Apex will study 3,000 acres of land southwest of town to identify where land could be rezoned from residential to commercial or retail uses, despite objections from landowners and developers.
Although the idea for the land study was controversial when first introduced in December – even prompting hints of lawsuits – the council approved it unanimously Tuesday, Jan. 5. The study should take three or four months and will cost $28,000, officials said.
The area to be explored covers much of the Friendship and New Hill communities, which has been growing more quickly than town officials expected. Hundreds of new homes already are approved for construction north of the study area.
“It would tell us what the probable mix would be,” said Apex Planning Director Dianne Kihn. “How much industrial we could reasonably expect in 2035, how much office, how much retail, all those things.”
The debate over the study highlights the ongoing tensions on the council – between listening to voters and respecting the rights of individual property owners.
Council members Bill Jensen and Wesley Moyer won their seats in November, largely because of their desire to slow residential growth.
Tuesday, Jensen defended the study “so that we can, in the long term, have a more viable community in the area.
“We are doing our best to not impact property owners,” he said.
Council members Denise Wilkie and Gene Schulze, who previously opposed the study, voted “yes” after changes were made to make the process more friendly to landowners. The changes may also stop developers from accusing the town of putting a moratorium on growth.
A key concession made to the study’s mission was to not rezone land that’s already under contract with a developer. That was a sticking point with those who criticized the study at the Dec. 15 meeting.
New Hill resident Bob Kelly said he and nearby landowners often have been left out of town discussions. During this study, he said, someone should ask for their input.
“At some point, you’re going to need buy-in from the residents of Friendship and New Hill,” Kelly said. “And that’s how you get it – by listening to them up front.”
Many New Hill and Friendship residents have long histories on their land; Kelly said he lives across the street from where his grandmother was born in 1877. But now that land has become so expensive, some in the rural area see development as a means to a better life.
“I know some who, that’s their retirement,” Kelly said. “And if the (government) comes out and says you can’t sell this except for commercial, how are they going to retire?”
Jensen said the council could talk at a later date about trying to “figure out how we can help landowners who are placed under nonresidential – how they can market their property in the long term.”
Free market versus intervention
Tom Colhoun, an Apex real estate agent who acts as an intermediary between landowners and developers, said it’s unfair that New Hill and Friendship residents don’t get to vote in Apex elections, yet town officials can make decisions about their properties.
Colhoun works with both residential and nonresidential real estate and has some clients in the New Hill and Friendship areas. He’s a critic of the land study, saying the town should wait for developers to request rezonings instead of trying to force changes ad hoc.
“I understand that they don’t want to lose any opportunity for commercial or business development,” he said. “But the market will drive that. A home developer is not going to go out there and pick a corner of a big intersection to put houses at. Because they know that’s where the commercial is going to go.”
Colhoun said “it’s Economics 101” that commercial development only happens where there’s a large population. And in this area, he said, there are too many competitors for Apex to slow down its housing growth.
“If you shut down the residential, the commercial’s not going come,” he said. “And I guarantee you if that happens, Holly Springs and Fuquay are saying ‘Thank you so much, Apex.’ ”
Jensen, though, has countered that argument by saying subdivisions in western Apex are being approved so quickly that the whole area could be developed before the commercial sector has time to react.
“The objective was to protect some areas in that community so we’re not a 100-percent bedroom community down there,” Jensen said.
But Colhoun said he’s worried that the council, which now has what he calls a “no-growth” majority of Jensen, Moyer and Nicole Dozier, will get carried away with politics and try to rezone land that doesn’t make sense.
Mayor Lance Olive doesn’t have a vote, but on Tuesday he promised that wouldn’t happen.
“It’s all about how much the market will bear,” Olive said. “If the market won’t bear nonresidential, we won’t force it.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran