Bermuda Run wrestles with apartment zoning

Published 8:42 am Tuesday, November 24, 2015

BERMUDA RUN – The town council decided to move forward with parts of a recommendation from its planning board regarding tighter regulations on multi-family residential development in last Tuesday night’s meeting.

However, while approving two of three text amendments to the zoning ordinance, the council denied a third amendment and requested a market analysis to explore what councilman Jerry West called “reasonable options going forward.”

Those in favor of the text amendments claim the town would be insulated from low-income housing that could increase crime and affect property values while those opposed have stated concerns over lagging development and violating fair-housing standards.

West made two motions.

“We have a comprehensive plan that identifies a clear concept of the town center,” West said. “And the proposed text amendments request a significant change without supporting data. In my opinion, we need data that clearly suggests actions the council should consider with an example being market analysis.

“My first motion is to request council to approve amendments two and three and deny amendment one.My second motion is to authorize the town manager to secure a proposal for a market analysis of the Town Center. If approved, data would be shared with the planning board and council.”

The first proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance read: “Within the Town Center zoning district, permit multi-family residential on the upper floors of mixed use buildings, but not as stand-alone buildings or first-floor, street level units.”

The second and third amendments state: “Allow multi-family residential within the General Business District at a density of 15 dwelling units per acre. Limit the maximum percentage of multi-family residential uses in each zoning district based on the total residential units permitted in the district.”

Council members Ken Bateman and Shirley Cagle voted against the first motion, which passed 3-2, and Bateman voted against the second motion in a 4-1 vote.

Town Center is within the planning jurisdiction but on a parcel of land just outside the town’s limits near US 158 and NC 801.

The proposals surfaced after a company considered bringing an apartment complex to Town Center earlier this year that would provide affordable housing.

During the public hearing before West’s motion, Robin Blume questioned town attorney Brian Williams about his statement in the October meeting about “the fact that it’s low income is irrelevant, immaterial and quite illegal for the board to consider.”

“On what basis is it illegal?” asked Blume, who inquired about the town not taking any federal funding at all.

West said that he realized some wouldn’t be pleased with his motion.

“In my experience, you don’t go out and make a major decision unless you have enough input that helps you make a legitimate decision as to what you should do,” he said. “All we had was testimony, and I don’t want to go into that. The other thing is time because we have an issue associated with getting the sewer situation squared away, which might be year 2019. So we’ve got time to get this right.”

Jerry Mignacca, a former chair of the planning board and the only other person to speak during the public hearing, said he was in favor of approving the text amendments for two reasons.

“It preserves the vision we had for the Town Center for an upscale community and that the Town Center will eventually build out when the sewer issues are a thing of the past,” he said. “Number two, it allows multi-family residential in the general business district whether it be for a low-income project or a deluxe multi-million dollar project, which makes us a diverse community that welcomes all.”

He added he would like to know how the residents have felt on this issue and if there are any numbers that can be reviewed, which was addressed in the motion for a market analysis.

Council member Ed Coley said that he was always told and “our attorney has told us, it’s the what and not the who (of development). I would ask myself one question that turned the tide for me on what we did tonight. That one thing is: If the project that was proposed this past spring had not been a subsidized project, we wouldn’t be here talking about this tonight.”

Bateman asked what Coley meant by “subsidized project.”

“It means affordable housing, government subsidized,” Coley said. “I’m talking about if a private individual or developer came forth with a very similar project but there was not affordable housing included that we would not be sitting here discussing this tonight.”

In other business, the council:

• Approved a three-year landscaping contract with Blakley Landscape Services for $95,640. The Budd Group, which landed the last three-year deal in 2012, had the low bid of $87,792, and Land-Tek had a bid of $89,460.

Bateman said he had been impressed with the work done by Blakley in Kinderton Village and at the hospital. Cagle said that what she was hearing “in the old part where I live is that they would like to see a change.”

Bateman made the motion to go with Blakley, and it passed unanimously.

• Approved the N.C. Emergency Management Mutual Aid and Assistance Agreement.