CHAPEL HILL – Town leaders and residents took a developer-led walking tour of the controversial Obey Creek development Wednesday morning.
Julie Richardson lives in Hundred Oaks near the site. She walked through the woods with about 15 other concerned Chapel Hillians.
“I’m not sure that we need any more retail and mixed-use spaces right now. We’ve had quite a bit of development already.” Richardson said. “I’m not sure if this end of town can handle anymore traffic. And I feel like the cost to mitigate any traffic implications for this type of development would be so expensive that the developer wouldn’t be able to cover that and certainly the town shouldn’t have to.”
Chapel Hill Town Council Member Jim Ward also took the tour to see the property, which is off 15-501 and across from Southern Village.
“I think it’s critical that you actually see the land. If you rely just on a flat, 2-D map you lose a lot of the information,” Ward said.
The original plan for the 124 acre lot called for a high density mixed-use retail and residential development.
But the developer has agreed to start from scratch in order to explore a development agreement process for the project, an alternative to the contentious Special Use Permit approval process.
Project manager Ben Perry led the tour, explaining details about the land along the way.
“There are a lot of opportunities and the development could take a lot of different paths,” Perry said. “There have been studies done in the area showing that the demand is there, not only in Chapel Hill but from Northern Chatham Counties. That will be beneficial to the Town’s tax base.”
Ward says after neighbors voiced their frustrations over a lack of public input in the process—the council gave the go ahead to compile a task force. The group will take input from the developer, residents, and town staff.
“The developer said it’s a blank slate,” Ward said. “I think that’s what’s gotten us to where we are because the developer said they were willing to start over.”
Ward says the initial concept plan is still in place. The town is currently in the exploratory stage of getting feedback—he says this process will take about half a year. Then, he says the Town and the developer will reassess how to proceed.
“We’ll have a conversation about what the challenges are and how we might— working with the developer— be able to meet those challenges,” Ward said.
But after touring the site and getting more information, Richardson was still worried.
“My assumptions have been confirmed—I think this is beautiful piece of property we should let sit for now. We don’t necessarily need to jam a lot of commercial retail here. There’s no proven fact it will improve our tax base,” Richardson said.
Another tour of the Obey Creek site is set for Saturday morning, June 1, at 10.