Town Leaders Talk Obey Creek, Glen Lennox…And Chatham Park

By Aaron Keck Posted June 22, 2014 at 7:16 pm

What is the future of development in Chapel Hill? The Chapel Hill Town Council will be making a pair of big decisions on Monday.

That’s when the Council votes on whether to approve a development agreement for the Glen Lennox neighborhood – and whether to proceed to the negotiation phase on another development in the works, Obey Creek.

See the Council’s full agenda.

Located just across 15/501 from Southern Village, the 120-acre Obey Creek site represents the next big phase of the ongoing discussion around development and redevelopment in Chapel Hill. (Since the town’s new comprehensive plan was approved in 2012, Chapel Hill has begun moving forward on several “future focus” areas, including Central West, Rosemary Street, and Ephesus/Fordham¬†as well as Glen Lennox.)

See an image of the broad vision for Obey Creek, as laid out in the “Chapel Hill 2020″ comprehensive plan.

Developer Roger Perry of East-West Partners has proposed a 1.5 million square foot development for the site, with 600-700 residential units, 327,000 square feet of retail (including a large anchor store, perhaps a ‘big box’), and a hotel. The proposed development would cover 35 of the 120 acres, with the rest conserved for public use, wilderness preservation, and a possible future school.

See the most recent development proposal.

Reaction to Perry’s proposal has been mixed, at least so far. (No surprise: the discussion process is still in the early stages.) Residents and town officials generally agree that some development ought to take place at the Obey Creek site, if only to generate more retail spending: fewer dollars are spent on retail in Orange County than in any of the surrounding counties, and that in turn forces Chapel Hill’s tax burden disproportionately onto property owners. (The Town Council, indeed, just approved a one-cent property tax increase.)

But some have objected to certain features of Perry’s proposal. Its large scale is one concern: some have proposed a smaller development, closer to 750,000 square feet than 1.5 million. (Perry has argued, in response, that a certain level of density is necessary to make the project financially viable.) Others have expressed concerns about the environmental effects, pedestrian and bike accessibility, and the impact on traffic on 15/501 (which is already busy in that area). And still others have emphasized the need to make sure that Obey Creek has a “sense of place”: aesthetically pleasing, with a real connection to Southern Village and a feeling of being Chapel Hill’s southern ‘gateway.’ (Some residents involved in the discussion have held up the East 54 development – also Perry’s – as a cautionary example in this vein: the East 54 development isn’t as inviting as it could be, they say, because drivers along Route 54 can only see the backs of the buildings.)

Last year, the Town of Chapel Hill appointed 17 residents to a committee, to study the proposal, solicit public feedback, and provide recommendations on moving forward. On December 16 of last year, the Obey Creek Compass Committee submitted its final 43-page report.

Read the Compass Committee’s report here.

Committee members say they have some concerns about the proposal that’s currently on the table, but they’re confident the disagreements can be worked out before final approval from the Town Council.

And all of these discussions are taking place in the wake of Chatham County’s recent approval of Chatham Park – a massive development that’s set to add about 60,000 residents to Pittsboro over the next three decades. (Pittsboro’s current population is about 3,000.) How that will affect development in Chapel Hill – or the entire Triangle, for that matter – remains to be seen.

Two weeks ago, WCHL’s Jim Heavner spoke at length with Roger Perry about the Obey Creek project and the state of development in Chapel Hill.

(Listen to part 1, part 2, and part 3 of that conversation.)

And last week, Aaron Keck welcomed several key town officials and Compass Committee members into the studio to talk about Obey Creek – as well as Glen Lennox, Chatham Park, and development in general in Chapel Hill.

Listen to Part 1 of Aaron’s conversation with Jeanne Brown and Susan Lindsay of the Obey Creek Compass Committee:

And Part 2:

Listen to Aaron’s conversation with Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt:

Listen to Part 1 of Aaron’s conversation with Kristen Smith of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce:

And Part 2:

Finally, listen to Aaron’s conversation with Chapel Hill Economic Development Officer Dwight Bassett:

The Town Council meets on Monday night at 5:30 in the Southern Human Services Center.

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