In a few years, much of western Apex likely change dramatically, with subdivisions, townhomes and restaurants replacing pine trees and farmland.
But one of those new developments will pay tribute to the rustic land it’s replacing.
A divided Apex Town Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday, Feb. 2, to annex and rezone the property,
The development known as Smith Farm is a 270-acre mixed-use project. Developers have proposed building 430 houses, 170 townhomes and 150 apartments on the land between Olive Chapel Road and U.S. 64, to the west of what will become the Sweetwater neighborhood. Sweetwater, on 165 acres, will bring a combined 480 houses and townhomes.
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But Smith Farm is being marketed toward outdoorsy types and those who are nostalgic for simpler times. It will connect to the American Tobacco Trail, is a mile from Apex Nature Park and will include a working farm and greenhouse, plus garden plots that residents will be able to rent out.
“It’s being delivered as an agrarian theme,” said lawyer Jason Barron of the concept, in which farms and gardens replace swimming pools and community centers as the neighborhood gathering spaces. “It’s meeting the rural characteristic of the area. It’s doing the town justice.”
Barron, who represents developer Lennar Homes, said it’s based on a similar neighborhood in Argyle, Texas. It primarily attracted empty-nesters and young couples who wanted to raise their kids around farm life, he said.
At Smith farm, both houses and townhomes will be intermingled instead of separated, as they are in most modern subdivisions.
Barron said that will keep home prices relatively low, even though the average lot will be nearly half an acre.
“This is a unique concept,” Barron said.
He said it’s rare for a company like Lennar – the country’s second-largest homebuilder – to plan so much around the character of a town it’s building in.
Smith Farm developers also will join with Sweetwater to pay for the completion of a Richardson Road extension from Olive Chapel Road to U.S. 64 that will take traffic off Kelly Road.
There has been some pushback from nearby residents. But the outcry has not been nearly as vocal as the opposition to Sweetwater, which worried many of the Abbington residents it will connect to.
Smith Farm won’t connect to any neighborhoods except Sweetwater.
The main opposition has been from people who live around Deck Airpark. They said they will worried newcomers will buy homes near the runway – which brushes up against the Smith Farm property – and then complain about the Cessnas and other small planes flying overhead.
After a lengthy debate Tuesday, the developers agreed to notify every home-buyer about the nearby runway. That was good enough for the council, even though the Airpark neighbors weren’t satisfied.
The annexation passed 3-2, and the rezoning passed 4-1. Denise Wilkie, Gene Schulze and Nicole Dozier voted in favor both times. Bill Jensen voted no both times. Wesley Moyer voted against the annexation but then supported the rezoning after he and Jensen’s initial effort to reject the development failed.
Moyer was worried about the airport issues, and Jensen was worried about the project’s mixed-use component of 38 acres that will combine 150 apartments with nonresidential uses like restaurants, shops or offices.
The space will be directly across the street from the 42 acres of nonresidential land that Sweetwater has promised. Combined, those 80 acres could provide for a major shopping center in the future.
For context, Barron said 80 acres would be more than half the size of the nearby Beaver Creek shopping centers. It’s double the size of the tower-filled property that is North Hills East in Raleigh.
“I want you to understand how big 80 acres is,” he told the council.
Even if the two developments don’t partner up, Barron said, Smith Farm’s 38 acres can make a difference. He said he also worked on bringing Met Life to Cary, which has 600,000 square feet of offices on 40 acres of land.
Barron emphasized the acreage because it’s not enough to meet Apex’s guidelines for mixed-use buildings.
The town strongly recommends that mixed-use developments set aside at least 30 percent of their land for nonresidential projects. The proposal from Smith Farm, however, is only 19 percent nonresidential.
That drew objections from Jensen, who tried unsuccessfully to raise the mixed-use limit from 30 to 50 percent in 2014.
“I like the subdivision,” Jensen said. “I do not like that it’s 19 percent, compared to 30 percent. ... If they could find a way to add some (nonresidential) land, I could go with it.”
Other council members, though, said they didn’t want to turn down Smith Farm and risk a different project coming in later that technically meets the guidelines but wouldn’t be as large.
“You might not find that opportunity again,” Wilkie said.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran