During the town’s final commissioners’ meeting for the year on Dec. 8, the hall filled with the emotions of residents, business owners and developers ready to debate proposed changes to Wendell’s development rules.
Most residents in attendance believed Wendell was catering too much to a low-income bracket with cheaper housing standards. The council spent most of their time discussing and voting on residential design elements, including the size of porches, garages and front steps, which encompassed a discussion of foundation types.
After a 30-minute public hearing and discussion among the commissioners, the town council ultimately voted 4-1 to raise the percentage of garage width from 40 to be 55 percent of building façades. Commissioner Ginna Gray opposed the motion.
Mayor Tim Hinnant, who did not vote, said that he was “very disappointed” with the outcome.
“The majority of the board isn’t listening to the wishes of citizens, which is what they were stated to me that they were sworn to do when they were asked to the oath of office,” he said. “I think this is a very bad vote.”
Commissioner Sam Laughery pushed back, saying that the concerns he heard from the public were regarding slab-on-grade foundations.
The commissioners also voted to 4-1, with Mayor Pro Tem James Parham opposed, to leave the UDO unchanged regarding slab-on-grade foundations, and voted unanimously to require porches to be at least seven feet deep.
The votes followed a number of comments from the public including Joe Ann Wright, co-owner of Kannon’s Clothing in downtown, who was one of several with hard words for the council.
“I’m disappointed in the town’s progress,” she said. “I am opposed to slab-on-grade. We already have 200 homes already approved. I don’t think we can be saturated by this low-income housing. We need it, but we also need diversity, and I think we have enough of it already.”
Regina Harmon agreed that the town needs more variety. She told commissioners she had collected 50 signatures in just four hours on a petition opposing the changes to the UDO.
“We should get rid of any slab-on-grade in any form,” she said.
Disagreement in community
Other residents had comments during the public hearing periods. Kathe Schaecher threatened to work in Raleigh because of the low-quality direction toward which she felt Wendell was moving.
Renee Farrah, a yearlong resident, said when she first moved to Wendell, she asked her husband “what military base used to be here.”
She pointed out that developers look to maximize profits. “They’ll save $3,000-$5,000 by going on slab. You’re encouraging low-income developers,” Farrah said.
“Why let the builders and Realtors swing us by the tail,” said Ann Stewart. “It’s time for us to take a stand... instead of always bowing down to the real estate people.”
Mayor Tim Hinnant stepped down from his seat to participate in the public hearing himself.
“Don’t change the UDO. We need to see if it will work,” he said. “The UDO was given to us to …attract a higher socio-economic status...our homes have depreciated.”
Ben Carroll a builder who resides in Wendell and would like to build in the town but he cannot because of the cheapness of the homes. He said he won’t even allow his wife to “set up shop” in Wendell because of the depreciation.
Planning board member Larry Vaughan defended the recommendations and pushed back that the problem of low-income housing was unrelated to slab-on-grade, although he did not know the solution to the problem.
Former Mayor Lucius Jones, owner of United Realty & Construction Company, Inc., said that slab is commonplace in home-building today.
“Slab isn’t the issue,” he said. “We’re selling, and that’s what people are demanding. You don’t drive a market, you respond to the market.”
The council also voted 5-0 to modify UDO sign regulations, saying that the current Food Lion sign specifically has caused some accidents.
“What about the fan-powered tube man?” asked commissioner John Boyette. “Is that considered a sign?”
Bergmark replied that “lighter than air signs” do have regulations, but people holding signs are a gray area the town does not address.