By Paul T. Choate
Aug. 14, 2012. The Town of Boone Planning Commission met on Monday, Aug. 13, and voted 5-3 to recommend the Town Council approve the rezoning request presented at the Aug. 6 quarterly public hearing.
This rezoning request is in reference to a proposed student housing apartment complex that would have 266 units containing 546 bedrooms.
Wayne Clawson, Joy Clawson, Dana Clawson and Anna Greene – the owners of approximately 22.38 acres of property (which includes the Clawson Mobile Home Park) located at and near 170 Clawson St., 140 and 141 Marich Lane – are hoping to have areas that are currently RR-3 Multiple Family Residential and MH Manufacture Home Park rezoned to R-3 Multiple Family.
Developer Frank Forde of Greensboro-based Mega Builders – the same developer responsible for Mountaineer Village and Studio West – has contracted with the Clawson and Greene families to purchase the land and build the Clawson/Greene Multi-family Development if the Town Council approves the rezoning request at the Aug. 21 or 23 meeting. The applicants also requested some flexibility to allow an alternate property line for retention of a 2.8-acre parcel for the Greene family to use for private gardening and a picnic area.
Planning Commissioner Eric Woolridge introduced motions for recommendations that will be sent to the Town Council. Woolridge, in his first motion, proposed that the amendment to the zoning map is consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and other applicable adopted plans.
“This tract is identified as part of the G2 growth sector and the Boone 2030 Land Use Plan, which calls for high density development close to commercial and retail uses, and the developer has committed funds toward improving that connection with funds for sidewalk improvements,” said Woolridge. “This development is also – for lack of a better term – sandwiched between two dense kind of apartment complexes and to the extent possible we have tried to buffer and protect the one adjacent single family neighborhood.”
Despite this motion ultimately passing 5-3, commission members were not without concerns regarding the project at the meeting. Those concerns were primarily related to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, increased automobile traffic and an annex parking lot being built near a neighborhood of town houses on Wickham Square.
“You’re selling this project as a student-friendly, accessible to campus project but what you’re not providing is any sidewalks that gets them to these New Market Centre retail stores and you’re not providing them any kind of widening of any lanes to be able to provide biking or walking access to these areas,” said Commissioner Cameron Lippard.
Commissioner Greg Simmons echoed this concern, saying that the addition of bike lanes to connect the proposed complex out to the current bike lanes on U.S. 421 would be “invaluable.”
Forde told commissioners that due to right of way acquisition issues, widening the roads enough to add bike lanes would be impossible. He did, however, commit to adding in a sidewalk, curb and gutter from Meadow Hill Drive to N.C. 194 at a cost of about $52 per foot. This will connect to sidewalks currently in the works to connect N.C. 194 up to U.S. 421.
Commissioner Susan McCracken felt that traffic was an issue, saying, “I think that regardless of this project, recommendations should be made to improve traffic flow and if there are additional vehicles in that area I would think that there would need to be some other accommodations made.”
According to Frank Amenya, director of traffic engineering with Davenport Transportation Consulting in Winston-Salem, a traffic impact analysis (TIA) was done during the school year with student traffic taken into consideration and that a plan was already in place. Clawson Street will be widened and a curb and gutter system will be installed as per Town of Boone code. The intersection of Clawson Street and Perkinsville Drive will be improved and speed humps will be installed on Perkinsville Drive. Improvements also include realignment of Clawson Street into Meadow Hill Drive, creating a four-way intersection with a four-way stop. Additionally, sidewalks will be installed on Clawson Street.
Commissioner Woolridge brought up the issue of the annex parking lot propsed near the Wickham Square neighborhood, voicing concern over what would be done to provide a buffer.
Forde, along with Michael Trew, a municipal engineer working with the developer, told commissioners they were willing to add an opaque fence and plant evergreens on both sides of the fence between the edge of the parking lot and before the start of the property owners’ lines. Forde added they would be willing to go ahead and plant the trees prior to construction of the parking lot, which would give the trees approximately 18 months to grow before it was even built.
Some residents in the collection of town houses on Wickham Square have spoken out with various concerns about a new large student apartment complex so close to their neighborhood.
“Right now it’s a green space. It’s wonderful to sit on the back deck,” said Jennifer Krause, a Wickham Square resident. “It’s where I have coffee in the morning. I watch the deer walk through and my back yard is going to be paved now – it’s not mine but, you know, it feels like it’s mine. And, that sort of, to me, lowers my property value in my eyes … I appreciate that [the developers] are willing to put in trees and hedge and give us a little buffer and a block, I do, but to me it’s a loss.”
Another Wickham Square resident, Rebecca Glaser, stated concerns in traffic despite Amenya’s recommendations following the TIA. She noted that already, without an apartment complex near the neighborhood, she has to plan to leave at least 15 minutes earlier in the mornings when school is in session.
Wayne Clawson, co-owner of the property in question, responded to public concerns at the meeting, asking, “Have you in your experience come into a situation where someone says, ‘No, we’d rather live by a trailer park?’ In my experience, I’m unfamiliar with that because I have felt and my family has felt that we were looked down upon for many years for operating a trailer park.”
Regardless whether the complex is built or not the Clawson Mobile Home Park will be closing on Oct. 4 of this year. Park residents were notified in April that they would be required to vacate the park in six months. According to Wayne Clawson, Mega Builders will be providing $4,000 to park residents to support relocation expenses. Charles Clement, an attorney representing the Clawson and Greene families and Mega Builders, also added that only 46 percent of the mobile home park residents are full-time residents there.
Speaking to Wickham Square residents who voiced concerns at the quarterly public hearing about an influx of so many students in the area, Clawson joked, “A couple of the folks who talked about this last week said the reason they were in Boone was because of the wonderful university environment. So, we want to live in a university town, we just don’t want students. If we could just live in a university town but without the students.”
Even amidst some controversy, the rezoning request will now be in the hands of the Boone Town Council with a recommendation from the Planning Commision to approve it.
Commissioner Woolridge, in his second and final motion on the matter, proposed the recommendation to approve upon the following conditions: all recommendations of the TIA be implemented; the fence and evergreen buffers for the annex parking lot be put in; the sidewalk, curb and gutter from Meadow Hill Drive to N.C. 194 be added to the plan; and an agreement with AppalCART be finalized to service the new complex.
The motion passed 5-3 and, pending a decision from the Town Council, Boone may be set for another large student apartment complex in the near future. The developers anticipate the project to be complete in August 2014.
Check back with High Country Press after the Aug. 21 and 23 Town Council meetings for new developments on what may become Boone’s newest rental property development.