Southwest Wake News

Apex growth plan prompts concerns from rural residents

A man looks over lists of ideas for changes to the southwestern areas of Apex at an Apex town meeting Feb. 22, 2016, which was broken down into subjects like parks, neighborhoods, transportation and shopping.
A man looks over lists of ideas for changes to the southwestern areas of Apex at an Apex town meeting Feb. 22, 2016, which was broken down into subjects like parks, neighborhoods, transportation and shopping. wdoran@newsobserver.com

A crowd of residents from rural areas southwest of town came to the May 3 Town Council meeting, hoping to add their voices to the market study Apex commissioned to help plan future development in those areas.

The town held a public hearing to solicit input on the $28,000 study, which sought to identify where growth would be strongest and how the town can best plan for that growth.

The results of the now published study identify three major areas of growth within about 3,000 acres, which is mostly unincorporated Wake County: one in New Hill between the old and new U.S. 1 routes; another around the eventual southern terminus of the Richardson Road extension that would connect U.S. 1 and U.S. 64; and a third near Humie-Olive Road and Apex Friendship High School, closest to Apex’s existing urban core.

The study area was not included in the town’s 2013 land-use plan, but recent residential proposals in that direction, including Veridea and Sweetwater, convinced town staff the plan needs updating. Most of the study area is not currently part of Apex, but town leaders have said they want to be prepared to deal with annexation requests should developers follow the demand predicted in the study.

Jessica Rossi, who presented the study’s key findings on behalf of Kimley-Horn, said Apex can expect to grow by between 38,000 and 60,000 residents by 2035, requiring between 14,000 and 22,000 new units of housing.

Mayor Lance Olive and town staff tried to assauge fears of encroachment by reminding the audience that it would be up to them as landowners whether to sell their land to developers.

“Without this plan, we don’t have a good reason to tell developers ‘no’ when they come to us,” Olive said. “It is the normal thing to do and the wise thing to do, in my opinion. And if the future doesn’t bring this kind of growth, then we won’t need the plan at all.”

Still, residents said they are concerned about infrastructure projects made necessary by growth, such as roads and public works facilities, that might cut through their land or diminish the rural quality of life they have enjoyed since childhood or sought by moving there.

“That land is the land that built me,” said Shelley Sink, who grew up near New Hill and lived there for more than 40 years. “I’m a middle school science curriculum writer for Wake County, and my inspiration is that land. I understand that we’re growing, and that’s important, but we need to grow smart.”

Rooftops and retail

Alongside the effort to determine where growth will happen has been a debate about what type of development the town should favor. The most recent study was commissioned, at least in part, in response to concerns that the town was poised to add too many homes too quickly.

The study predicts demand for mixed-use residential development – residential and commercial development side by side, or in the same buildings – in two out of the three growth areas and mixed-use office and retail development at the third, near the future interchange at U.S. 1 and the Richardson Road extension.

Representatives from housing advocacy groups spoke at the public hearing in favor of residential development. Attributing rising housing prices in and around Apex to increased demand and decreased supply, they encouraged the council not to limit residential growth, as councilmen Bill Jensen and Wesley Moyer have said they hope to do.

“I want to convince you that the benefits of growing outweigh the pains,” said Suzanne Harris, vice president of governmental affairs with the Homebuilders Association of Raleigh-Wake County. “What Apex wants to be is a diverse place with lots of different people living here. That comes with density, with apartments, and, of course, larger housing developments.”

Tim Hancock and Martha Gear, of New Hill, said they worry about a glut of housing and echoed Jensen’s belief that it could turn Apex into a “bedroom community.”

“What’s going to push those prices down on those (homes) badly, and we’ve seen it happen before, is if there aren’t jobs to support the people who live there,” Hancock said. “And we’re not talking about retail, because that’s not coming in until the rooftops are filled.”

Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan

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