Planning Board meeting ends, unresolved, after midnight.
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — In a marathon session that more often resembled a criminal trial with facts, witness testimony, points, counterpoints and rebuttals, the Wake Forest Planning Board heard arguments about a proposed townhome development for Dr. Calvin Jones Highway Tuesday.
Planning Board members tabled discussion of the project until next month after hearing testimony that lasted from 7:30 p.m. to after midnight on Wednesday.
Proponents for the 99-unit development, desired by developer Russell Gay for the sliver of land just west of Pineview Estates and Holding Ridge, brought a gaggle of authorities, including attorney Robin Currin, to try to fulfill all of the findings of fact requirements that rule special-use permit hearings.
But residents opposed to the project brought some firepower of their own. That was in the form of their own attorney, Andy Petesch, and their own real estate appraiser, whose ruling on whether there would be a loss of value to their homes was 180-degrees opposite of what petitioner’s appraiser said.
The plan calls for 99 townhouses on 19 acres. Siena Drive would be continued through to connect to its dead-end now — which was one point of contention among the dozens of residents who attended.
Another disputed point is the site is primarily zoned for office and institutional uses (one section is zoned for neighborhood business).
Residents who have lived adjacent to the site, including some who have been there 10 years or longer, all said they were told an office or retail area was what they expected to be developed there.
If it sounds familiar, it’s because Gay presented a similar townhome development a year ago, which was shot down, for two reasons:
•The park amenity was not centrally located as required by the ordinance, and
•A statement that the townhouses wouldn’t lower neighboring property values wasn’t certified by a real estate appraiser.
The site plan this time dropped three units in the middle to make way for a pocket park big enough for a tot lot. The size of the amenity is not specified in the ordinance, Currin noted.
Gay brought his own appraiser, Tom Morgan, who stated that, viewing other such townhouse developments over time have not lowered surrounding property values.
But residents’ appraiser, David Cozzarelli, said that since it’s rare to find a townhome community backing up to residences (as opposed to across the street), there isn’t enough data to make any ruling.
“The reason you can’t find situations where houses abut into townhomes is that’s been stopped, corrected over time,” Cozzarelli said.
Adding that the market reacts poorly to developments that look out of place, he added, “People want conformity, things that line up right.”
One impairment to his testimony is that he did not present a written report, saying he had only just been hired and didn’t have the time. Since the public hearing was closed, that cannot be entered into evidence later.
Unwilling to wade through mountains of prepared evidence and rebuttals to make a decision on the spot, planning board members agreed to continue the discussion at their August meeting.
Other business carried the meeting to about 1 a.m.
•Planning board members unanimously recommended approval of two other plans presented Tuesday, a special-use permit for Traditions Southeast, a 141-acre, 70-lot cluster residential development off Oak Grove Church Road that would leave a large swath of untouched open space adjacent to the Wake Forest Reservoir.
The town is planning a greenway in that area along the lake’s edge.
•A second plan, also unanimously recommended for approval, was for a rezoning to allow a 20-acre, 101-unit Traditions Townhomes plan and amenities center to be built on 20 acres adjacent to Traditions Southeast.
Future greenway trails will be built along with this site as well, Assistant Planning Department Director Chad Sary said.
•Only six of the nine planning board members were present for the hearings. Absent were Weston Norris, Grif Bond and Ward Marotti. At the close of the meeting, Sary announced that Marotti was moving to Charlotte for his job and would not be returning to the board.