Village Council Weighs Options on Town Home Project Density
BY JOHN KRAHNERT III
The Pinehurst Village Council will wait until April before voting on a proposal that would increase the density of an upscale town home project.
Michael Doninger, the managing partner of The Tradition of Old Town, is asking the village to increase the maximum dwelling density for the Village Residential District - the zoning category for the site - from 5.25 units per acre to 6.75.
The change would allow Doninger to split six of the higher-priced units in half, by floor level, creating 12 smaller units that could be sold for a lower price. Those units are in two buildings, which contain three units each.
The development is off McCaskill Road across from the entrance of the Arboretum.
Doninger answered questions from the council and concerned residents during a public hearing, which took place at the council's Tuesday afternoon meeting. After about an hour of public comments, the council discussed the matter for about 45 minutes in its conference room.
"The only reason we're asking for this is because of the economic times," Doninger said. "Initially, when we started this project, all indications and all marketing studies showed that it was entirely feasible for us to sell these as ultra-high-priced town homes. We thought it was going to be a no-brainer. Obviously, we were hit by the economic tsunami."
Doninger said that the amendment would not change the size of the footprints of the two affected buildings, nor would it affect how the buildings look from the exterior. He said it would add six additional families, or about 12 residents. He said water and sewer capacity is "more than adequate" to handle the increase and that any increase in traffic would be "negligible."
On Feb. 4, the village's Planning and Zoning Board voted 5-1 to recommend that the council deny the request. The village's planning staff maintains that the amendment would be inconsistent with the comprehensive long-range plan and NewCore master plan.
A comprehensive-long range plan consistency statement prepared by the planning staff reads that the village "will not, in general, zone or rezone current residential zoning land to higher density residential uses" and that Doninger's request is "generally discouraged" by the plan.
Doninger argued that there is flexibility in both plans to take into consideration market conditions. He pointed out that the increase to 6.75 units per acre was only slightly more than the village's maximum density for multi-family residential - 6 units per acre.
"Basically, I'm asking the council to consider using the flexibility and vision by the long-range plan and to allow this to occur so we can reduce the prices of the most expensive units to something like half of what they would have been," he said. "Instead of selling a unit for $900,000, we'd be selling two units for $450,000."
He said that would be a much easier entry point for prospective buyers, and would help get the project "kick-started."
Mayor Ginsey Fallon asked Donin-ger what would happen with the property if the council denied the text amendment.
He replied that it's his intention to start building the units in April or May. He said without the amendment, it might take a lot longer to sell those six units because they are the highest-priced on the property.
The original plan for the project, which was approved by the council in June 2008, called for 20 town homes starting between $1 million to $1.5 million.
Doninger said he and his partners have taken every step possible to reduce the prices. Without the text amendment, prices would range between $600,000 to $900,000. With the amendment, the $900,000 offering would be replaced with a $450,000 to $500,000 offering.
Several residents spoke against the amendment and asked the council to follow the recommendations of the staff and the Planning and Zoning Board. They raised concerns about traffic, parking in the development, the delays the project has faced and the possibility of the council creating a slippery slope by approving the change.
"I think it would establish a precedent that planning and zoning and council would have to revisit time after time, each time a developer ran into some financial problems," said John Marcum, one of the residents who has fought the project since the beginning. "Why not ask the council to bail them out?"
Doug Middaugh cited a real estate report that said the inventory of high-end homes has steadily increased in recent years, and that the development would only add to that inventory, in turn decreasing the market.
Doninger responded that the town homes are unlike anything the village has right now and would open a new market.
In the discussion following the public hearing, council members Doug Lapins and Nancy Roy Fiorillo said they were inclined to vote against Doninger's request, while Fallon and Councilman Mark Parson appeared undecided. Mayor Pro Tem Joan Thurman was not present at the meeting.
The council decided it will not vote on the amendment until its April 13 meeting.
"I'm not asking you for anything other than the acceptance that we have these economic times," Doninger said. "I've come up with what, I believe, is a solution to help us out of it."
Contact John Krahnert III at (910) 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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