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Carrboro residents, still smarting from annexation, protest new development

Now that hurts

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The marriage of Carrboro to its recently annexed northern suburbs is proving to be a rocky one.

Fox Meadow and Highlands, two of six subdivisions annexed by the town in 2006, are protesting a proposed development on Reynard Road that would add almost 900 car trips per day between their neighborhoods.

What's next?

A development review meeting on Colleton Crossing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, at Carrboro Town Hall, 301 W. Main St. This is not a public input session, though residents are welcome to send a representative to observe the proceedings.

MBI Development will release its findings, and the plan will be available for public comment, at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 24, at Town Hall.

Residents flooded Town Hall for a Jan. 27 public hearing to oppose Colleton Crossing, a development of 39 single-family homes under review by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Residents hoping for a chance to speak at the hearing were disappointed, though. The board granted MBI Development, which is building the subdivision, a four-week extension on the public hearing to examine alternate roads into the site.

Highlands and Fox Meadow residents say they're concerned that Colleton Crossing, in addition to a smaller adjacent tract that UNC-Chapel Hill hopes to develop, would create an unsafe volume of traffic through their neighborhoods. Both lie along the busy Homestead Road corridor north of downtown Carrboro, a region that has thus far eluded the housing bust, where upscale developments advertise green living with wooden roadside placards.

Mari Weiss, who moved with her husband and daughter to Highlands in 2007 from Los Angeles, said she was attracted by the subdivision's quiet and comfort.

"We have block parties in the street, the kids ride their bikes and run and play," Weiss said. The increased traffic from Colleton Crossing would endanger pedestrians, she said, particularly students walking home from their bus stops, and would fundamentally change the character of the neighborhood.

The subdivisions' narrow, one-lane streets lack sidewalks. Many residents point to a traffic study commissioned by MBI that estimated an increase of 874 car trips per 24-hour period between the two neighborhoods.

"These roads are supposed to carry traffic from as few as 30 homes to as many as 100 homes, but no more," Weiss said. "We already have 100 homes in the Highlands."

The Carrboro Planning Department, which approved the plan for Colleton Crossing, recommended MBI initially build 15 homes and construct the other 24 only after a second access road is completed. The second road would connect Colleton Crossing to the Highlands via the UNC development, reducing pressure on Tallyho Trail, Fox Meadow's main artery.

Timothy Smith, an MBI engineering consultant, responded in a Jan. 22 letter to the Board of Aldermen, in which he said a phased development would not be cost effective. Nor does MBI plan to improve existing roads; access roads in the Highlands and Fox Meadow are approved by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, though there are some discrepancies between the DOT's standards and Carrboro's.

"The problem with NCDOT roads is, they're not town roads. We haven't accepted them," said Jeff Kleaveland, a Carrboro town planner. "NCDOT, their policy, or lack of policy, is what we have to deal with."

Residents are also concerned about the environmental impact of the development. The Colleton Crossing property includes a relatively unspoiled section of Bolin Creek.

"It would have major environmental damage," said Julie McClintock, vice chair for policy of Friends of Bolin Creek, an environmental group that aims to curb development along the Orange County waterway. McClintock said the extension of Reynard Road (also a point of contention for Fox Meadow residents) would cross the creek and harm water quality.

Town planners also suggested MBI consider environmental impacts of the development, asking the company to "reduce lot density or investigate alternate forms of housing, which may allow your desired density but with a much smaller physical and environmental footprint."

Jim Melville, owner of MBI Development, didn't respond to a request for comment. Two Carrboro aldermen also declined to comment on the possibility that the board would approve Colleton Crossing, since talks are ongoing. But town planners stressed that MBI's plans meet all relevant conditions.

Some of the frustration of north Carrboro's new residents stems from the still-simmering controversy sparked by the 2006 annexation, which almost doubled property taxes for the half dozen neighborhoods it affected. Seventy percent of Highlands' residents signed a petition in early 2007 to split with the town. (North Carolina is one of only a handful of states that permit forced annexations by municipalities. In January, a committee formed by the General Assembly recommended that residents in an area targeted for annexation should be allowed to vote on the subject.)

"We are an annexed area with no voice," said Highlands resident Cathy Calvert. "It would be really nice if the Carrboro Aldermen heard our voices this time."

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