Mebane Planning Board recommends affordable senior living project

“The Russell on Baker” is a 60-unit affordable senior housing development that Urquhart Development, LLC, plans to construct this year. The property in question will lie adjacent to Peartree Lane, to the immediate north of Tanger Outlets and the Cone Health Urgent Care and MedCenter, along Parker Lane. The Mebane Planning Board, by a unanimous 8-0 vote, approved Monday night to recommend the project to the Mebane City Council at their May 6 session. 

Mebane’s Planning Board on Monday night unanimously approved a request from Urquhart Development, LLC to rezone 8.13 acres southeast of downtown for a new 60-unit apartment development that will be catered to seniors 55 years and older. 

The new development, proposed to be called “The Russell on Baker,” would be located off Peartree Road and Baker Lane along Parker Lane. The property is situated to the immediate north of Arrowhead Boulevard and the Cone Health Urgent Care and MedCenter, and to the immediate east of Jimmy’s Famous Hot Dogs, the Sherwin-Williams Paint Store, and Eastern Auto Spa along Mebane Oaks Road, separated by Peartree Road. 

The request was to rezone the property in question from M-2 (light manufacturing) to R-8 (residential conditional zoning district), allowing for the development of the property as a residential apartment complex. The property historically has been owned by Mebane’s G&L Construction, but has sat vacant for years. 

Madison Wall, an attorney from Holt, Longest, Wall, Blaetz, and Moseley, PLLC, spoke on behalf of the proposed developer, Thomas Urquhart. He indicated to the Planning Board members that the developer held a Powerpoint presentation on March 28 for surrounding neighbors of the proposed apartment complex. 

“There is a requirement that a community information meeting is held in these types of development situations,” Wall said. “Mr. Urquhart wanted to be as pro-active as possible, ahead of the curve. We wanted to have that meeting ahead of this presentation.”

“We sent out approximately 50 letters with a notice and the basic site plans. Nearly twenty people signed in, and representatives of 11 different tracts of property near the proposed development came and participated in the meeting,” he added. “My recollection, and the sense that we had after that meeting, was that there was not a whole lot of opposition voiced. Nothing specific that I recall as far as opposition.”

Urquhart was also onhand at the Planning Board session. 

“We believe it’s a high-quality and first-rate design. It will be a solid benefit to the community,” he said. 

The residents at The Russell on Baker will primarily be 55 years of age and older. Most apartments - both one and two-bedroom - will have a single tenant. The developer informed the Planning Board that there are often fewer than 70 total residents in a building of this size. Residents will financially be able to afford their apartments, and are qualified for their apartments by income, credit, and background checks, along with potential inquiries from previous landlords. 

Mebane currently has no dedicated affordable rental housing for seniors. City officials recognize, and a recent market study confirms, both the lack of and need for affordable senior housing for Mebane.

“The units are designed for seniors and handicapped/disabled people,” Urquhart said. “They have washer and dryer connections, and all the standard apartment amenities. We have community rooms, a library, some sitting areas. We have a gazebo, and walking trails.”

The property’s current M-2 zoning allows for development such as fire stations, recycling stations, mini warehouses, automotive sales lots, offices, and manufacturing such as pharmaceuticals. The M-2 zoning appears to be inconsistent with the residential neighborhoods surrounding the property and the City of Mebane’s long-range plans. 

The proposed R-8 (CD zoning) allows only the development of a single, three-story building with 60 apartment units. The estimated cost of the development is $9 million. The property, per North Carolina law, would be valued on an income basis.

The building will have buffers at its perimeters, along with a walking trail, gazebo, lighted parking, and preserved green space. The area to the immediate east of Parker Lane is being left undeveloped - “stubbed out” as some might say - for a future extension. 

“There were questions (at the March 29 community meeting) about future development. The (Parker Lane) road that is stubbed off on the site plan, and whether that might go through,” Wall said.

The building design calls for brick veneer and varied vinyl siding, with one and two bedroom apartments. The building will be constructed to be energy efficient, and will feature an interior center hall, community room, library, computer center, fitness center, sitting areas, screened terrace, laundry room, office. There will be controlled access into the building, with a manager and maintenance staff on site. 

“It would add a much-needed affordable housing for seniors. It should have little to no effect on schools, because there would probably not be many children living in the property,” Wall explained. “Certainly it would contribute to Mebane’s tax base.”

The one bedroom units are projected to be approximately 709 square feet, while the two bedroom units are approximately 825 square feet. Rent will be determined by an individual’s income, with lower-income folks (annual income less than $15,440) paying between $361 and $432 a month for a one or two-bedroom unit. Higher-income residents earning between $26,460 and $35,280 annually will pay between $620 and $671 for a one-bedroom unit, and between $744 and $794 monthly for a two-bedroom unit. 

According to past experience with such communities, the developer anticipates that 25 percent of the residents have vehicles. Experience with affordable senior housing indicates there will be many fewer than one vehicle for apartment unit. Therefore, the developer requested permission for 60 parking spaces rather than the 104 parking spaces recommended by Mebane’s Unified Development Ordinance guidelines.

“You have the room (for more parking). You just don’t feel it’s necessary. That’s an important point in my mind,” Planning Board member Kurt Pearson said. 

“They do not have cars. They do not drive cars. It’s certainly an adequate number,” Urquhart said in regards to the parking spaces. 

There is no rental assistance for this property, such as Section 8. The renters within the community are responsible for paying their rent and their utilities. A recorded Land Use Restriction Agreement requires that the building remain as senior affordable housing for 30 years, even if the property is sold to a new owner over that period of time. 

The proposed development will be managed by United Management II, Inc., with 25 years of experience in affordable housing management, and approximately 6,000 units under management, with another 1,000 units currently under construction. 

A three-point turn at the stub of Parker Lane will be established for fire access to the community. The three-point turn was part of discussions between the developer and the Mebane Fire Department addressing the Fire Department’s concerns about accessibility and mobility around the property. There will be sidewalks installed on both sides of Parker Lane, per the developer’s plans.

Although the building would cater to seniors, Urquhart pointed out that the project is a rental apartment project, and not a full-time senior living or assisted living facility. 

“We don’t offer nursing and other things we can’t afford. We don’t offer food. There are no medical services provided. We’re not going to DSS and asking for some exotic license,” he said. 

An adjacent property that the developer is under contract to purchase will not be developed. 

We have no plans for the other property right now other than to sale it. We don’t need it,” Urquhart said. “My intent is to sell it to someone else.” 

Roughly one-third of the property is dedicated for non-development purposes, according to Stober.

Pearson made the motion to approve the proposed residential development, and recommend it be approved by the Mebane City Council at its May 6 meeting. 

“In the past, I’ve taken a strong stance against apartments,” Pearson said. “In the city, we have a very high percentage of apartments in our housing stock. And I’m very concerned about that. It could be argued we’re at an unhealthy level at this point. That being said, I will say you’re identifying this is a special need. It’s a niche product. The low-income, senior housing. The fact it has to stay 30 years, plus, makes it unique and special. It’s needed. It’s unique.”