Southwest Wake News

Officials break ground at Apex site of controversial Sweetwater development

Builders and town officials scoop a ceremonial shovelful of dirt to mark the beginning of Sweetwater’s construction on Wednesday, June 8. The 165-acre subdivision will have 430 homes as well as a commercial district.
Builders and town officials scoop a ceremonial shovelful of dirt to mark the beginning of Sweetwater’s construction on Wednesday, June 8. The 165-acre subdivision will have 430 homes as well as a commercial district. hgargan@newsobserver.com

Builders and town officials pulled into a dirt driveway June 8 on the south side of U.S. 64, about a mile west of its interchange with N.C. 540, to mark the beginning of one of Apex’s largest development projects in the past decade.

The 430-home Sweetwater subdivision, as proposed by Raleigh-area builder ExperienceOne Homes, will include a range of single-family units, priced between about $200,000 and $800,000, as well as a commercial district to be completed in a separate phase of construction.

Shovels met dirt just 15 hours after a divided Apex Town Council passed a controversial measure requiring mixed-use developers to set aside 30 percent of their acreage for commercial use. Mayor Lance Olive, sporting a cowboy hat, jeans and sunglasses, made reference to this in his remarks to those gathered for the groundbreaking.

“I want to also remember that (director of economic development) Joanna Helms and the Town Council are working hard to bring non-residential as well,” Olive said. “That way people not only have a place to live, they have a place to work and shop as well. They all go hand in hand.”

Denise Wilkie, the council’s most vocal opponent of that measure, was the only council member to attend the ceremony.

Lanny Caldwell, one of ExperienceOne’s founding partners, said his company chose this site with the understanding that full occupancy would take somewhat longer if it followed the town’s land-use plan, which previously had the 70-30 split as a recommendation, not a requirement.

Of Sweetwater’s 165 acres, 46 have been marked for commercial development, or just shy of 28 percent.

“We wound up following the land plan as it was written, and we might have had a little bit more (than 30 percent),” Caldwell added. “Whatever 46 out of 165 (acres) comes out to.”

That’s expected to include two 50,000-square-foot office buildings, ExperienceOne partner David Schmidt said, which Olive has said is the town’s first priority with respect to commercial construction.

Caldwell said he expects the development’s first residents to move in sometime in the first half of 2017, with the final homes ideally being sold within three to four years. He said his company will likely wait a year or so to submit a detailed site plan for Sweetwater’s commercial district and begin signing tenants.

“You've got to put the rooftops in for the commercial to work,” he said. “It's just factual. You can talk about bringing in the commercial first, but most of the time that won't happen. It's an exceptional situation when it does.”

Sweetwater was the subject of a contentious council debate late last year when it was approved in a split vote that also happened to be the council’s final decision before new council member Wesley Moyer and Mayor Lance Olive were sworn in, replacing Sweetwater proponent Scott Lassiter. At the time, Councilman Bill Jensen called Sweetwater “the worst development I’ve seen” in his 16 years on the council.

The project’s controversy was due mainly to its proximity to the upscale Abbington neighborhood, whose residents opposed Sweetwater’s initial proposal. Their concerns included the project’s density and its impact on traffic and property values. Wilkie said she had planned to vote against Sweetwater until it showed its willingness to concede to most of Abbington residents’ demands. ExperienceOne also has said it will extend Richardson Road northward, relieving traffic along Kelly Road, and build a new intersection at U.S. 64.

“The thing that sold me, too, was that the houses next to Abbington are going to be the $800,000 homes,” Wilkie said. “The smaller homes, the more dense areas would be farther away. I thought that was a nice compromise.”

Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan

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