For Sale: One Chapel Hill Library, Slightly Used

By Elizabeth Friend Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:25 am

CHAPEL HILL- Town Council members say it might be time to hand over a Chapel Hill landmark to a new owner.

“We can’t just hold on to things for nostalgia’s sake,” said Maria Palmer, talking about the building at 523 East Franklin that formerly housed the Chapel Hill Public Library.

Although it’s a striking example of modernist architecture and a repository of town history, the main floor of the building has been largely empty since 2010, as the town lacks the funds needed to perform extensive maintenance on the aging structure.

With that in mind, the Council voted unanimously last night to partner with Preservation North Carolina to identify potential buyers for the site.

The property at 523 East Franklin is under a conservation easement, meaning any new owner would be prohibited from demolishing the building or altering its appearance. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the right buyer would respect the property’s unique history.

“I think the value there is that the building itself stays, we preserve its architecture and its place,  and we find someone that can take care of it,” said Kleinschmidt.

Council members were less comfortable with the concept of selling the Old Town Hall building at the corner of Columbia and West Rosemary streets.

“For that building I think I’m going to have a really hard time, even with a preservation easement, even with working with Preservation North Carolina, in giving up a public building like that smack-dab in the middle of our downtown,” said Lee Storrow.

The Old Town Hall was constructed in 1938 and has been listed on the National Register for Historic Places since 1990. It is currently occupied by the IFC for use as a Men’s Shelter and a Community Kitchen. Once the IFC relocates to a new building on Homestead Road, the town must decide what to do with the property. Staffers estimate it would cost at least $2.5 million to renovate the space for municipal use.

But Council members balked at the idea of selling it, instead suggesting a range of possible uses including a grocery store, an innovation hub or a non-profit center.

By a unanimous vote, the Council asked the town manager to explore all possible options for the Old Town Hall building. Mayor Kleinschmidt stressed that neither property would be changing hands right away.

“I hope everybody knows, that’s not a commitment to sell. That’s authorization to talk.”

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