The Winston-Salem City Council approved a rezoning request by Truliant Federal Credit Union on Monday that will allow the company to double its headquarters size and employment, and to create a new entry to the site from Burke Mill Road.
And closer to downtown, the city approved a site plan for a 300-unit apartment complex called The Easley that will be in sight of BB&T Ballpark. The plan calls for closing a section of Brookstown Avenue.
In both cases, South Ward Council Member John Larson cast the sole dissenting vote on the council, voicing the concern that the city hasn't done enough to ease fears that both projects will cause road network disruptions.
"This is not about the quality and contribution made to this city by Truliant," Larson said, explaining his objection to the Truliant rezoning. "This is about roads."
The council vote on Truliant came only a couple weeks after Larson had derailed an earlier vote by using a parliamentary maneuver that postponed the vote until Monday night.
Larson once more attempted to delay the Truliant decision during Monday's meeting. He said that residents should have the full benefit of a traffic study that is still in its draft form. The portion of the study relevant to the Truliant entrance had been fast-forwarded to completion in what city officials said was a demonstration that the Truliant proposal would not cripple traffic.
Larson made a substitute motion to delay the Truliant rezoning for the full traffic-study results, saying it would cause "at most ... a two-month delay." But Larson could get no second, and the council then voted 7-1 to approve the Truliant rezoning.
Nobody has opposed the company's expansion plans, but plenty of people who live in the neighborhoods along Burke Mill Road have expressed worries that the new entrance to the company site will only make traffic problems on their overburdened street worse.
Those people didn't seem evident in any number Monday, but dozens of Truliant employees packed several rows in the city council's meeting chamber.
Truliant has agreed to limit access on the new entry to 25 percent of its work force, and architects say the traffic signal where the new entry would join Burke Mill Road would actually improve traffic flow.
The new entry will be across from where Stonewood Drive now intersects Burke Mill. Planners say a traffic signal at that point will create gaps in the traffic flow that drivers can use to enter Burke Mill from side streets and driveways.
The company now has some 450 employees working in an office with 122,000 square feet, accessed from an entry drive located off Hanes Mall Boulevard.
The company has proposed expanding that space to nearly double and doubling the work force over some seven years or so. The expansion would be a $40 million investment and include a new parking deck on the site.
The back end of the site is off Burke Mill Road, which at present has no access to the Truliant property.
During negotiations with concerned neighbors, the company agreed to limit access from Burke Mill Road to employees only, and to only 25% of the company work force at that.
During Monday's meeting, Larson said Truliant's contribution of $15,000 toward the traffic study had tainted its objectivity in the minds of people who live in the neighborhood. He suggested it wasn't fair for Truliant to get advance consideration when the people in the neighborhood are still waiting for traffic-study results.
After the meeting, Southwest Ward Council Member Dan Besse, a supporter of the rezoning, said the study was nonetheless done only for the city. The city had commissioned the traffic study at a cost of $150,000. Besse said Truliant's contribution had been made only to prevent having to do a separate study because of the company's proposed new entrance.
Meanwhile, the council's approval of the site plan for a 300-unit apartment complex north of BB&T Ballpark will bring to completion a part of the greater ballpark development that Winston-Salem residents were promised more than 10 years ago, city leaders were saying Monday night.
That's true even if the project does involve closing the section of Brookstown Avenue between Broad and Second streets, Northwest Ward Council Member Jeff MacIntosh said.
"The traffic situation is going to change when Business 40 opens and First and Second streets are two-way," MacIntosh said. "Everyone is going to have to learn a new traffic pattern whether Brookstown is closed or not."
MacIntosh said it is already dangerous to try to drive across Broad Street on Brookstown Avenue today, and said the area would be safer after the work is done.
The developers plan to create a small park on the north end of the site that would have a bike path going across it.
During a public hearing on the site plan, James Snow, owner of Snow Electric Co. Inc. complained that business owners on his section of Brookstown Avenue had not been told about the planned closure.
Snow's business is at 428 Brookstown Ave., which is south of Business 40 on a section of Brookstown that is cut off from the rest of the avenue temporarily because of the Business 40 upgrade under way.
"We have been in business since 1925 and travel up and down Brookstown Avenue," he said. "Brookstown has had its share of closures ... and it has been a challenge to keep up with it."
City officials said that while all property owners within 500 feet of the proposed apartments were notified of the site plan change, Snow and others outside that radius were not given notice.
Larson objected to closing the road without wider notice.
"I don't know if any other council member would want a road bifurcated without any explanation," Larson said. "Will alternate routes be signed? How are people going to get there?"
Brookstown crosses through parts of both Northwest and South wards.
The site plan approval doesn't actually close the street, an action that has to be done separately. Although Larson objected to approving the site plan before closing the street, city officials said that happens fairly often. If the street closure is turned down, the site plan would no longer be in force, they said.
Several speakers said they like the plans for the new apartments. The developer, DPL Residential LLC of Charlotte, was also a developer of the nearby West End Station apartment complex. Graphic depictions of the new complex suggest it would be similar in appearance to West End Station.
"I am excited to see finally see something moving and to have some progress in that area," said Keith Stone, who lives on West End Boulevard and spoke during the public hearing. "I walk through that area two or three times a week."