UPDATE (Feb. 3, 1:48 p.m.): The Sanford City Council voted Tuesday night to table the vote on the Glen at Cool Springs until Feb. 16.
By Billy Liggett
ORIGINAL STORY: The idea for the Glen at Cool Springs subdivision was born from a need for more single-family housing in a city currently experiencing an economic and a population boom. Like the Galvin’s Ridge subdivision that just started construction off U.S. 1 on the northern edge of Sanford, the Glen has been met with opposition from nearby residents against the idea of having high-density neighborhoods in their backyards.
Unlike Galvin’s Ridge, those who oppose the Glen at least have the backing of Sanford’s citizen-led planning board.
The Sanford City Council will meet on Feb. 2 to discuss and possibly approve or axe the proposed subdivision, located off Cool Springs Road in West Sanford bordering the Westlake Downs subdivision. Their decision will be based on previous meetings and discussions for the development — which is currently drawn up to include 131 homes, each on a quarter-acre lot and each with little space between the homes — and may or may not be influenced by conflicting voices of the city’s planning staff (which recommends its approval) and the Sanford Planning Commission, which in January voted unanimously not to recommend the plans.
That commission — made up of non-elected citizens appointed by the city — heard from a few dozen residents and families living near the proposed subdivision unanimously against it. More than 170 residents in the area signed a petition voicing their opposition, and statements from these men and women during public hearings lasted over an hour at recent meetings.
“We are not against growth,” said Bo Holland, a resident of nearby Southern Road, who spoke to the board and issued written public statements to the board and the city council. “In fact, we all welcome it. But as we’ve stated many times, we want smart growth that is aligned with the spirit of the city’s Land Use Plan. The planning board has spoken clearly against this proposal and have rejected it unanimously.
“We have confidence that with all of the evidence clearly showing that the Glen is not in the best interest of Sanford, [the city] will reject this proposal.”
On Jan. 19, the Sanford City Council annexed 53 acres of land off Cool Springs Road between Westlake Downs and Southern Road. That same night, residents of those adjoining neighborhoods delivered over two hours of statements in opposition to the proposed development of that land. The planning board voted unanimously to disapprove the rezoning request made by developer Dan Koeller of North Carolina-based Atlantic Coast Land Development.
According to minutes from those meetings and plans submitted by Atlantic Coast, the Glen at Cool Springs is a 131-lot proposed subdivision that will fill 53-plus acres. The north end of the subdivision would run alongside Southern Road, which features a handful of homes, each situated on several acres of land. The southern end of the Glen will run parallel to Westlake Downs, whose homes run in the low $300,000 to $500,000 range and each sit on anywhere between a half acre and full acre of land.
While estimated home values for the Glen have not been made public, the developers have stated the homes will be classified as R-10 — which in Sanford means homes with mixed residential styles can have up to four dwellings on a single acre. The Glen is proposing up to 2.45 homes per acre — considerably more dense than its surrounding communities.
The Rant reached out to Koeller and Atlantic Coast to learn more about the proposed development but has received no response as of this publication. However, the company described its community in documents submitted to the City Council for its January and February meetings.
“The vision for the Glen at Cool Springs is one of tree-lined spaces and sidewalks on both sides of the road to foster a sense of place,” it read. “Common green space within the neighborhood provides places for gathering and conversation. Glen at Cool Springs will be the perfect place for someone to call home.”
The first community meeting on the proposed annexation and zoning was held on Nov. 19, with 26 people in attendance to voice their opposition. Among their concerns: increased traffic for those “cutting through” Westlake Downs and the adjoining Brownstone subdivision, possible drainage/flooding issues created or made worse by development of the site, the possible decrease in surrounding property values, the lack of a buffer between the properties and whether or not existing sewage lines could handle an additional 131 new homes.
According to Marshall Downey, director of the Planning and Development department, the planning committee that heard the residents’ concerns is a group made up of citizens appointed by the city council. The group is required by state law to review zoning and development requests and make their recommendations to the city.
“They serve more as a third-party independent review,” Downey says. “The city council can choose to vote based on their recommendations or go another way.”
One of those third-party reviewers was Fred McIver, who works in quality assurance at Coty and is a noted tennis instructor in Sanford. McIver said the residents’ concerns and public statements played a big part in the board’s unanimous decision to not recommend the development to the city council. But just as important, according to McIver, was the board’s belief that the development was not in the best interest of Sanford or the communities along Cool Springs Road.
