At the July Mebane City Council meeting, a representative of Hendon Properties came before the elected body to request the rezoning of a 1.26 acre lot - one of three lots owned by Hendon totaling 8.10 acres along Mebane Oaks Road and Forest Oaks Lane - to a general business usage.
According to Mebane Planning Director Cy Stober, the current zoning of the property is a mixture, with a small sliver of R-20 (low-density residential) to the south. The remainder of the property is under an old conditional use permit, limiting the number of uses for the land. The developer requested a rezoning to B-2 (general business), with no conditions.
The property lies along Mebane Oaks Road between the current location of Chick-fil-A, and the property boundary to the immediate south. It would have frontage on the thoroughfare for a proposed Ben Wilson Road extension to the east. The property is in Mebane’s G-4 secondary growth area, which is generally residential and commercial in nature, and will have ready access to utilities. The property is currently vacant.
Members of the City Council immediately balked at the prospect of opening the property up to general business usage, which could provide any business who owns the property a wide range of potential uses.
“I seem to recall when this property was approved for conditional use B-2, the purpose of that was to limit the number of uses,” said longtime Council member Tim Bradley. “From a historical perspective, I’m a little concerned that we would go from being involved in the discussion to intentionally move this to a conditional use to limit the number of B-2 businesses that could be located there, to now we’re deciding to back up to a B-2 general, and open it up for anything,” said Bradley. “When I look at something like this, it’s like arguing against yourself. We just argued to do this conditional use whenever we did, because of the reason of limiting the uses. Now we’re back up and arguing that we don’t need conditional uses. Let them do anything.”
“We’ve been hesitant in the past to put an open B-2 on the property. We’ve said there’s what, 140 uses that could be in there? And some of them are a concern,” added fellow Council member Everette Greene.
“I can’t imagine anybody contesting coming in with a nice, well-established business there, because that’s what everybody is expecting that entire road to be. But a general B-2, as Everette said, is 150, 160 uses? Anything nice - that’s an expectation at this point for the type of business (in the Mebane Oaks Road area). But a general B-2 zoning - twenty years from now, somebody finds out it’s a general B-2, they can stick anything there,” Bradley continued.
“I remember this discussion before that Mebane Oaks Road was turning into businesses. The concerns were with conditional uses, to make it so we had a limit on what could be put there. I guess it’s like backing up - saying we don’t care.”
“I clearly understand your concern,” Mebane Assistant City Manager Chris Rollins said in response to Bradley. “We do care.”
Rollins explained to the City Council that Hendon Properties, the developer of the Mebane Oaks property requesting the B-2 general business rezoning, is the same developer who is developing the lot next door for Chick-fil-A. And that they may potentially put another, similar restaurant on the site. But the configuration of local roads has the developer seeking flexibility.
“We’ve talked to them about a restaurant possibly going there. We’ve talked about a building going there that would be leased to different people. We expressed these same concerns you all have,” Rollins said. “(The developer) was just hoping for flexibility, because the project next door went so well, that you would do B-2. We explained to him that may not happen. He was hoping to move forward. He’s basically assured us he wants a good, quality tenant there. He will get a good, quality tenant there. He was just hoping not to have to go through the entire process of laying out a site plan.”
Both Rollins and local engineer Phil Koch of EarthCentric Engineering of Mebane, who is assisting Hendon Properties in its work to develop this particular property with Mebane town leaders, explained to the City Council that the decision to place a restaurant or an office building on the property depends largely on how far down a proposed Ben Wilson Road extension behind Mebane Oaks Road will go.
“I think basically some of (Hendon’s) concern they were coming back to if the road was extended back to the light at the Walmart, they’ve got a good restaurant site. If it’s not extended when they develop it, they may have a site that’s more of an office use. And they were just looking for some flexibility,” Rollins said.
“At this point, they don’t really know which way they want to go,” added Koch of Hendon Properties. “They have had a combination of two things happening recently. There’s been some movement on the property south of them. And one of the tenants they had considered putting beside Chick-fil-A has walked away. And that was a restaurant use. They’re trying to get more flexibility in order to attract tenants to the site. That is the main purpose.”
The City Council was unwilling in the July session to grant the general business rezoning, but did not wish to give the proposal a flat rejection.
“I just think it would behoove us to keep it where it is (currently zoned), and have control of what goes there,” Mayor Pro Tem Ed Hooks said. “This is a very, very critical area in the growth of Mebane. And I think we see that with Chick-fil-A and the other one that was coming, it is going to be a fantastic row of businesses. And we just rezoned one not far beyond that for Signature (Flooring). I would prefer to wait. I’d feel better waiting.”
“This so-called flexibility and time stuff, you’re only talking a month or two if you stay where you are,” added Mayor Glendel Stephenson. “And it’s been your position for years now, stay off the B-2 business. If you say we’ll stay with conditional, and they came back in and they say, ‘We have a client here.’ We’re only talking a month or two to clear it up?”
“If they were to come back with a conditional business zoning request, it would be purely and substantially different than the request of B-2,” added City Attorney Lawson Brown. “I would assume you will want to continue this and then see what happens. But if they come back with a conditional request, I do believe they would have to go back before the Planning Board. Because it would be different.”
The City Council ultimately elected, at Koch’s request, to continue the public hearing and table any formal action on this proposed rezoning back to its August meeting. This will allow the developer more time to come up with potential ideas that would be more attractive to the City than general B-2 rezoning, while also allowing more time to see what will happen with the proposed Ben Wilson Road extension.
Unless the project is pulled and pushed back to a later date, discussion is expected to continue on the subject at the City Council’s August 5 session.
“If I had the option of denial or tabling, I would rather table it so that they (Hendon Properties) could come up and represent themselves better regarding that. And they may have a better idea what would be on it (the property),” Koch said.