Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Infill Building - Is it right for your neighborhood?

In recent times the concept of "infill" building has gotten a lot of attention as builders discover buyers are opting for buying homes in established neighborhoods. Builders are buying up empty lots and old homes on established lots and adding new homes where space was not developed during the time when buyers flocked to outlying new neighborhoods.

This sets off alarms when neighbors see activity on empty lots or around old homes left vacant after a neighbor has moved or passed away. Builders will often try to pick up these lots and divide them, then build multiple new homes where one or none stood before. Is this a good idea in an established neighborhood and should Town Planners and Builders take into consideration the views of neighbors during these projects?

The Town of Apex NC Planning Department and the Planning Board previously established development guidelines (Apex Unified Development Ordinance)to protect older areas of Town
considered part of the Historic Overlay District or Small Town Character Area. Now these rules
are being questioned by Planners and Planners want to change the rules in favor of builders (and not the neighborhood residents) by allowing lots to be narrower and allowing small apartments to be constructed on lots when new homes are added in these infill areas. By making lots narrower, a builder can build more houses and also let a driveway be shared by multiple homes and put more homes where this would not have been allowed under the old rules. Reducing the minimum lot width to 50 feet from 60 feet and allowing a common driveway to be used will allow construction of two or more houses where only one would have been approved previously.

An even more controversial ordinance change would allow a builder to construct "accessory apartments" behind a new home either as a stand alone structure or as an apartment above a garage. This would in effect allow two homes to be built where only one was allowed before and the owner could make the structure available as a rental house. The end effect lets the builder pack in homes on sub-divided infill lots and this would substantially change the look and feel of a neighborhood formerly protected for its "small town character". One premise used by Planners to justify this is that long ago it was common to have a "guest house" or "servant house" on some properties and that the "new" idea of a "accessory apartment" would follow this concept.

One such example is a project under way to build four houses on a half-acre lot at 411 Olive Street in Apex. The builder is Sarah Potter and she wants to divide a 60 foot lot and build two normal sized "green" homes and also add an "accessory apartment" behind both houses. This would allow the builder to slip four homes into a space where only two would normally go and significantly impact the all residental single family neighborhood.

Michael Lander, a developer and president of the Minneapolis-based Lander Group, considers that it is is necessary for builders to respect views of neighbors and not move in and change the neighborhood without considering the neighbors and the character of the area. He states "Prime lots are waiting to be developed in older, established neighborhoods. Lander offers a few tips to make the experience easier for first-time infill developers or builders. The list starts with a command of biblical significance: Love your neighbor.".

"It's just absolutely critical in an infill situation to work collaboratively with the neighbors—whoever that might be," Lander says. It might be businesses, it might be churches, it might be residents.". Read more...

If you feel strongly that the character of older neighborhoods should be protected and development ordinances should not be changed to reflect needs of developers, take the time to contact your Town Council members (Apex Town Council), Town Manager (Apex Town Manager), Mayor (Mayor), Planning Department (Apex Planning Department) and members of the Planning Board (Apex Planning Board)and let your views be known!

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