Small Area Plan
The plan for the I-540/South Salem Street interchange area depicts an activity center identified in the Apex Comprehensive Plan as an area within which growth could be accommodated at higher densities than are currently present in Apex, focusing growth instead of allowing it to sprawl. This area is intended to have a different character from surrounding areas due to the center’s location, proximity to transportation routes, and land uses. This is 1 of 2 activity centers described as areas that could transition into transit station areas in the future, when and if there is substantial support for transit in Apex.
Development pressures will be building in anticipation of the I-540 interchange. While many of the uses that typically locate at or near an interstate interchange are the same uses that are appropriate for this location, these developments are not typically built at densities or in a manner appropriate for this activity center.
This plan illustrates how those uses might be integrated into development that incorporates a broad range of uses and organizes them in a manner that has many benefits.
The following describes the plan components and their importance:
- Mixture of uses - Mixing residences with non-residential uses fosters a vibrant 24-hour environment that is safer for all users. Mixed both horizontally and vertically within multi-use buildings, uses in the plan include office, retail, civic/community, open space, and residential.
- Connected system of streets - A well-connected street system improves access by providing multiple routes between destinations. The intent is to provide a system of interconnected, 2-lane roadways that distribute traffic evenly, making them unlikely to require expansion to multiple lanes in the future. An ideal grid pattern providing the greatest level of connectivity within the core area would have blocks of 400 to 600 feet per side, but topography and other factors sometimes prevent the creation of a true grid. The plan’s street network is a modified grid that maximizes connectivity while responding to natural features, especially where streams are more common.
The configuration of South Salem Street, which is planned to be a 4-lane divided road in the future, was studied to determine how it might move high volumes of traffic between downtown Apex and I-540, provide access to future commercial uses, and safely accommodate foot traffic. As a result, the plan shows a realignment of South Salem Street, separating it from the rail line for a short distance to create developable parcels on either side of the street for a more vibrant station area.
Recognizing the barrier that the rail line presents in accessing land in the southeastern half of the area, this plan calls for 2 underpasses. One takes advantage of the elevated section of the rail line and South Salem Street, an improvement that will allow these 2 facilities to cross I-540. A second underpass would be created under these 2 facilities closer to Apex Barbecue Road where the natural topography drops low enough to accommodate it. Additional crossings, such as the 1 illustrated over I-540, provide important connections that enhance circulation in the town.
Other components include:
- Compact form - A compact development form makes travel by means other than automobile (such as walking, biking, or riding transit) convenient by locating complementary uses near each other. With a compact form, an average development density of 11 dwelling units per acre for residential development and an average floor area ratio of .35 for non-residential development can be achieved. Growth in Apex is occurring at a rate that makes this density feasible, and by concentrating that growth here and in other activity centers in Apex, land is utilized more efficiently and the pressure to develop the rural areas of town is greatly reduced.
- Transit facilities as an integral part of development - With the characteristics described above, development can more easily support transit. As traffic congestion worsens, access to work, shopping, and services via modes other than the automobile is increasingly important. To facilitate the use of transit in this activity center, the area could initially be developed with surface parking that, in addition to serving the development, could support park-and-ride bus transit users, since I-540 will accommodate high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes that will likely be used by express buses. Later, these lots could be converted to more intense mixed-use development with structured parking, meeting TTA’s transit station area guidelines for development densities as well as accommodating park-and-ride rail transit users. If provided, a regional rail station here would complement the transit stop proposed for downtown Apex, yet accommodate the range of uses desired for an end-of-the-line, "destination" station. The plan locates the potential station at the center of the study area as a focal point. The land within a quarter-mile of the station, which TTA calls the "core," is intended to be the more intensely developed portion of the area with a greater vertical mixture of uses than the balance of the area. Thus, most of the development is within a 5-minute walk of the station.
- Well-designed streets and streetscape - Attention to street design is critical to an attractive street system that enhances bicycle and pedestrian activity while connecting the public (street) and private (homes and businesses) realms. The streets within this area should balance pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular needs through the following characteristics:
- Wide sidewalks on both sides of each street, connected by well-marked crosswalks and other pedestrian safety features.
- Where possible, street trees to provide shade as well as aesthetic relief in a primarily man-made environment.
- Continuous "street walls" created by side-by-side building facades close to the street. Such walls, when articulated by windows, doors, awnings, and other architectural detailing, add interest and variety to the streetscape and make the street an attractive and comfortable space whose function is similar to that of a well-designed indoor space.
- On-street parking that serves multiple purposes: it provides convenient access to building entrances, buffers pedestrians on the sidewalks from vehicular traffic on the street, and calms traffic.
- Narrow streets, vehicular lanes, and curb extensions that allow street crossings to cover shorter distances, making pedestrians safer. These narrower streets also slow traffic and contribute to the pedestrian scale of outdoor spaces.
- Street and pedestrian lighting that adds to perceived safety.
- Where applicable, medians to provide for safe travel and as a pedestrian refuge.
- Buried utility lines, which should be coordinated with street tree and lighting locations to avoid conflicts.
- Metal pole and mast arm traffic signals where applicable along South Salem Street.
- Site furnishings such as benches, bus shelters, planters, and trash cans.
- Well-defined and connected pedestrian system - The pedestrian system clearly demarcates routes intended for pedestrian traffic. On or near streets, special materials such as pavers, concrete, and striping define pedestrian spaces and make drivers aware of foot traffic. While the plan’s pedestrian routes generally coincide with streets, additional connections, including mid-block walkways and greenway trails, create a more intricate system. Two critical crossings are indicated on the plan: the proposed pedestrian tunnel to the transit station from the southeast side, and the planned culvert that allows the Holland Creek greenway to pass under I-540.
- Adequate parking - The plan includes surface lots to serve current parking needs and can later be converted to structured parking and additional building space. On-street parking supplements these lots while calming traffic and serving other purposes mentioned above, including acting as a buffer between pedestrians on the sidewalks and vehicular traffic.
- Open space - Greenways supplement the pedestrian network by connecting to destinations within the area, adjacent development, and the local and regional trail systems. A regional park covers 60 acres and includes soccer, baseball, softball, tennis, and other facilities. Small parks and formal greenspaces are placed throughout the study area, as are more natural open spaces, some of which may be used for passive recreation, particularly where stream buffers will be preserved as required by the Town’s UDO. The small area plan includes roughly 160 acres of green space, which is about 32% of the total area.