Wake County

Crabtree Park meeting on Tuesday

Jay Miller, left, Glenn Edmonds and Tommy Zwirblia pause while riding the mountain bike trails at Lake Crabtree County Park in October. A public meeting is scheduled Tuesday, March 3, at 6 p.m. at Morrisville Town Hall to revisit the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority’s potential plans to develop the property.
Jay Miller, left, Glenn Edmonds and Tommy Zwirblia pause while riding the mountain bike trails at Lake Crabtree County Park in October. A public meeting is scheduled Tuesday, March 3, at 6 p.m. at Morrisville Town Hall to revisit the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority’s potential plans to develop the property. tlong@newsobserver.com

A group of outdoor enthusiasts concerned with the future of Lake Crabtree County Park is revisiting the issue Tuesday.

A public meeting is scheduled Tuesday, March 3, at 6 p.m. at Morrisville Town Hall. Local and county officials are scheduled to attend along with opponents to Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority’s plans to develop parts of the park southwest of the airport.

Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman and Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson will lead the meeting. Stohlman said it will be an open-ended discussion with updates on where the Airport Authority’s plans stand.

RDU officials won’t attend the meeting, but airport authority chairman Tommy Hunt sent Stohlman a letter in response to the invitation.

He said RDU does not have “immediate plans” for land development in the Lake Crabree Park area.

But developing the area is still under consideration.

Hunt wrote that the authority will revisit development strategies in mid-June as part of its master planning process, which runs through 2016.

Mindy Hamlin, a spokeswoman for the airport, said they will use that process to determine “how we could or could not develop” its land outside the airport, including Lake Crabtree Park.

She said RDU will hold several public hearings during that process.

The airport previously said it won’t develop the main 33-acre part of the park by the lake, where the boat ramps, play areas and picnic spots are located. But the airport has ideas for developing another 149 acres, home to miles of trails beloved by local joggers and mountain bikers.

During the planning process, Hunt wrote, the authority will be “better prepared to engage in discussions about potential future uses of its land holdings.”

It’s those potential future uses, which could include office space or hotels, that rankled numerous park visitors in the fall. When the authority’s intentions were revealed, the Triangle Off-Road Cyclists and the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club formed the Save The Crab advocacy group in response.

Ryan Krolak, the Lake Crabtree trail manager for Triangle Off-Road Cyclists, said dozens from the group plan to attend Tuesday’s meeting to show their continued opposition. He said Lake Crabtree is the most popular mountain-biking park in the Triangle and draws people from several counties. The authority’s process has left their trail improvement plans in limbo, he said.

He said he was hoping RDU officials would attend the meeting.

“This affects more people than RDU probably realizes,” Krolak said.

Potential land uses

Last fall, the authority signed a lease with the county that will automatically renew each year through 2025. Under the terms, the lease can be terminated at any time with just a 45-day notice.

An outside consulting group, the Urban Land Institute, told RDU last year the land in question could be suited for an office park and luxury hotels.

“Given the scarcity of remaining property for development (along I-40 near RTP) ... RDU is well positioned to capture this demand,” the study said.

A quarter of the 27,000 hotel rooms in the Triangle are near the airport, the study found, including more than half of the high-end hotel rooms.

Demand for high-end rooms is increasing, the Urban Land Institute said, and building another nice hotel could bolster economic development in the area.

“A higher-priced business hotel with meeting space, particularly catering to business travelers interested in avoiding travel to early-morning flights, could leverage this shift in demand toward quality and reinforce RDU’s reputation as a world-class airport,” the study found.

But many in the area don’t think the promise of a trendy hotel near the airport is worth losing 149 acres that include nine miles of leafy, winding trails.

That includes Stohlman. While he isn’t a Save The Crab organizer, he has supported the group since its inception a year ago.

“I’m simply in my double role as a public official and a mountain biking enthusiast,” he said. “And I’d hate such a gem to be turned into office buildings.”

Krolak said even though RDU hasn’t made any moves to develop the land yet, the uncertainty – especially from the opt-out clause in the lease – makes it hard to improve the park and plan for the future.

“Right now we have an $85,000 grant that we’re using to maintain the trails,” he said. “But it’s kind of shaky for us to spend $85,000 on something that could disappear within 45 days.”

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran

Want to go?

The meeting about Lake Crabtree’s single-track trails is Tuesday, March 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Morrisville Town Hall, 100 Town Hall Drive, Morrisville.

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