Planning Board gives proposal thumbs-up, but other issues raise objections.
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Tuesday night’s Planning Board meeting at town hall had a number of odd occurrences; unusual, at least, to those who attend such meetings regularly.
The first was developer’s representative Jerry Eden’s promise to residents in the Richland Hills neighborhood that the owner of a 1.2-acre property fronting their Wall Road community would entirely change a plan from apartments to townhouses to gain their approval to rezone the lot from highway-business to a mixed-use designation.
All that exists on the site now is an empty parking lot, paved for another flex-space building that was approved in 2006 but never constructed.
But his gambit didn’t work. The residents, many whom were in attendance, fear that the builder will pull out if they become known as a multi-family neighborhood. Even though they were warned that highway business is a catchall zoning and just about anything could go on the site one day, they held firm.
“We’ll take our chances,” Richland Hills HOA representative Anna Collier said.
Planning Board members made a unanimous recommendation to deny the rezoning.
Joann Wooten was honored by Mayor Vivian Jones Monday as one of the town’s top volunteers. Tuesday, she received a much less welcome treatment at the hands of Tom Worth, attorney representing the developer of the 3.9-acre, 10-lot Olde Wake Forest subdivision, planned for the stub end of North Wingate Street.
Wooten, who lives on Rock Spring Road and is concerned about erosion from the uphill development, lack of buffer, as well as loss of neighborhood character, was interrupted multiple times by Worth. He issued terse comments of “Objection!” in a courtroom manner, forcing her to stop and restart, flustered.
Though residents may believe a site to be bad, they’re only supposed to offer factual evidence during the quasi-judicial public hearing, town attorney Eric Vernon reminded.
In the past, most developer representatives have stated their objections at the end of residents’ comments.
This treatment led to another first, perhaps, for the joint planning board-town board hearing — a veiled threat. Wooten’s husband, Middleton, got up, turned to Worth and said, “When you address my wife, please do so with respect and courtesy or you’re going to have problems with me.”
The board sided with the developer in respect to the plan, however, voting 5-2 in favor, with Bob Hill and Steve Stoller dissenting.
A grand stand
Before that vote, Planning Board member Bill Fisher, whose term is expiring, said he sympathized the residents, then chastised them, saying they were engaged in NIMBYism.
“The old adage is if you want to control what happens to land next to you, you buy it,” he said.
Fisher sided with the residents for the Wake Forest Fire Department station planned for Jenkins Road, however, waxing about other sites he knows of personally that would suffice.
“I still don’t understand why we’re making an easy job hard. So many, many good alternatives exist,” he said. “Is that property out by where James Keith’s old barn a good site? What’s so sacrosanct about this particular two-acre site?”
This time, the board disagreed with him, voting 4-2 in favor of the station, with Fisher and Shirley Sulick dissenting. Hill recused himself from the vote.
All votes are recommendations only and go to town commissioners for final approval.