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8/5/2021 3:44:00 PM
Developer withdraws request for text amendment

SUMMERFIELD - Citing "divisiveness in the community," developer David Couch told the Summerfield Planning Board earlier this week he was withdrawing his application for a text amendment to the town's development regulations.

Couch said he plans to return with another proposal for the residential and commercial development of Summerfield Farms and several other parcels totaling about 1,000 acres from Summerfield Road to Interstate 73.

Couch's decision has left opponents of plans for expansion, reliant upon water and sewer services from the city of Greensboro, wary about what's coming next.

Former Summerfield mayoral candidate Danny Nelson said he removed "No Planned Development" signs he had posted in front of his Pleasant Ridge Road house. He also removed other signs after speaking to the people who had put them up.

But Nelson said he told people to "put their signs in reserve" because even though Couch "has withdrawn his text amendment application for the time being, we don't know what his plan is."

Couch, CEO of Blue Ridge Cos., had proposed a text amendment to create a Master Planned Village District for which he would seek higher housing density in negotiations with town leaders. The proposal met opposition during recent public meetings, largely because Couch wasn't disclosing the projected density and mix of single-family and multi-family houses, including townhouses and apartments. He ceded to the opposition earlier this week.

"We felt the right thing to do was withdraw this request, finish our work and finish the answers to all of those questions down to as much as humanly possible the locations for what we have planned and the numbers for what we have planned," Couch told the Planning Board during a special called meeting this past Monday, Aug. 2.

During public meetings in recent weeks, Couch said he and his team of designers were still working on details of the project and thus didn't know the answer when asked by residents and members of the Planning Board for the proposed density of housing.

Couch reiterated the view during a July 26 public hearing by the board, drawing skepticism from several speakers and board Chairman Dick Feulner, who said he was unwilling to make a recommendation to the Town Council for "a district with no density at all."

Feulner joined two other members in voting 3-1 to delay the board's decision on whether to recommend approval of Couch's request for a text amendment to Summerfield's unified development ordinance.

In an interview earlier this week, Feulner said he viewed Couch's decision to drop his application as "positive."

"He is trying to address the legitimate issues raised by many members of the community," Feulner said.

Town leaders learned of Couch's decision shortly before the board meeting this past Monday. Feulner then invited Couch to speak during the meeting to explain his decision.

"We're well aware of the divisiveness in the community," Couch said. He said he appreciated questions from townsfolk and town leaders, but added that "we're not prepared to answer (them) yet. We don't have the answers."

Last week, Feulner called the special meeting for the board to consider when to meet again to vote on whether to recommend Couch's text amendment application to the council. Earlier, the board had scheduled the meeting for Sept. 27, but was contemplating moving the meeting forward to this Thursday, Aug. 5.

Advancing the meeting would have allowed the council to consider Couch's request during its monthly meeting next Tuesday, Aug. 10. At this point, consideration of the text amendment remains on the meeting agenda, and the council is required by the town's development rules to agree to Couch's withdrawal request, according to a post on the town of Summerfield's Facebook page.

During Monday's meeting, Couch told the board he may propose development of his property based upon the Open Space Mixed Use (OSM) zoning classification. According to the town's UDO, the district "encourages compact, integrated development with a variety of housing types," including townhouses and detached houses. Apartments aren't allowed in the district, Feulner said.

Seeking to change the OSM district with a text amendment is a possibility, said Couch, adding whatever he proposes will require "a very, very high bar of quality and a high bar of regulation."

Feulner told Couch he believes town leaders "could look at OSM as a way to maybe facilitate things you're trying to do in a more reasonable fashion as far as the Planning Board and the community are concerned."

While Couch didn't explain how he might propose amending the OSM district, his lead designer, Victor Dover, hinted at possible changes.

During a recent public meeting, Dover pointed out how requirements of the district currently limit Couch's proposal. As an example, density requirements as currently written make preservation of large tracts of open space financially unfeasible, he said.

"You cannot say you want the lots to be huge if you want the open space," Dover, a founding principal of Dover, Kohl and Partners of Coral Gables, Florida, said during the board's July 26 meeting.

He reiterated Couch's position that allowing construction of multi-family housing is needed to meet the Summerfield comprehensive plan's recommendation for moderately priced housing.

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