Southwest Wake News

Fuquay-Varina loosens development rule

Spurred on by a struggling property on Main Street, Fuquay-Varina officials voted Monday to approve a developer-friendly amendment to town rules.

Mixed-use projects will now be able to modify their plans without having to go before the town’s elected officials to ask permission. The board unanimously approved allowing developers to modify plans with staff approval.

A relatively new mixed-use development, the Village at Marquee Station, was built in February 2014 next to Fuquay-Varina Elementary School. The 265 luxury apartments – with rent ranging from $925 to $1,320 a month – reached steady occupancy within half a year.

But the retail that the property owners hoped would fill in the outer parcels closer to Main Street never materialized. An ABC store opened up there almost immediately, but nothing more has come in the past year.

Michael Eubanks, a representative for Blue Heron Asset Management, the Durham-based developer of Marquee Station, told the Fuquay-Varina Board of Commissioners that it’s been two years since a company has expressed interest in joining the space.

Eubanks said Blue Heron now wants to turn some of the land that had been planned for stores into more apartments.

“It just seems like it could be a very long time before we ever get to completing that commercial (portion),” Eubanks said.

The town has required mixed-use developments to be a maximum of 75 percent residential or commercial, to keep a balance between the two. But the developer’s change would make Marquee Station about 80 percent residential, which hasn’t been allowed under the town’s rules.

Eubanks, with the backing of Fuquay-Varina Planning Director Mike Sorenson, asked for an amendment to the town’s development rules.

The 75-25 ratio would still remain the standard, but developers would be able to increase the balance to 80-20 with staff approval.

Growing towns in the area have sometimes found themselves constrained by their own development rules, finding them too strict once applied to the real world.

“I won’t say that they’re growing pains, but we’re probably going to see more things like this in the future,” Mayor John Byrne said.

Several commissioners expressed concern initially about going down a slippery slope of making concessions to developers. But after some discussion, the full board approved the changes.

No one attended the meeting to speak against the proposal.

“It gives the administration some latitude to promote good relations with the development community,” Commissioner William Harris said.

Sorenson said adding some wiggle room into the rules is something that cities and towns all over Wake County, and the entire country, have done for years.

Blake Massengill, a commissioner who works in the home building industry, said a developer wouldn’t propose a mixed-use project but then change it to either a fully residential or fully commercial project.

“The intent of the project’s still in there,” he said. “We’re only talking 5 percent.”

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran