On November 8, 2021, the Town Council unanimously authorized the Town Manager to settle a lawsuit with the applicant for the Stinson Farms Project (Plaintiff) pursuant to terms negotiated in a mediated settlement conference. The following is a summary and helpful guide to the settlement.
What is the Stinson Farms development?
Stinson Farms is a proposed development of approximately 73 acres within the Town of Stallings, located near the intersection of Idlewild Road and I-485, immediately adjacent to the Shannamara neighborhood, and across from Idlewild Village Shopping Center. The proposed development consists of commercial (including gas station and fast-food uses) and mixed-residential (multi-family, townhomes, and single-family) uses. Since this application was originally submitted, the Town changed its zoning ordinances to give the Town Council authority to turn down certain kinds of uses (gas stations, fast-food, and higher-density residential) that do not align with the Town’s vision. However, because the Stinson Farms development was submitted prior to these changes, the lawsuit claimed that these uses are allowed “by-right” and at the maximum density allowed under the MU-2 zoning regulations.
Why was the Town sued?
In April 2021, after months of negotiations with the developer, the Town Council voted (4-2) to deny the development agreement application. The Town cited concerns that the development did not meet the Town’s definition of a “walkable activity center” as called for in the Town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
Why did the Town decide to settle the lawsuit?
- According to the Town’s legal counsel, the lawsuit involved a novel legal question about development rights, and the Town faced a 50/50 chance of the Court finding in favor of the Plaintiff.
- Were the court to decide in favor of the Plaintiff (and against the Town), the Town identified several adverse and costly outcomes to the Town and its residents. The two most onerous were:
- The Plaintiff would be permitted to develop the land without honoring the terms negotiated prior to April 2021. For example, the plaintiff could put over 1,000 multi-family units, reduce the size of the buffer with the Shannamara neighborhood, and would not be limited on the number of gas stations and fast-food restaurants. Overall, the Town felt the increased intensity would significantly and adversely affect surrounding neighborhoods and burden infrastructure.
- The Court may hold the Town financially liable for millions of dollars in legal fees and economic damages to the Plaintiff. An estimate provided by the Town’s legal counsel and reserved with the NC League of Municipalities was a minimum of $2,000,000 for economic damages. Such a judgment would likely require the Town to increase property taxes on all property owners to offset the difference.
What did the Town receive in the settlement?
In addition to the favorable conditions negotiated prior to April 2020, the Town secured the following concessions from the developer in the settlement:
- An increased buffer including a 5’ brick wall between portions of the development and residents along Anglesey Court.
- A limitation of one (1) gas station and two (2) quick service/fast-food restaurants, such as Chic Fil A, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Bojangles, or similar. This limitation does not include “fast-casual” restaurants such as Panera, Chipotle, Starbucks or similar.
- A minimum of one full-service restaurant (with seating and table service) will be secured before the developer is permitted to complete the development of the commercial parcels.
- Avoidance of legal fees and the risk of substantial economic damages owed to the Plaintiff.
What did the Developer receive in the settlement?
In addition to the negotiated proposal from April 2020, the Developer secured the following concessions from the Town:
- The right to replace a section of attached townhomes with multi-family apartments. The resulting net increase of residential units on the site is 45 units.
- A maximum of two (2) quick service/fast-food restaurants, such as Chick-fil-A, McDonalds, Wendys, Bojangles, or similar. This limitation does not include “fast-casual” restaurants such as Panera, Chipotle, Starbucks or similar.
In sum, how does this final negotiated settlement differ from what would be allowed if the Town lost the lawsuit?
- There will be 573 mixed-residential units permitted rather than more than 1,000 multi-family units allowed under the previous ordinance.
- A buffer more than two-times larger than the minimum required “by-right” buffer between the development and the Shannamara neighborhood. A portion of this buffer will now include a 5’ brick wall along Anglesey Court and include enhanced landscaping.
- Open space requirements are greater than the minimum “by-right” requirements under the ordinance.
- Requirement that there be at least one full-service restaurant in the commercial area and the number of fast-food restaurants and gas stations are limited.
- Any gas station, allowable under the Town’s ordinance, will be located away from the center of the street frontage, and closer to the I-485 interchange.
Who will pay for required transportation improvements?
- 100% of the cost for road, sidewalk and other transportation improvements will be paid for by the Developers in accordance with a Traffic Impact Analysis (“TIA”), conducted by the Town (using a Third-Party Engineering Firm).