Downtown Mebane

More residential development could make its way downtown as the Mebane City Council approved a text amendment to the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) during the October meeting, expanding the allowed uses in the downtown district.

Recently, the City of Mebane received a request to amend the Mebane UDO, section 4-1-1 and to allow condominiums, multi-family and townhomes in the downtown district, as well as eliminate the front and back setback requirements in the district. 

The text amendment went before the Mebane Planning Board during their September 20 meeting, where it was unanimously approved.

Mebane’s downtown is zoned B-1 which did not allow for residential uses in downtown. There is currently no B-1 zoning outside of downtown. 

The zoning also required a 15-foot front setback and 20-foot rear setback, which is inconsistent with current Mebane’s Comprehensive Land Development Plan “Mebane By Design” and the Mebane Downtown Vision Plan. The text amendment changes that.

“Many of those historic buildings in the downtown area would not conform with current development standards and no new developments are permitted to allow for multifamily use nor to be built right onto the sidewalk, they would all require, say, a front setback,” Cy Stober, Mebane development director, said.

Stober said that this amendment would bring existing downtown development into compliance with current development standards as well as ensure new development will be consistent with the historic development of downtown in use, appearance and orientation, and in compliance with development standards.

The applicant, Frank Ascott of TRG Capital LLC, was represented by Phil Koch, president of Mebane-based Earth Centric Engineering, Inc., at the council meeting. 

Koch said the applicant is “looking at a piece of property that he would like to do something that would require these amendments as part of that.” He did not indicate where the property is, nor exactly what it’s planned to be used for.

Koch also pointed out that the downtown district is already a mix of business and residential, and many existing buildings have no setbacks either. He said the purpose of the amendment, therefore, is twofold.

“First is to remove the front and rear setback requirement,” Koch said. “As noted, currently no minimum lot width is required and there’s no side setback required, so it wouldn’t affect any of those things. Secondly, it would allow for condominium, multifamily or townhome development within the B-1 district to provide the option for residential. This would allow redevelopment and new development to emulate parts of the existing downtown area.”

The Mebane City Council appeared to be most concerned with the impact of zero setback distance, particularly in the rear of buildings. Councilmembers also were concerned about the impact of more residential development on downtown parking.

Councilmember Patty Philipps expressed concern about zero rear setbacks. “I just want to make sure that if there’s an opportunity in the future to dedicate an alley, or to make access to the rear of those buildings better than it currently is, that we aren’t eliminating [that opportunity], that that’s not an unintended consequence,” she said.

Koch said he believes there are already downtown buildings with zero rear setback, and added that fire code would still have to be met. So, buildings would still have rear access.

Mayor Pro Tem Jill Auditori had a similar concern. “If a building were to be built, with a zero setback to the rear, and then the property behind it followed the same standard, would they not close that gap?” she asked. 

Koch reiterated that there would still be enough space between the buildings to meet the fire code, therefore still allowing access to the rear of downtown buildings.

Councilmember Sean Ewing asked Stober what other towns and cities have set similar precedents in their UDOs.

“I would say most of them in their historic downtowns, everything from large metro centers to small historic downtowns, say Elkin, Roxboro, Holly Hill, those types of cities that I would consider similar to Mebane in size,” Stober said. “If we were even if we look at ones that are slightly larger than us – Holly Springs, Clayton, etc. – again, for their downtown at a higher density, this zero setback is similar because it is consistent with that historic use, and it does provide for that sidewalk access and really be consistent with what the footprint that’s already established.”

Councilmember Tim Bradley asked about parking, wondering what impact more residential will have on the limited parking downtown. Stober took the question.

“So, the parking standards in the UDO give the city discretion on that matter in the B-1 district, there’s discretion for flexibility, but staff has to be confident that parking can be accommodated for that project,” he said. “If a waiver is needed, presentation to council would be needed in that event. If the staff is uncomfortable with the parking plan that’s being proposed, that would then have to go to management and then to council.”

Rollins followed that up. “Not everybody’s always happy when staff makes that decision to reduce some of the parking, it can cause a little bit of headache. We’ve recently seen a drawing and most of the first floor, basically, becomes inside parking to the units above it – that’s the kind of stuff that staff will be looking at.”

There was no more discussion from the council, and no one from the public commented, so the public hearing was then closed.

Bradley made a motion to approve the amendment, allowing more residential uses and getting rid of setback requirements in the B-1 downtown district.