who is also a firefighter, agreed with Staples. “I’d have to vote against this for that reason alone,” Boyette said.

The current rules allow houses to have vinyl siding, but they must be at least 30 feet apart. The developers were asking for those space requirements to be eliminated. If the town board approves that request, homes could be as close to each other as 13 feet apart, based on developer’s expectation that the lots would be 65 feet wide.

But Ronnie Mizell said, as a practical matter, the houses will not be that close together. “Our lots are 65 feet wide and our homes are 38 feet wide,” Mizell said.

That means if neighboring houses were both constructed in the center of their respective lots, the homes would be 27 feet from each other. If the lots are smaller than 65 feet, the homes could be closer to each other than that.

Mizell, who is a captain with the Raleigh fire department said the town was looking at the wrong example when it considered the Rolesville fires.

“I would say we should look at what Wake County did after those events, when they made new rules that eliminated vinyl as a material in the house’s soffits. That’s exactly what we were proposing to do,” Mizell said.

In his staff report, Planning Director David Bergmark said the space requirements were instituted as a safety measure to avoid having more than one house catch fire if a blaze breaks out.

The vinyl issue wasn’t the only concern voiced at Monday’s meeting.

Kent McDaniel, who owns a home in Edgemont Landing, said he was concerned that relaxing the rules would reduce property values for the homes that are already in the neighborhood. Most of the changes developers were asking for, however, would have allowed developers to build the remainder of the neighborhood to the same specifications as the existing homes.

Commissioner Ginna Gray said she was concerned about establishing the UDO, then turning away from the rules just because a developer asked for special consideration.

“I feel like a lot of work went into the UDO and we should work to follow them,” Gray said.

‘I am in favor of it’

Others were in favor of the request. Wes Parker, a former president of the Edgemont Landing Homeowners Association, said the HOA needs the remaining homes in the development to be built.

“D.R. Horton has been very generous. They have been subsidizing our Homeowners Association. We’ve always wanted to keep our dues low and they’ve been based on a neighborhood with 250 homes in it, not a neighborhood with 75 homes,” Parker said. Relaxing the rules would allow the developers to move forward with their plans and add new homeowners to the neighborhood. Those property owners could then help support the HOA, which is responsible for maintaining common areas, such as the entrance to the neighborhood, walking trails and the swimming pool and clubhouse.

Mizell said he and his partners were simply asking to be allowed to follow the same rules they were obligated to obey when they first started building the neighborhood.

“I’ve been told this is the second best subdivision in Wendell. Why wouldn’t we want to allow that to continue?” Mizell asked.

Some on the town board agreed. Mayor Tim Hinnant said it was his understanding that, the developer’s request simply allowed them, in most cases, to revert to previously existing rules.

“I don’t have any problem with that at all. I’m in favor of it,” Hinnant said.

Commissioners Sam Laughery and James Parham both said they were in agreement with the request. Commissioner Jon Lutz was not present at Monday’s meeting, which prompted Parham to ask for a delay in the final vote.

“We have an unwritten rule, if you will, that when we are voting on something important, we want all our members to be there to take part in that decision,” Parham said.

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