Split planning commission recommends Greenfield apartments to council

kjahner@newsobserver.comJanuary 17, 2014 

— Planning commission members recommended approval of a 248-unit apartment complex in the Greenfield Industrial Park. But the split decision and an opposing industrial neighbor suggest Tuesday’s meeting may involve more than a rubber stamp.

The developer said the location on North Greenfield Parkway next to the U.S. 70 exit provides easy access to workplaces in the industrial park, as well as to I-40 and the White Oak Shopping complex about a mile to the west. And he said he and the builder, DHM Design, has accounted for the town’s ordinances and any safety concerns.

But Golden State Foods, a McDonald’s supplier with a plant at the dead-end of the parkway, opposed the project.

“It’s safety. That’s our number one priority,” said Gregg Tarlton, general manager for Golden State, though he did not provide specific examples of dangers other than to say tractor trailers rarely hit each other. “It’s all about protecting our business and our customer. The threat is any activity on the parkway and making sure it’s the right fit for an industrial parkway.”

Tarlton said that, had apartments been there before, his company wouldn’t have located there.

Developer Ron Gibson said Golden State had expressed concern over children playing near the parkway, heavily used by supply trucks. He said his company planned to erect a decorative fence behind a wooded buffer around the property in order to ease those concerns. He said the fence would not be an eyesore or have the feel of a compound locking children into it.

“It’s a very large piece of land. A lot of the vegetation is going to be retained there,” Gibson said of the densely wooded 23.5 acres.

Two planning commission members – Barbara Barat and Jayne McBurney – voted against recommendation. The decision ultimately rests with the town council, though planning commission chair Norm Carr noted they use similar criteria to evaluate projects. The four members approving the project felt Gibson had satisfied the town’s planning policies and rules.

Several objections

McBurney raised both safety and noise concerns as her primary objections. In addition she raised concerns about whether there was a market for the apartments so close to Abberley Place Apartments (600 units) and the under-construction Adeline at White Oak (336 units).

But Carr countered that profitability was not a planning commission concern. Gibson said the developers and investors wouldn’t be pouring tens of millions of dollars into a project that didn’t satisfy a demand.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I’m very careful with market studies. And the market studies we’ve conducted indicate this market has a very high demand for quality multi-family residential,” Gibson said. “Young people want to be in and around things that are happening.”

He said a traffic study done by the engineering firm Ramey Kemp & Associates came back positive regarding volume, speed, line-of-site, road width, safety and other factors. Though McBurney said she’d walked the property – bordered by the parkway on two sides, Butterball’s corporate offices and U.S. 70 -- with a noise-measuring device, he disputed McBurney’s claim that noise breached the town’s allowable limits.

“We’ve done our noise studies. I don’t know where she may have got her statistics, but we don’t agree with that at all,” Gibson said.

The issue had been before the planning commission during December’s meeting, but when Golden State and another nearby landowner, Gregory Poole Equipment Company, voiced concerns, they pushed it into January to allow for more discussion and information. The developer has since satisfied the concerns of that company, which has yet to develop its land.

Tarlton said Golden State is still working through the issue with the developer, but didn’t believe that the site should be used for residential purposes, though the site’s zoning allows for multi-family residential units.

“Businesses that are like businesses tend to locate next to each other,” Tarlton said. “We just don’t feel an apartment complex fits the scope of what we’re looking at.”

Four commission members disagreed and recommended approval. Jim Honnicutt said that though Golden State is “an excellent corporate citizen,” the proposal addressed all of the Unified Development Ordinance criteria and “we need to send it on to the next body,” referring to town council.

“People will follow jobs, and jobs will follow people,” Honnicutt said.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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