What some members of the Apex Town Council call a study to plan for the future of Apex, local developers are calling a de facto moratorium on growth.
The council considered Dec. 15, a study plan that would focus on about about 3,000 acres in the southwest part of Apex – in the New Hill and Friendship areas. The area is now zoned for residential growth. The goal would be to identify areas to rezone for commercial, retail or other types of non-residential development.
The council also discussed creating a new type of buffer for the borders between residential and nonresidential properties and for a drastic decrease in the amount of residential space in mixed-use projects.
After feedback from residents, the town council decided not to vote on the proposal The town’s Planning Committee will take another look at the plan and try to narrow it down. It will likely come up again soon.
Town leaders from the council and the staff said the study isn’t considered a moratorium.
Still, the proposal drew debate at the potential for a mandated stop to growth.
Suzanne Harris, the vice president of governmental affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Raleigh-Wake County, came to the council’s meeting to hint at the threat of a lawsuit against the town.
State law, she said, prohibits a moratorium in certain scenarios, including what Apex seemed to be proposing.
“I do understand there are some nuances in the language,” Harris said. “But from a residential developer’s perspective, (a moratorium) is basically what’s being proposed.”
The idea of a moratorium was first raised at the council’s Planning Committee meeting, six days before the Dec. 15 meeting. The two-person committee is made up of Bill Jensen, who recently won re-election on a campaign that stressed his slow-growth philosophy, and new mayor Lance Olive.
Politics at play?
Jacob Rodgers, executive director of the pro-development nonprofit group, Triangle Community Coalition, said he was at the committee meeting.
“I heard the word ‘moratorium’ a few times last Wednesday, and that’s very concerning,” Rodgers said Tuesday to a packed audience at Town Hall. “It sends the wrong message to the community.”
The Town Council’s majority switched after the November election from a pro-growth group to a slow-growth philosophy. Now, some in the business community are calling them “no-growth.”
But Apex Planning Director Dianne Khin said the study is her idea and not a political ploy.
“There’s not going to be a moratorium,” Khin said, adding that developers would still be able to submit proposals in the study area.
Khin said the study is needed because the town didn’t have enough time or money to delve into the southwest area when it created its 2030 Land Use Map two years ago. Officials also didn’t think there would be that much growth in that area, she said, but the hundreds of incoming houses show they were wrong.
The housing growth in that area is almost entirely high-end. Khin said in addition to looking at non-residential uses, the town should look at creating other types of residential zonings to bring in housing options below $400,000.
“It’s about having people of different socioeconomic classes in your community,” Khin said. She added that Apex probably needs more apartments and townhomes for greater diversity, since “frankly, it’s the young people who will stop moving here.”
Council members Denise Wilkie and Gene Schulze, who are now in the minority on the council, pushed back against the plans.
Two testy exchanges came when Wilkie asked Jensen how much the study would cost. When he said he didn’t know, she questioned public support and knowledge of the plan.
“I think this is being ramrodded down people’s throats,” Wilkie said.
“That’s not true,” Jensen said.
“Have landowners requested this?” Wilkie asked.
“No,” Jensen said.
But Jensen said voters clearly spoke in November’s election that they’re worried about the pace of residential growth.
“That’s what the purpose of this is,” he said. “To try to give us a little bit of time” before Apex runs out of land.
Effect on New Hill
Jensen originally suggested that pieces of land already under contract to be developed should be paused until after the study, which could take three or four months and might result in those development deals becoming moot.
One landowner, David Bristol, said he spent more than $14,000 in attorney’s fees to finalize the contract for his property in New Hill.
“It seems unfair that we would be able to sell our land now,” he said.
Schulze brought Bristol’s case up again later in the night, and Jensen agreed that it would be OK to let deals like that go through.
But Wilkie said if word gets out that Apex is hard, or even impossible, to build in, developers will go elsewhere, and the town will suffer.
That was echoed by many others who came to address the board, from real estate agent Colin MacNair to appraiser David Cozzarelli to business owner Christina Zadell and former council candidate and homebuilder Carl Helton.
“When you stop putting houses in a town, the town’s going to die,” Helton said. “I’m 71 years old. I don’t have a lot of time left. But I have kids and grandkids here, and I want it to keep growing for them.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran