Plans to redevelop the Lincoln Center have been under consideration by the Chapel Hill Town Council since 2015, but enough votes were garnered in a recent meeting to put those plans into action.
Dr. Todd LoFrese, an assistant superintendent with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, appeared before council members on Monday to elaborate on projected enrollment for the updated campus.
“We are anticipating the enrollment of 250 students,” he announced. “They are not all arriving at the same time, and so we’ve tried to approximate what we think in terms of the number of students that would be arriving and departing at the different arrival windows.”
The numbers presented by LoFrese led council members to ruminate on whether establishing a centralized preschool at the Lincoln Center would adversely affect the flow of traffic in its vicinity.
Before voting on a special use permit that would allow for redevelopment to commence, Council Member George Cianciolo claimed that traffic studies on the matter may be futile.
“My concern is that a traffic impact study six months later isn’t necessarily going to address that issue,” he admitted. “The issue is really going to be one potentially several years down the road as there’s more traffic on Merritt Mill [Road].”
In lieu of endorsing those studies, Cianciolo asked LoFrese whether a turn lane situated along the southwestern approach of South Merritt Mill Road would address potential problems before they arise.
“It not only would provide some ability to queue cars if necessary, but it also would take cars out of the through lane and the impact they would have on through traffic while they’re making that right turn,” he explained. “My question is, ‘Would the school consider doing the right-turn lane now and getting the issue done and over with?'”
LoFrese responded in the affirmative, but went onto request that the school district be excused from having to conduct a traffic study in six months for special use permit compliance.
“If that would get this done and over with, I think we’d agree with that,” he offered. “What I’d like to then ask, however, is, ‘Do we need to then continue to do a traffic study?'”
This round of haggling led to a compromise in which the district would pay for the construction of that lane in exchange for only having to perform a traffic study at the request of the town manager.
After brokering that deal and consulting with the town attorney, council members cleared the final barrier to redeveloping the Lincoln Center by approving the special use permit for the campus.
The permit was approved in a 6-to-1 vote, with Council Member Maria Palmer objecting on grounds that the preschool may be inaccessible to families that do not own motor vehicles.
“I decided that I cannot support this project because I cannot support the first finding; it says that, ‘We find that this site is located, designed, and proposed to be operated so as to maintain or promote the public health, safety, and general welfare,” she declared.
With its redevelopment having been approved, the Lincoln Center will undergo renovations to accommodate for a district preschool and the expansion of Phoenix Academy, which will remain on campus.
Museum space will also be designated for artifacts from the years in which the center was an all-black high school, with oversight being given to the Lincoln Alumni Association.
Render provided by Town of Chapel Hill.