Burlington’s city council has given an out-of-town developer the all-clear to construct 252 apartments along Bonnar Bridge Parkway – a road that also serves as the primary entrance into the sprawling Mackintosh on Lake subdivision.
During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, the council unanimously agreed to let Wilmington-based Zimmer Development establish this new apartment complex on some 15.69 acres situated near Bonnar Bridge Parkway’s juncture with Danbrook Road.
Dubbed the “Bonnar Bridge Apartments,” this rental development is slated to comprise seven three-to-four story buildings that will contain the proposed dwelling units. The development’s plans also call for a clubhouse and pool, a walking trail, nearly 400 parking spaces, a dog park, and various other amenities.
Concerns with traffic that developer says have been addressed
The council ultimately signed off on this project despite some misgivings about the volume of traffic that has gravitated to Bonnar Bridge Parkway since the approval of Mackintosh on the Lake nearly two decades ago. Over the years, this road has also become the default route for a number of smaller developments, the city’s newest fire station, and Highland Elementary School, whose backups are near legendary for residents in this part of the city.
Tom Johnson, an attorney for Zimmer Development, tried to reassure the council that his client has already done its part to reduce the congestion along this well-traveled thoroughfare.
Johnson pointed out that Zimmer has previously made road improvements as part of another nearby rental development called Milltown, which he added is now filled to 98 percent of its capacity. The developer’s attorney called the council’s attention to upgrades that Zimmer made to Bonnar Bridge Parkway’s intersection with University Drive as well as an additional lane it installed to accommodate the vehicles that stack in front of Highland Elementary.
“That was already done in connection with the previous project,” he added. “The traffic impact analysis showed that nothing more was really required, but we didn’t want to leave it at that…So, Zimmer Development is committing $300,000 toward an additional entrance to Mackintosh in a location that the city will determine.”
Johnson told the council that, in addition to these traffic-related concessions, his client has tried to mollify the concerns of neighboring residents – particularly those who reside along West Buckhill Road.
A number of these reluctant neighbors had shared their objections when the developer’s plans went before Burlington’s planning and zoning commission in April. The commission’s members ultimately voted 3-to-2 not to endorse Zimmer’s request due, in part, to this opposition. Since then, Johnson said that his client has made a concerted effort to appease these unhappy homeowners.
“We had subsequent meetings with them,” he recalled, “and I’m pleased to report that we were able to work through their concerns. The West Buckhill residents are satisfied now and are not objecting to the rezoning.”
Johnson went on to elaborate that Zimmer has reshuffled its plans to placate these neighbors so that the one-story clubhouse rather than the three-to-four story apartment buildings are now slated to go near West Buckhill Road.
Some Mackintosh neighbors still have concerns
Johnson’s assertions about the satisfied neighbors were more or less confirmed when the council opened a public hearing that drew nary a peep from anyone along West Buckhill Road. The council nevertheless heard some concerns about the proposed apartments from two Mackintosh residents.
The prospect of more traffic along Bonnar Bridge was especially alarming to homeowner Brandy Whittaker, who argued that the congestion is bound to get worse as more homes go up within Mackintosh on the Lake, not to mention the other, smaller developments that the city has already cleared for construction. Whittaker stressed that there are plans for 70 dwellings just in her small subsection of Mackintosh.
“Most of those houses aren’t completed,” she added, “and there are three new subdivisions that I assume aren’t accounted for in their numbers…So, minimally speaking, that’s an extra 750 cars with their project, if you approve it, which I think would be detrimental to our community.”
Meanwhile, Charlie Beasley, a fellow Mackintosh resident who recently waged an unsuccessful campaign for Burlington’s city council, took the city’s current leaders to task for their apparent failure to prepare for all of this expected growth.
“What I am concerned about and can’t abide is growth without vision,” Beasley declared. “My simple request is that the city council highly consider no zoning approvals until a concrete plan can be made for a third entrance into Mackintosh.”
Possible additional entrance into Mackintosh on the Lake
Beasley went on to point out that few of the development’s residents currently avail themselves of the entrance along Springwood Drive, which is presently the only alternative access to Bonnar Bridge Parkway.
The city’s alleged inattention to this problem was later belied by assistant city manager Nolan Kirkman, who briefed the council on a series of neighborhood meetings that city staff members have held about a potential location for this potential third entrance. Kirkman conceded, however, that the 40 or so residents who took part in these meetings “sort of liked not having the connection” which a new access road would provide. He added that, if push came to shove, most of the participants said they’d prefer an entrance on the subdivision’s west side – precisely where the little-used outlet onto Springwood Road is now located.
Notwithstanding the neighborhood’s seemingly contradictory desires, Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler noted that the city may very well press ahead with a new entrance onto Huffman Mill Road, which runs to the east of Mackintosh on the Lake.
“I think we can move pretty fast particularly on the Huffman Mill side,” he added, “because we have had a growth plan [for this part of the city].” The council also received some staff-level assurance that the traffic studies which the state’s transportation department demands of developers like Zimmer do, in fact, consider the impact of projects that have yet to be built out. This revelation seemed to take some of the onus off Zimmer for the high traffic loads along Bonnar Bridge Parkway. Yet, it didn’t exactly convince the council that everything is A-O.K. with this thoroughfare.
Harold Owen, the city’s mayor pro tem, attributed much of the current congestion to the twice daily backups at Highland Elementary. The school’s role in this imbroglio was acknowledged by councilman Ronnie Wall, who formerly served as an assistant superintendent with the Alamance-Burlington school system. Wall nevertheless argued that the council must still consider Zimmer’s potential contribution to what’s already a fraught situation. “For the time being,” he said, “those 252 apartment units are going to dump onto Bonnar Bridge…My concern is that all of the traffic from this development will go onto Bonnar Bridge, along with all of the [other] development traffic, along with the school traffic.”
Yet, in the end, Wall’s concerns weren’t enough to ward him off Zimmer’s proposal, which went on to pass in a vote of 5-to-0.