Plans to curtail the influx of new homes in Apex were shot down last week, with a divided town council rejecting a plan that would have increased the percentage of commercial building in future mixed-used developments.
The council had been considering whether to raise the minimum amount of non-residential development in future projects in one part of town, stretching along U.S. 64 from Kelly Road to the Chatham County line, from 30 percent to 50 percent.
Councilman Bill Jensen has been advocating slower residential growth in town and led the charge for the pilot program.
“We need to develop Apex as a quality town,” Jensen said. “And to have a quality life here, you should have the opportunity to work in town.”
The council voted 3-2 to reject the proposal. Gene Schulze, Scott Lassiter and Denise Wilkie voted against changing the rules. Jensen and Nicole Dozier voted for it.
Schulze, Lassiter and Wilkie said they’re not against businesses coming to town. Rather, they said they didn’t believe any development would occur if they were to raise the requirement.
Lassiter said developers have told him it’s hard to even fill 30 percent of their land with non-residential uses, which can include office parks, restaurants, shops and more.
“Do we want 30 percent, or do we want to risk the chance that we get nothing?” Lassiter said.
Dianne Kihn, the town’s planning director, said she doesn’t know of a developer who would be able to make the higher proposed business requirement.
Schulze said he would love to see more businesses come to town but doesn’t want to create unnatural quotas.
“Instead of forcing it and requiring it, can we take a hard look and say, ‘How can we get those developments here?’ ” he asked.
Schulze mentioned that the town may offer incentives to a large proposed development, Veridea, and said the town could take a similar path with smaller developments as well.
“Ideally, that’s the way I would like to see it happen,” he said.
Lassiter also pushed back against the proposal because he said the 50 percent threshold had been picked at random. He said that if he were to ever vote in favor changing the rule, he would need to first see a study showing what the proper amount of non-residential development is.
He also said he’d like to hear more from residents about what they want. The discussion took place in front of a nearly empty room.
Residential debate continues
Earlier in the night, several dozen people came to the meeting. Some were developers speaking in favor of new housing projects, while others were neighbors of those projects who wanted to voice concerns.
“The ambiance of this rural area is serene, peaceful and quiet,” Vaun Moore said of Ragan Road in the Friendship area.
She lives in the area where a developer requested initial approval to build about 250 homes on 133 acres of land.
Moore, 78, referred to the families who have lived in the area for generations, hunting and riding horses and choosing to remain in the country because “they find the tranquility out here restores the soul.”
David Goracke, a representative from developer Kolter Land Partners, said the housing density in the proposed development is lower than it could be, and that his company has been willing to change plans to better mesh with the surrounding area.
“We have spent a lot of time with the neighbors,” Goracke said. “We have included greenways, horse trails and (other) mechanisms that will let this place be something Apex can be proud of.”
The town approved the annexation request 4-1, with Dozier opposed. Dozier said she has concerns that a mostly residential town will start hurting a few decades from now when older homes lose their value and the town’s tax base shrinks. If the tax rate has to rise, she said, the town’s less wealthy residents could be driven away.
Overall, the town approved the annexation or rezoning of 220 acres of residential development during the meeting, along with 5.4 acres of non-residential land. Annexation or rezoning doesn’t guarantee the ultimate approval of a project, but they are key steps.
Moore, who opposed the proposed Ragan Road subdivision, said the town’s embrace of growth “is totally restructuring Apex, and it no longer feels like home.”
She asked the council if they want the quaint, rural areas approaching Chatham County to be paved over within the next 10 to 15 years.
“I think you’re taking one of God’s gifts and exploiting it,” Moore said. “I’m sure you have your own ideas, and I’m sure most of you don’t agree with me. But take a few minutes and search your souls.”
But Schulze said the town is making efforts toward smart growth.
“I think what you’re seeing here is rules put in place so we grow in a wise and fair manner,” Schulze said.