BY DEBBIE PAGE
debbiepage.iredellfreenews@gmail.com

After more than 90 minutes of debate and concerns, Troutman Planning and Zoning Board voted to recommend adding a mixed use zoning category to the Unified Development Ordinance crafted by staff in response to a request by the developer of Barium, LLC.

The zoning category will apply to all future Troutman mixed use developments, which combine commercial and residential elements like the Birkdale Village development does in Huntersville.

Planning Director Lynne Hair said the new category was needed to regulate this type of development. Two previously approved mixed use projects, Smith Village and Rocky Creek, had to be accomplished with split zoning designations for residential and commercial sections of the projects.

A mixed use category would also create consistent standards in these type of projects rather than making case-by-case decisions

Split zoning can be problematic if changes in the project have to be made because of topographical or engineering challenges that later arise. The mixed use zoning allows some flexibility in the positioning of commercial and residential areas to best suit the parcel and project aims.

Hair presented the draft proposal, crafted with the board’s June suggestions, the recommendations of the developer, and the staff’s research and guidance.

The board previously asked Hair to keep the language flexible to allow the board and town council the opportunity to examine the proposal and make a decision based on the town’s best interests. They also wanted language that required open space to be usable and accessible.

They also requested that a percentage of required commercial space be included, as well as the addition of larger buffers adjacent to existing residential development.

PROPOSED MU ZONING REQUIREMENTS

The mixed use category is defined as accommodating “a variety of housing types along with office, retail, commercial, industrial, and public uses to be combined into one cohesive community.”

Hair proposed the districts should be pedestrian-friendly and offer “more chances to live, work, and shop in a single community.” The communities must be a minimum of 50 acres and have a minimum of 5 percent commercial space built into the community as part of a town square.

Traditional commercial outparcels would not be allowed in MU districts unless the property within the development is adjacent to and has direct access to I-77 Exit 42 or 45, and in these situations, only three outparcels per development would be permitted.

MU zoning projects must also include at least one civic use, such as a public building or park or a school or library, that will benefit the town. They must also have access to an arterial or collector thoroughfare.

All MU districts would be conditionally zoned, but because of the size and intensity of MU developments, Hair recommended flexibility be built into the zoning district requirements and approval process because of the wide variation sizes of MU projects.

Mixed use projects must be presented to the planning board and town council for approval as a master plan through a conditional zoning process. The plan must include the land use types and locations, prescribed densities for each land use location, and a transportation plan that includes the proposed development road network and connectivity to internal and external roads.

The master plan must also include a pedestrian plan showing required sidewalks, greenways, and other pedestrian connections; the location, size, and uses of all open space, which must compose a minimum of 10 percent of the development; an amenities program plan; and a master sign package showing the type, size, and locations of proposed signage.

Design standards include requiring all parking lots be located to the side and rear of buildings, with no parking in front, and no more than 25 percent in the side yard of a residential or commercial building. Front parking would be allowed in front of office parks or industrial uses if established landscaping requirements are met.

A minimum 25-foot buffer meeting town planting standards must surround the entire development, with a minimum 50-foot buffer adjacent to existing development. A 4-foot landscaped berm will separate residential components from public roadways.

Half of the minimum 10 percent open space must be improved for parks, greenways, green space or public squares, pocket parks, active recreation fields, swimming pools and club houses, and other usable amenities proposed by the developer.

Though Barium LLC requested a 5 percent tree save, Hair recommended that be increased to 10 percent to help preserve the natural beauty of the town. Each lot must have at least one canopy tree per 5,000 square feet, with 50 percent of trees located in the front yard and preservation of healthy existing trees preferred.

RESIDENT CONCERNS

Several Barium Seasons residents spoke about the proposed Barium development, which will encircle their neighborhood under this proposed MU zoning designation.

Steven Zegowitz, a Winterflake Drive resident, felt like the developer is “circling the wagons around our development.”

He pleaded with the board to consider the existing neighborhoods’ quality of life as they considered this UDO amendment. “Please apply sensible decisions when you make them and remember those who were here before,” he said.

Though he likes elements of the Barium plan, Zegowitz expressed concern about what 1/5-acre lot properties proposed as part of the development will do to his property values.