“We as a board looked at everything,” McIver says. “Several of us even walked that property to take a good look at it. The proposed R-10 neighborhood would have been similar to Carthage Colonies [off Fire Tower Road], and those homes range in the $210,000 to $225,000 area. There’s a big difference in house sizes, land space between homes and density from the homes in Westlake Valley. These homes just didn’t match what would be around it.”
McIver also says the board was put off by the developer’s refusal to answer questions and provide information on flood control.
“I look at us as a visionary group,” McIver says, referring to the planning board. “And our decisions are based on what we want Sanford to look like now and five, 10, 20 years down the line. We don’t want houses built now that are going to look like sugar shacks 10 years from now. Not in Lee County. We felt like the land owners wanted to get rid of the land and push this through. When we see people trying to force something through like that, we don’t like that.”
While the board is against the subdivision, the planning staff — according to the agenda for the Feb. 2 meeting — is in support of it.
From the staff’s recommendation on the agenda: “The request appears to comply with the long-range plan designation of Suburban Neighborhood by requesting a residential zoning designation that allows a density of four to seven units per acre. The subject property has been annexed into the City of Sanford’s corporate limits so that the site may be served by City services (water, sewer, etc.). The applicant has provided conceptual subdivision plans, photos of similar house styles, and written information provided for this project which specifies the conditions that will govern the development and use of the property. Therefore, staff supports this rezoning request.”
OUT OF CHARACTER
Galvin’s Ridge, a nearly 1,000-home high-density subdivision located off U.S. 1 and Colon Road on the northern edge of Sanford, began construction in 2020 and its first homes are expected to welcome families as early as this year.
Like the Glen at Cool Springs, the idea for Galvin’s Ridge wasn’t well received by residents in that area, like Ron Noles, who called the city council “hypocrites” for approving Galvin’s Ridge and voting against a similar proposal on Valley Road (like the Glen, also in West Sanford) a few years prior.
“When the developer says there will be 10 feet between each house, and each home will have 20 feet for the backyard and 20 feet for the front yard, how can the city not have a problem with that?” Noles said back in February 2020. “Lee County had the opportunity to set a new standard for developing a place where families would be happy to settle in and not just become a bedroom community for our larger neighbors.”
The opposition to the Glen has been louder and more organized. According to a petition provided by the group, 175 people representing over 90 percent of the surrounding properties signed in opposition to the development. Fifty-four signees represented the 35 properties in Westlake Valley.
Their reasons against were many:
“The existing proposal for the Glen is totally out of character and compatibility with the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Sarah Womack, a Southern Road resident. “It is our firm belief that this development will have an irreversible, negative impact on the existing property owners, not just on the perimeter of the property, but throughout the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Womack echoed McIver’s statement that little is known about the proposal, based on documents provided by the developer.
“After repeated efforts to learn more about the details of the Glen, we still know very little about how stormwater will be managed, the buffer, and even the construction of the homes,” she added. “As neighboring communities, we feel there is too much at stake to go into this with so many details left unknown. We have also spoken to local realtors who confirm our belief that there is a market for larger lots, larger homes. We believe this land is not conducive to develop R-10 lots for the reasons of zoning and stormwater incompatibility.”
Marilyn Novosel says the community isn’t opposed to any and all construction projects. She offers a few concessions the developer could make to gain more support. They include not connecting roads to Westlake Downs, providing a substantial barrier (such as existing trees) between the neighborhoods and performing environmental studies on stormwater and flooding. It would be nice, also, if the homes weren’t so tight.
Larry Wilson, a resident of Wellington Drive in Westlake Downs, says there is a need for high-density housing in Sanford, but that’s not the only type of housing the city should be focusing on.
“Our growth will bring professional, technical and management level people in all sectors who will want larger homes,” Wilson says. “City leaders should strive to have balance and diversity in all areas as we grow. This includes businesses, the people and residential development. The drive to develop as much high density housing as possible should be scaled back. Support and encouragement should be given to developers that want to build for families that need larger homes.”
Wilson says he feels like West Sanford has always been an “attractive community,” and the city should make decisions that support this image.
“The city’s land use plans should recognize the importance of new construction being compatible and in character with the neighboring communities.”