MARVIN – The Village Council and members of its Planning Board spent several hours Saturday discussing its process for reviewing commercial development proposals, as it begins tackling another application following criticism from an unsuccessful developer that the process was unfair.
“We don’t have any commercial, and not much room for it,” said Mayor Joe Pollino Jr. during a joint council-planning board meeting at the council’s annual retreat Saturday at Firethorne Country Club. “We’ve got one shot at it. We’ve got to get it right.”
On Monday, the village held its first public information meeting on the latest proposal, Regency Centers’ request for a rezoning of 39 acres at the southeast corner of Providence and New Town roads for a neighborhood shopping center anchored by a Publix and featuring an age-restricted residential community.
Regency is seeking a rezoning to individual conditional district from mixed-use conditional district, to which it was rezoned in 2008 when Lat Purser and Associates had plans for commercial development that never materialized. The zoning change would reduce the square footage from 260,000 square feet of commercial to about 105,000 square feet each for commercial and residential. There currently are three vacant homes on the land, according to the application.
The Publix would be about 49,000 square feet and the development would include about 25,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and service-oriented establishments, plus four outparcels, and up to 35 detached single-family homes.
Regency, based in Florida, owns 19 shopping centers in North Carolina totaling more than 1 million square feet, according to the application. Saussy Burbank would develop the age-restricted residences.
Based on input from the council in preliminary meetings, the developers plan to match the village’s equestrian identity by drawing on country barns, small-town shops and classic farmhouses in its design. Materials used will include stone, metal roofs, clapboard, board and batten siding and pasture fencing.
The proposed design is “paying homage to small towns and villages,” said Regency Vice President of Investments Christopher Widmayer at Monday’s meeting, which was attended by some 25 interested parties. The biggest concern raised was over increased traffic.
Widmayer said the Publix would feature a barn-door entrance and a planter-box frontage. The development would include a park and space devoted to outdoor dining, as well as a gas station limited to eight pumps and surrounded by an opaque screen.
Responding to a question about the types of eateries planned for the site, Widmayer said: “We believe restaurants are second anchors in our developments. People are looking for more farm-to-table and regional” cuisines. He cited Burger Bach, a gastropub featuring New Zealand Angus grass-fed beef and JuJu, a restaurant serving Asian-fusion cuisine, as examples of good fits.
Widmayer said the development, dubbed Marvin Gardens, would be complete by early 2018, contingent on the company receiving zoning approval. The application is expected to go before the Planning Board in a preliminary meeting April 21. A second public information meeting, which has not yet been scheduled, will follow.
As for the residential component, Saussy Burbank Chairman Jim Burbank cited his company’s experience of building more than 8,000 houses in the past 25 years. He said plans call for homes ranging between 2,000 and 2,800 square feet on lots that are 55 feet wide and 110 feet deep. Burbank declined to say how much the homes will sell for, other than it will be more than $200,000.
The village of about 6,000 currently has no commercial development; it is a relatively low-density, single-family housing community where the median home value in 2013 was about $570,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Last year, Charlotte-based Raley-Miller Properties requested that the village annex and rezone 28 acres it bought in 2008 at Rea and Tom Short roads. The company wanted to build a 14-screen movie theater, a prototypical Harris Teeter with a gas station, and other restaurants and shops.
In a June letter, the company’s attorney wrote to the council, saying the conduct of Planning Board Chair Mary Shkut was “outside the normal bounds for how planning board officials are expected to conduct themselves in the public interest” and requesting that the council ask her to recuse herself from the process, which the council declined to do.
The company believed the Planning Board was digging too deeply into minutiae in order to discredit Raley-Miller’s parking, engineering, transportation and stormwater management plans instead of looking at the larger picture of whether the development fit into the village’s land-use plan. Shkut’s efforts included physically measuring the land intended for a parking lot to ensure that the company’s numbers were correct; questioning details and methods of stormwater management and traffic engineering; and offering to physically count seats in a comparable movie theater, according to emails included in the public records request. Planning Board members have said that Raley-Miller officials did not respond to requests for more detailed information.
The Raley-Miller land is zoned for commercial use in Union County; however, the county does not allow alcohol sales outside of its municipalities’ borders. Because the proposed project included a grocery store and restaurants, Raley-Miller was asking that it be annexed by Marvin, whose land-use plan includes commercial development in that area.
In October, the Planning Board voted to recommend that the council not approve the request. Raley-Miller then filed a public records request seeking village emails and meeting audios regarding the project deliberations, and sent dozens of pages of the emails back to the council, disputing some facts and raising questions about the Planning Board’s deliberations and processes. Shortly thereafter, the company withdrew its application.
Clarifying the process
At the Saturday retreat, Shkut looked for guidance from the council on the Planning Board’s role in the process.
“There was some confusion in the last process,” she said, regarding how much negotiating the Planning Board should do with developers on project details. The Raley-Miller project, she said, “was larger than usual. It had a lot of aspects … There was not much time to consider the implications of alternative uses.”
“We do need to be clear – more clear – in the roles” that the Village Council and Planning Board play, said Councilman Brian Beaty.
One of the criticisms levied by Raley-Miller partner Ken Orndorff was that the Planning Board dug into details of the project’s design instead of looking at the larger picture of whether the development fit into the land-use plan. He said he made it clear early on that the development could not be scaled back significantly and still be financially viable. The board ultimately voted to not recommend it based on inconsistency with its land-use plan, which calls for more of a neighborhood use than the regional one suggested by the size of the project.
“The flaw in that process is that we didn’t meet with them early and address the big issues early,” said Councilman Lanny Openshaw.
The two bodies discussed a flow chart of the process, tweaking it so that it provides more information and communication and seeks more public input earlier in the process.
“Hashing it out up front will save time down the road,” said Openshaw.
“Sometimes it’s good just to get to the quick ‘no’,” said Beaty, if a project doesn’t meet the village’s ordinances and land-use plan. Beaty said the village should determine early what the “sacred cows” are on both sides to determine if compromise is possible.
Councilman Ross Overby suggested that Planning Board members seek guidance from the village’s planning staff on what details the body should pursue, and what should be left to the staff or the council.