William Hunter worried a clubhouse could be built against the property line abutting his property, making his backyard view a parking lot or dumpsters. “I’m concerned about that being built next to an existing community,” he said.

Matt Waters expressed concern about the number of homes in the proposed Barium development and spoke in favor of requiring a higher percentage of green space in the MU zoning to maintain Troutman’s natural beauty.

Waters also felt a 50-foot buffer was insufficient, especially in fall and winter when trees are bare. He proposed a 150-foot buffer next to existing neighborhoods.

BOARD CONCERNS

Chairman Randy Farmer was concerned that a 5 percent commercial minimum requirement was insufficient, wondering it should be bumped to as high as a 10 percent minimum to help the town’s tax base.

Hair noted in the proposed 800-acre Barium development, 5 percent would equate to 40 acres of commercial use. Board member Mark Taylor added that the Troutman Food Lion shopping area is approximately 10 acres. To help Farmer envision the scope, Taylor said that Barium’s 5 percent would equate to four times that space.

Barium developer Alex Bonda pointed out that even much larger Charlotte mixed use developments would struggle to fill 80 acres of commercial space. Hair also added that 5 percent was a minimum so the developer could add more.

Farmer also objected to approving a master plan for a MU development without the lots being drawn in to the space. Hair said minimum lot sizes, building heights, and other criteria could also be added to the MU zoning requirements if the board wished.

Bonda explained that the master plan had many layers of infrastructure and roads, so the lots are typically not drawn in because of the tiny scale. Bonda did say he could easily present the plan with lots included if the board wished.

After more discussion and debate, the board unanimously voted to recommend the proposed MU zoning amendment to the UDO for the Town Council consideration, with the addition of minimum lot size, lot layout, and building heights to the proposed MU zoning designation.

DEVELOPMENT AGREEMENTS APPROVED

The board also unanimously recommended Hair’s proposed text amendment authorizing the town to enter into development agreements and to establish the procedures for that process. This ordinance should have been included with the 2021 UDO revision required after the N.C. General Assembly passed the160D-1001 legislation but was somehow omitted in that process.

These agreements are typically only entered into with developers of larger, phased developments (50-plus acres) and provide a longer vested right to a project for both parties.

This voluntary agreement between the town and developer outlines the obligations of both parties as well as the standards and conditions that will control the development on the subject property.

The agreements include utility requirements and responsibilities and outline the phases of development, permitted uses, densities, site design, necessary public facilities, dedication of land for public purposes (schools, libraries, fire stations, etc.), public safety requirements, preservation of historic structures, impact mitigation measures and the time frame for completion of the development.

The planning board will review and recommend or deny any development agreements, followed by a public hearing and final council consideration for approval or denial.

Though voluntary, once signed, the agreement is binding on both parties. The planning director will conduct annual reviews of each agreement to require that the developer is showing good faith compliance with the agreement.

The developer will be notified of any material breaches and given an opportunity and time frame to cure the breach. If that effort fails, the town can modify or terminate the agreement. The developer can appeal modification or termination to the Board of Adjustment.

OTHER BUSINESS

The board also unanimously recommended the rezoning of nearly 5 acres at 303 Murdock Road from suburban residential to conditional heavy industrial for the development of a 41,000-square-foot structure, divided into 10 units, to be used for commercial and warehouse space.

Hair recommended approval because surrounding properties, including the adjacent cement plant and nearby Walmart distribution center, already have HI designation.

Anthony D’Alessandro of DalaCasa Properties said the company is planning to lease the much needed commercial spaces to small businesses, with office space in the front and storage space in the rear.

The board debated a berm requirement that may not be needed if the property that surrounds this parcel on two sides, owned by another property owner who is planning an industrial park, is rezoned to conditional heavy industrial as well.

This project would also share an entrance road with the surrounding proposed industrial park that is expected to come before the board.

Engineer Donald Munday said the retention pond on the proposed site plan may also be unnecessary since the other property owner and he have discussed using the industrial park’s retention measures if that property develops simultaneously.

No traffic impact study was required because the proposed space is under 150,000 square feet.

After much discussion, the board unanimously approved the rezoning request, adding the berm requirement beside the entrance driveway but allowing it to be discarded if the surrounding property is rezoned to HI prior to completion of this DalaCasa project.

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