CARRBORO - Town staff will consider whether a stream actually runs through an Alabama Avenue lot after a developer withdrew his application this week for a Family Dollar store.
The Board of Adjustment rejected a required stream buffer variance Wednesday following two public hearings with opponents and developer Stronach Properties of Raleigh.
The decision effectively stopped consideration of a special-use permit for the 8,100-square-foot retail project. Developer Will Stronach could submit a new application, although he declined to say when that might happen.
A new application would face advisory board reviews and a public hearing before the Board of Adjustment could vote on it.
Stronach’s attorney, David Rooks, said the developer does not believe an ephemeral stream actually exists on the 0.91-acre site at the corner of Alabama Avenue and Jones Ferry Road. He contends a pipe under nearby businesses funnels water from surrounding areas onto the site.
A variance is required if the project will affect a stream and must be approved by a four-fifths vote. Town attorney Mike Brough said questions about the stream arose “in the last day or so.”
An ephemeral stream is defined as an area through which water flows during and after inclement weather events. Carrboro is one of two towns in North Carolina with local buffer rules for ephemeral streams and defines them as funneling runoff from at least five surrounding acres.
Town planning director Patricia McGuire said the developer’s application clearly identified the area in question as a stream. Her staff will have to study the area in detail, calculating how many acres drain onto the site and whether the developer could reroute the runoff, she said.
There is no deadline for completing that analysis, she said.
Prior to the vote, Rooks outlined how Stronach’s project met the six required conditions.
“If you do not grant the relief we’re asking for tonight, you are branding this lot with a Scarlet B for buffer, because it becomes of vastly less value,” Rooks said. “Essentially, what you have in your hand is the economic stake that the Neville family has on this lot.”
Stronach contracted for the property with the family of Janet Neville, who died in 2005. Her family lives in Alpharetta, Ga., and pays a tax bill of $3,839 on the property, valued at $234,484.
Board members Richard Ellington and Joe Collins sided with the developer that the variance was necessary to make a reasonable use of the property. The stream did not exist until the area around it channeled water into the pipe, Ellington said.
“I think some of the stuff we’re talking about … has been created by some development that was unguarded, unprotected, and has created a hardship on this property,” he said.
Board Chairman David Collins disagreed. The stream buffer covers only a portion of the site, leaving roughly 88 percent available for use, he said. The fact that the applicant is a commercial developer does not create a hardship related to the land, since the town lists 76 allowable uses in a B3 zoning, including small businesses, offices and homes.
“What I believe we should be determining is based on allowable uses of the land,” Collins said. “Can anything be developed, period. Not, can it be developed and return a profit to the applicant.”
The board voted unanimously that the developer met three conditions, but were divided in opposing the remaining three. Rooks immediately requested the board table its decision, but several members said they were uncomfortable with that request.
“I think we’re being asked to put an undue hardship on the audience, because what I’m hearing is the rules may be changing now that the boat’s left the dock,” Ellington said.
After the meeting, Collins declined further comment.
“I am glad the applicant made the decision to withdraw their application,” he said.
The Family Dollar issue was unique for a board that typically handles minor, often residential intrusions into town buffers, Collins said. The public hearing began May 16 with more than 80 people listening to 2-1/2 hours of testimony from the developer and his experts. State Sen. and former Carrboro mayor Eleanor Kinnaird also spoke briefly against the project.
On May 23, 40 opponents presented nearly four hours of data and arguments as to why the project shouldn’t be built. Roughly 60 people came to see the issue resolved Wednesday.
Neighbors have been unified in their opposition since the project was first proposed last year. “No Family Dollar” signs dot every yard along Alabama Avenue and Neville Drive – a quiet, traditionally African-American community where many families have lived for decades.
They were heartened Wednesday when the board denied the variance but reacted strongly upon hearing the developer’s new plan, shouting, “No. No. No.”
Neighbors vowed to continue opposing the project.
“After 362 days, we are still very disappointed in the process, but we’re going to keep planning, we’re going to keep getting organized for part two,” resident Anissa McLendon said.
Basel Sellars, whose house is across the street and who would have a direct view of the store’s Dumpsters, called the board’s decision “great.”
“I can watch my flowers grow now,” he said.