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It’s rare for apartment developers and neighboring residents to see eye to eye on a rezoning request. But in the Crabtree Heights neighborhood off Wake Forest and Six Forks roads, both sides have a common foe: a road connection mandated by city rules.
Greenville, S.C., developer Russ Davis wants to build the 243-unit Jones Grant Apartments on the current site of the historic Crabtree Jones House. It’s among the last undeveloped sites near where Wake Forest Road meets the Beltline.
“It is an exceptional urban site for a multifamily development,” Davis said. “It’s a walkable site. People can, from this location, do most of what they do in their daily life on foot.”
Most neighbors are comfortable with apartments next door. But they’re upset about a plan to connect Hines Drive – the central street through Crabtree Heights – to Wake Towne Drive at a cluster of hotels. The additional traffic from cars taking a shortcut to Six Forks Road would make the road unsafe for kids, bikers and walkers, they said.
“A cut-through extension of that street would cut through the heart of our neighborhood,” said Jay Mills, who said he was asked to represent fellow homeowners.
Davis doesn’t want to build the road either. He said he intends for his apartment residents to use Wake Towne Drive as an entrance.
Requiring Davis to build the much-maligned shortcut is part of a city development policy designed to create connectivity. Developers have to connect roads where possible to improve traffic flow in an increasingly congested city. City planners also argue that the additional access to the apartments is needed for emergency responders.
Planning commission member Isabel Mattox pointed out that Wake Towne Drive will eventually get connected to the west. “I see it every day in this city that traffic is getting worse, and it does get improved with these connections,” she said.
Other commission members said they’d like to approve the project with the road connection taken out, but city staff members said that’s not an option for the board. Only the city council could grant a variance for developers to avoid the road requirement.
“The council’s not going to have significantly more freedom with this than you all have,” city attorney Ira Botvinick told the commission.
Members ultimately voted to approve the project, with the caveat that the developer help fund traffic calming measures on Hines Drive. Speed bumps and stop signs could make the residential street a less appealing shortcut.