The Apex Town Council denied a pair of requests from the developer of the Villages of Apex South to change a rezoning petition that was first approved in 2015, which would have added more homes and taller buildings.
The neighborhood has been approved for 228 townhouses. The Halle Companies, the developer, requested permission to build another 20 and increase the agreed-upon height limit for its mixed-use buildings. The requests were heard by the council Sept. 20, with both unanimously denied.
An undeveloped section of the Villages, known as Trackside South, was expected to contain the bulk of the project’s office and retail tenants. It’s at the northwest corner of Laura Duncan Road and Hunter Street and east of the train tracks.
The request heard Sept. 20 would have decreased retail space requirements from 60,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet; increased proposed office space minimums from 20,000 to 70,000 square feet; and allowed The Halle Companies to build five stories of condos on top of first-floor commercial units.
The planning board also unanimously recommended denying the requests. Both the planning board and the council agreed that taller buildings and a heavier emphasis on office space could compromise its goal of self-containment and its consistency with the character of the nearby downtown.
Peter Cnossen, the engineer speaking on behalf of the developers at the meeting, said taller buildings would allow the first-floor retail space to be financed by condo sales while the developers wait for the retail and office market to heat up.
“We want to allow the market to drive the use rather than specifying minimums for those separately,” Cnossen said. “The original concept of the grocery store and the strip mall-type of use has been on the market for eight years, and what I’ve learned from the owner is that there’s only been about two looks at it in that period of time.”
Cnossen heard residents’ concerns at neighborhood meetings and at the planning board meeting. He agreed to a compromise request for five stories, instead of six, when told the town’s fire trucks couldn’t service buildings at that height. But the existing four-story cap was kept in place.
The desire to revise the conditions of a mixed-use development’s plan follows a pattern in Apex, where the developers of several large-scale mixed-use projects have returned to the town requesting permission to build more homes or decrease their obligation to provide space for commercial tenants. Sweetwater, a major mixed-use development being built off U.S. 64 and west of downtown Apex, is expected to make a similar request in October.
The current council majority wants to promote commercial development that will keep Apex residents from needing to drive out of town for shopping and work options. Meanwhile, some council members haven’t looked favorably at requests to forgo providing those amenities in the interest of building more housing, which in the current market can be counted on to provide a faster and more certain return on a developer’s investment.
Developers also frequently claim that more residential units are needed to attract and support the businesses Apex wants to set up shop in town.
At the council’s Sept. 20 meeting, though, council members sided with residents of both the Villages and nearby Old Mill Village, who came to speak against the requested revisions. Those residents unanimously opposed the prospect of five- or six-story buildings near their homes. They also asked the council to hold the developers accountable for providing the shopping and office opportunities promised at the time they purchased their homes.
“The selling point was that yes, it’s high density, but we’ll have facilities and amenities so they don’t have to go off the property,” Councilman Gene Schulze said. “Johnny can ride his bike to the market and get a gallon of milk and bring it home – that kind of community. What’s concerning is that we’re being asked to turn this into property where people need to go off site to get most of what they need.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan