MANCHESTER — The Mount Airy developer who for nearly three years has been trying to win approval of a 62-acre project here may walk away from the deal, killing what once was the town's largest proposed housing development.
"It's getting to a point where you have to take your first loss," said Henry L. Blevins. Since 1989, he has been revising proposalsfor homes on the former Dell farm in the northwestern part of town. "It's no longer fun to do it, and it's not cheap either."
Blevins first wanted to build 266 homes -- some single-family, some town houses and some "quadplexes" -- on the rolling farmland alongBachman Road. But opposition from residents of neighboring Whispering Valley and Holland Hills last summer forced Blevins to scale the development down to 165 single-family homes.
Now, with a zoning change on the property that went into effect April 24 after passage of the town's master plan, Blevins said he is not sure whether the projectis worth pursuing.
The Mount Airy developer, who has an option topurchase the property for $1.35 million, has spent close to $500,000on planning and engineering fees. The purchase contract on the property expires June 29, and Blevins said he may not renew the contract.
"I won't spend another 2 1/2 years up there," Blevins said yesterday. "I can't keep throwing good money after bad."
The latest twistto frustrate Blevins is the change in zoning, which will place nine lots previously zoned for quarter-acre lots into conservation zoning,which requires three-acre lots. He said the town and county planningofficials have constantly thrown surprises his way, making it hard to come up with a project that can win approval.
As far as town officials are concerned, Blevins hasn't been treated differently than other developers. In fact, the town has informally encouraged some development as one way to pay the $11 million bill left by the expanded sewage treatment plant.
"To be honest, we do need some moderate development to pay back our sewage plant debt," said David M. Warner, the town's projects administrator.
Undeveloped, the Dell property --tentatively called Blevins Claim -- brings in less than $2,500 a year in property taxes. Should the entire 165-lot subdivision be sold and developed, the town could receive as much as $28,000 a year in property tax revenue, nearly $200,000 in sewer system connection fees, and more than $79,200 a year in sewage usage fees.
"The Dell property is important, but we won't live or die on the project," Warner said. About 250 homes are being built in the 250-acre Manchester Farms development along Southwestern Boulevard. Another 40-home development is up for preliminary planning approval.
The project underwent a county planning review last week, said Scott Fischer, the county planner for Manchester. It was during that review that Blevins first learned about the zoning change on the property. The change has prevented preliminary approval of Blevins Claim.
Blevins said the fate of hisproject depends on how much longer he has to wait for preliminary approval. With the Pennsylvania border -- and homes as much as $20,000 to $30,000 cheaper -- four miles to the north, Blevins said the market may not support $100,000 to $120,000 homes on
the Dell property much longer.
"I don't know what we're going to do," he said. "But I am definitely losing interest in it."