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Some question whether development is turning Wake Forest into ‘Anywhere USA’.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Town Commissioner Zachary Donahue tried to stop another big box store from going into the town’s Capital Boulevard business district, but none of his fellow commissioners agreed.
His objection to putting a 139,000-square-foot Sam’s Club near the Walmart was soundly defeated in a 4-1 vote to approve during Tuesday night’s town board meeting.
“Most town residents point to U.S. 1 and sections of U.S. 1-A as having some of the most objectionable forms of development in Wake Forest,” Donahue said, citing specific statements in the town’s Community Plan that call for smaller, more neighborly projects.
Donahue’s initial motion to deny the change to a Sam’s Club failed for a lack of a second.
Those who voted the other way included Commissioner Jim Thompson, who hailed the $2 million in roadway improvements that will come with Sam’s that were not fully required by the initial development.
Shoppes at Caveness Farms was approved in 2004 and was designed to be a 45-acre, 272,000-square-foot shopping center with a department store and up to 14 other retail shops, as well as outparcel restaurants and a possible hotel. But it was never built out. Only several restaurants, such as Chili’s, were constructed on the outparcels.
Changing the plan from 15-plus shops to one big box triggered a change in the special-use permit, which Donahue said he was told by town attorneys is, in effect, like requesting a new permit.
The roadway rework approved Tuesday includes synchronized traffic lights on Capital at Caveness Farms Avenue and another junction that were recommended when a traffic analysis on the original plan was conducted in 2009, and the building of a third lane on both sides of Capital along that stretch, recommended by the same traffic engineer this year.
The modification of the original special-use permit triggered the hearing and Donahue’s objections centered around a perceived loss of small-town feel as bigger and bigger businesses are slotted into retail spaces along the U.S. 1 corridor.
The town’s own Community Plan, intended to be a guideline for new development, and the new Unified Development Ordinance (zoning regulations) both call for limiting large monolithic structures from taking over the landscape, Donahue noted in a Powerpoint presentation detailing his findings.
Planning Director Chip Russell said previously that the U.S. 1 highway corridor is exempt from many of those limitations.
Donahue cited Community Plan recommendations against development that appears like “Anywhere USA,” and pointed to the town’s zoning ordinance to take issue with the way that the traffic impact analysis was based only on the overall square footage and not the development’s use.
He added that the traffic analysis ignored impacts to South Main Street and Ligon Mill Road, even though those were listed as access points.
Thompson objected to the traffic issue, asking Donahue if he thought that a 131-acre residential subdivision also approved Tuesday would be worse for traffic than Sam’s Club.
“Stores don’t create traffic. Neighborhoods create traffic, apartment communities create traffic,” Thompson said later. “We just approved a 440-[home] neighborhood community.”
No other commissioners spoke about or discussed Donahue’s concerns.
Many attendees applauded Donahue, including some who held up anti-Sam’s Club signs.
One was former commissioner candidate Mike Cole, criticized town leaders for “tout[ing] small town charm and do[ing] the opposite.”
Donahue’s points “were completely valid and completely disregarded at the same time,” he said.
“You have to manage the change,” from a small town to a bigger one, resident Tripp Black added. “But we don’t adhere to our own mechanisms to manage the change.”
The debate continued after the meeting ended, including on Facebook, where some accused town commissioners of wanting Wake Forest to be “Cary No. 2” and stated that area of Capital Boulevard is turning into “Mini City.”
But many others said they either want the Sam’s Club or appreciate the tax revenue and jobs it will bring, not to mention the discounts that the Walmart-based chain passes along to its members-only customer base.
Community leader Brian Pate’s post after the approval instantly garnered more than 100 likes and twice as many comments, both negative and positive.
“I am happy to see that we are growing! Not only with families that move into the area, but with choices of different restaurants, stores and things to do,” wrote Kimberly Jones Kreuz. “It shouldn’t take away from the small, quaint place that we have chosen to live. No one says that you have to stop your lifestyle just because another company sees fit to serve the people of northern Wake County.”
Others expressed resignation, such as Summer Timberlake Masters, who wrote, “I liked it before all the growth and this was my home town. Now it’s just gonna be my home city if it keeps going! … What can you do but ride it out and deal with it?”
Tryon Wake Forest, a 131-acre subdivision with 279 homes and 136 townhouses, developed by Tryon WF, LLC of Knightdale, was approved 4-1, with Commissioner Margaret Stinnett dissenting.
It’s located off Copper Beech Lane and Oak Grove Church Road adjacent to The Reserve, Kings Glen and Bishop’s Grant neighborhoods.
Stinnett objected to giving the appearance of approval that Raleigh’s public utilities department could use to potentially condemn land to connect water and sewer to the site. Several residents spoke out at the planning board meeting in June with that concern.
Frank McCoy, another neighbor to the site who is concerned about water runoff flooding onto his property, said after the meeting he’s concerned with the developer being allowed to transfer eight acres from the protected Swift Creek watershed to the Austin Creek watershed, allowing more homes to be built on that parcel.
At an average rainfall of 41-inches annually, that means 1.1 million gallons of rainfall will flow into the other watershed, he said.
Commissioner Anne Hines, however, said during the meeting, that “It should not affect anyone’s property … they made the changes so the water will be taken further away from the property.”