Eastern Wake News

Knightdale “Old Town” plans cause divide

The town’s plan for extending businesses along First Avenue adjacent to Knightdale Station Park includes a haven where children might dance through a splash pad and families could easily turn to a potential deli, coffee shop or ice cream shop for a snack.

But not everybody is ready to welcome the idea of businesses so close to the park.

During the town’s council meeting April 6, five people, including the man who sold the land to the town for use as a park spoke against rezoning six acres that would allow mixed-use buildings.

Senior planner Jason Brown said the plan is expected to provide the area with a sense of place and local character for living, working and visiting. Town planners hope to incorporate a 1910 “Old Town” feel and spark a vibrant and varied economy – encouraging more walkability, he said in his presentation to the council. Town leaders say that it would complement the current downtown area on First Avenue.

The proposal to rezone the land to neighborhood mixed-use was the subject of a public hearing during the meeting and the council referred it to the Land Use Review Board to discuss April 13 and return a reccommendation in time for the council to act on May 4.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Chalk questioned the need to rezone before attracting interest by developers. During the public hearing, resident Rusty DeMent agreed, adding that he didn’t “know what to think” but desired to be involved in the process.

Former Knightdale Mayor Billy Wilder, who sold the 70 acres to the town, says he only intended for its use as a park. Wilder showed disappointment that the town had stopped following its own master plan.

“You promised me and my family a plan to be used for an open space public park,” he said. “If we wanted a business park it would have been sold to someone other than the town.”

He also disapproved of the plans for an arboretum, which he had envisioned similar to the J.C. Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State, “one of the most outstanding arboretums in the country,” he said. Currently, planners intend to carry through with a “deconstructed arboretum” that would be more spread out around Knightdale Station Park.

In fall 2014, Wilder and Parks and Recreation Director Tina Cheek collaborated to create a plan for the arboretum, which will be dedicated to Wilder. The town had budgeted $50,000 in fiscal year 2015 for the arboretum's design and master plan.

Wilder encouraged the council to maintain credibility and “do what you said you are going to do ... Leave the park zone as it currently is zoned today.”

Two other citizens, Betsy Amos and Mike Marsh, echoed Wilder’s comments.

Mayor Russell Killen said he does not dispute that the town changed their mind.

“This was something we couldn’t conceptualize at the time,” he said. “That Knightdale could have a new, walkable downtown ... We are supportive of the current downtown. ... It multiplies,” he said. “I think this is a really good thing ... it will really reenergize downtown.”

He added that nothing was solidified, but they had received much positive feedback and believed it was “the best thing for Knightdale.”

George Hess, a member of the Land Use and Review Board expressed concerned during the hearing that the land was intended to be protected. He compared the situation to a recent controversy over a land swap near the Green Pines neighborhood, where space intended as recreational acreage would be used for a development.

He said it “seems disrespectful to the landowners who made that promise ... and to the land itself.”

Plans created by CLH Design in Cary suggest that the development would include 900 square feet of residential and office space, and increase parking to more than 100 spaces both inside the development and streetside. The council has also discussed adding public Wi-Fi.