Planning Board rejects proposed residential conditional zoning district

At the November Mebane Planning Board meeting, the advisory group unanimously rejected a request from Diamondback Investment Group to rezone six parcels from R-20 and B-2 zoning to R-6 (residential conditional zoning district) for a planned unit development of approximately 59.85 acres at 1413 Mebane Oaks Road, at the ends of Long Leaf Pines Place and Broadwood Acres Road. The properties, located approximately a half a mile from the interstate, are within Mebane’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, but are currently not within Mebane’s city limits. Diamondback Investment Group’s plan called for 194 townhomes, 62 single-family homes, and approximately 2.1 acres of commercial outparcels on the 59.85 acre site, which is currently vacant and mostly forested. It also included a 10 foot concrete greenway, an internal road network throughout the community, as well as sidewalks. The matter will still come before the Mebane City Council at its December 7 meeting, and their action could result in acceptance of the proposed neighborhood as is, requests for modifications to the site plan, or a flat rejection. 

At the November Mebane Planning Board meeting, the advisory group unanimously rejected a request from Diamondback Investment Group to rezone six parcels from R-20 and B-2 zoning to R-6 (residential conditional zoning district) for a planned unit development of approximately 59.85 acres at 1413 Mebane Oaks Road, at the ends of Long Leaf Pines Place and Broadwood Acres Road. The properties, located approximately a half a mile from the interstate, are within Mebane’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, but are currently not within Mebane’s city limits. 

Diamondback Investment Group’s plan called for 194 townhomes, 62 single-family homes, and approximately 2.1 acres of commercial outparcels on the 59.85 acre site, which is currently vacant and mostly forested. It also included a 10 foot concrete greenway, an internal road network throughout the community, as well as sidewalks. The matter will still come before the Mebane City Council at its December 7 meeting, and their action could result in acceptance of the proposed neighborhood as is, requests for modifications to the site plan, or a flat rejection. 

The developer requested waivers including reduction of front setbacks, lot width, and lot sizes for townhome lots, greater lot coverage for townhome lots, reduced side setback, lot width, and lot size for single-family home lots, waivers from design standards for small lot residential subdivisions, and payment in lieu of providing 6.60 acres of recreational space. 

If the project is ultimately approved by the City Council at some point in time, construction would progress from the east in Phase I, near Mebane Oaks Road, to the west. Later phases of the community will push towards the far northern edge of the Arbor Creek community along Old Hillsborough Road. Numerous residents of the Arbor Creek community made public comments critical of the project.

A proposed roundabout traffic circle would push traffic through Arbor Creek into the community, giving it two entrances - one along Mebane Oaks Road, and one along Old Hillsborough Road. 

“I love the traffic circle. Traffic circles work,” said Planning Board member Kurt Pearson. “I don’t think the traffic circle is going to push anybody onto other developments instead of going through a traffic circle. But I do understand why people are concerned. Our UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) is designed to try to have connectivity, so that’s good. But my problem with it is the pure density. We’re just trying to cram in too many units. I don’t think we have the buffers we need. I don’t think we have the open space we need. I just get a bad vibe looking at it, personally.”

In rejecting the plan, members of the Planning Board cited not only the requested waivers, but also the high density of the proposed neighborhood. 

“You just don’t get a feel that it’s conducive to the area. You just feel like it looks crammed to me, as a planner. I’ve looked at hundreds of these. I don’t know how to fix that at this point. I am concerned about that,” said Pearson. “The waivers are extensive. You look through these, and some of them are extensive. You’re asking for really serious waivers on some basic UDO requirements. You just get the feeling not only looking at it but reading it, I just can’t help but get the feeling we’re trying to cram as many lots on it as we can, and I’m really concerned about that. I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how the Council is going to look at this, because I think they might get that same feeling.”

“I would hate to lose a potential good development in this location, where we’re doing a lot of good things, because we’re trying to get too many units. Those are my main thoughts,” Pearson continued. 

“When I look at the density here, I’m not comfortable with what we have,” added fellow Planning Board member Kevin Brouwer. “When I look at all the requests for waiver, I’m in agreement that we’re doing a lot to put a lot of townhomes in a place that we could do with a little bit less density. The other part that informed my opinion is the request for a waiver on the outdoor space. We’re doing a lot to pack it, and we’re not doing enough for people to enjoy the space that is outside of their homes.” 

“I’m going to echo my concerns. It looks like a minimum of 512 vehicles, two times a day. That’s 1,024 more trips on Mebane Oaks road. For someone who has to get on Mebane Oaks Road to go anywhere, that’s ridiculous,” added another board member, Larry Teague. “We’re not able to handle it. Also, the UDO that we have worked really hard on, to have ten waivers requested, that turned me off as soon as I saw it. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Although Planning Board member Lori Oakley praised the developer for the design and connectivity of the proposed project, she ultimately made the motion to deny the project, citing the density concerns. 

“I just want to add that these are very well-drawn site plans. I’m very critical of my site plan review. And I really didn’t have any questions, so kudos for the drawings of the site plans,” said Oakley.  “Also connectivity - I’m a big fan of connectivity. I know some of the neighbors are not. I understand why. But from a planning standpoint, a transportation standpoint, connectivity is very important. So I do appreciate connecting to the two existing roads, and then the stub-outs to the other parcels.” 

“It sounds like there’s a lot of concern from neighbors for the density,” Oakley continued. “I’m not in agreement with the density. If they want to bring it back to us, fantastic. If not, at the end of the day, we are an advisory board to the City Council. So it would be up to them.”

“I do like the connectivity as well,” added Pearson. “I am somewhat concerned about the density. In the past, when we’ve had numerous revisions or waivers for development standards, we open ourselves up to criticism. And I personally, and I know other board members have felt that. People seem to think that, a lot of times, the waivers are created to cram as many lots in there as you can. We hear that. I think that in this case, you can certainly get a feel for that. We have minimal open space (in this proposed community). I mean, to me, it just looks crammed. I would like to see a little bit less density. I like townhomes. I don’t have any problem with townhomes, per se. I’m glad to have a mix between townhomes and single-family. I don’t think that’s really an issue with me, either.” 

The Mebane City Council will consider the project on December 7 at 6:00 p.m., unless the developer chooses to make revisions. In that case, the project will have to come back before the Planning Board before moving ahead to the City Council, who has the ultimate and final say on the matter.