Chapel Hill Town Council Receives American Legion Concept Plan

Four members of the Chapel Hill Town Council said they could not vote for the concept plan to redevelop the American Legion property as it was presented to them Monday night.

“I do see traffic issues,” said councilwoman Jessica Anderson, one of the dissenting voices. “I see a huge number of apartments coming on line in this area, so I don’t see this as a great use.”

The concept plan, presented by Woodfield Investments, offers to redevelop the 36-acre site.

Concept plans are ways for developers to get nonbinding feedback from the council before submitting a formal proposal.

The redevelopment would include an approximately 50,000-100,000 sq. ft. office building, a 50,000 sq. ft. mixed use space building and two 4-story multi-family buildings with a total 400 units.

There is also a proposal for a new street through the site, between Legion Road and Ephesus Church Road.

“There’s nothing that really gets anyone excited,” said councilman George Cianciolo. “I hope that whenever we see this again that there’s a little more of that wow factor. A little something people can look at and say ‘wow, I’d be proud to say that’s in Chapel Hill.'”

Woodfield Investments agreed to purchase the property in January of 2016, but the property has been controversial since the town passed on the opportunity to buy the property in late 2015.

Woodfield initially agreed to pay $10 million for the property, but the price was dropped to $9 million because the proposal submitted earlier this summer was different than the original plans for the area.

American Legion representative Nick Cervantes urged the council to accept Woodfield’s application.

“I want to have an impact like I did in the military,” he said. “Woodfield has allowed us to have more options. We don’t have the funds to sustain what we have. Our property is degrading.”

Council members expressed a number of concerns with the proposal, including traffic issues, impact on the surrounding area and lack of commercial space.

Councilman Ed Harrison, a dissenting voice along with Anderson, councilwoman Nancy Oates and mayor Pam Hemminger, said he didn’t want to lose the green space that property provides.

“There are a whole lot of trails there that volunteers were allowed to work on and build,” he said. “There’s a whole lot more trails in there that would be destroyed, by any plan I’m seeing today and that’s a damn shame.”

In order to move forward with development, Woodfield will have to submit a proposal, which will be reviewed by staff before heading to the appropriate boards for consideration.

American Legion Development Proposal Set for Chapel Hill Town Council Review

A controversial project will go before the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday night.

The proposed development bringing commercial space, apartments and a larger park space to the 36-acre Legion Property on Legion Drive in Chapel Hill has been a hot-button topic since early 2016.

The concept plan put forward by Woodfield Investments calls for a maximum of 400 apartment units on the property along with commercial space and enhancing the current park designated on the Ephesus-Church side of the property.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger described the plan being put forward Monday night as a “preliminary concept” that has already gone before the town’s Community Design Commission. Hemminger added that many council members attended that meeting to get an initial feel for the site and any potential concerns.

Hemminger said Monday’s presentation will allow an opportunity for the developer to gather feedback from town leadership.

“We listen to citizens; we listen to the applicant; we listen to whoever wants to speak and then council gives some of their ideas, concerns, direction, whatever,” Hemminger said. “And then the applicant takes that information and goes back and can either submit an application or not. And we never know how that’s going to work after a concept plan review.

“I think there’s a lot of interest and concern on both sides from the concept that we’ve seen so far.”

Hemminger said it is important to consider the entire Ephesus-Fordham area when making a decision about what fits into that portion of Chapel Hill.

The original ideas for the property called for 600 apartments and came with a $10 million price tag. The scaled-back proposal was officially submitted earlier in the summer and brought the price down to $9 million.

Some community members have raised concern about more apartments coming to the area on the property – which is one of the last large parcels of undeveloped land in the area – and are calling for town leadership to purchase the property and develop the entire space as a park.

There will be opportunity for public comment at Monday night’s meeting, which is scheduled to begin at seven o’clock at Chapel Hill Town Hall.

American Legion Development Proposal Goes Before Chapel Hill Community Design Commission Tuesday Night

A scaled-back version of the original development plans for the American Legion property will go before Chapel Hill’s Community Design Commission on Tuesday.

The concept plan, which was submitted by Woodfield Investments on July 26, calls for a maximum of 400 multifamily units – down from 600 originally – on the approximately 36-acre property.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said the proposal was adjusted after community feedback.

The site has been a point of contention in the community since early 2016, when the original plans were being discussed. Community members have been divided between those supporting the plan to develop the land and those calling for the town to purchase the property and utilize the entire property as park space.

The previous version of the Chapel Hill Town Council voted in 2015 to forego the town’s right of first refusal to purchase the property for $9 million.

The proposal documents say that Woodfield has been in “ongoing discussions with the Town” regarding the potential development of the property. The development company also held a community meeting in January to allow citizens to voice any concerns they had of the development plan.

Hemminger said the scaled-back plans may not be enough for some Chapel Hillians to embrace the project.

“It scales back, [but] I think people were still hoping that there was an opportunity for something completely different,” Hemminger said. “I don’t know what that looks like.”

Hemminger said she was “interested” to see the presentation Tuesday night after the concept plan was submitted earlier in the summer.

Hemminger added the town staff had been busy over the summer collecting data including a needs assessment, the regulating plan for the area and other information. She said that means the Town Council will be very informed when the plan is presented to the council in September.

“By the time the council meets and sees this proposal itself,” Hemminger said, “we’ll have more information and a better grasp on what’s actually going on over on that side of town.”

The Community Design Commission meeting Tuesday night is scheduled for Town Hall at 6:30 and is open to the public.

Developer Submits Proposal for American Legion Property

The proposed developers of the American Legion site have submitted a scaled-back version of original plans to the Town of Chapel Hill.

The concept plan, which was submitted by Woodfield Investments on July 26, calls for a maximum of 400 multifamily units – down from 600 originally – on the approximately 36-acre property.

The site has been a point of contention in the community since early 2016, when the original plans were being discussed. Community members have been divided between those supporting the plan to develop the land and those calling for the town to purchase the property and utilize the entire property as park space.

Site plan for American Legion property. Photo via Memorandum of Understanding.

Original site plan for American Legion property. Photo via Memorandum of Understanding.

The previous version of the Chapel Hill Town Council voted in 2015, before newly elected officials were sworn into office, to forego the town’s right of first refusal to purchase the property for $9 million. The timing of the vote was to respond within a required 60-day window, according to the memorandum of understanding.

The proposal documents say that Woodfield has been in “ongoing discussions with the Town” regarding the potential development of the property. The development company also held a community meeting in January to allow citizens to voice any concerns they had of the development plan.

The concept plan paperwork attributed the drop in maximum units directly to feedback from the community meeting. The proposal says the two existing buildings and the pond on the site will be removed due to poor conditions. The plan then calls for a stormwater facility “that would be built to current standards” as a replacement.

The plans say office space will be placed along Legion Road in the new design in an effort to match the office space directly across the roadway from the Legion property.

The site would then have “Garden Style Apartments” in the center of the development with the back of the site hosting a space to be used for flex purposes, including a civic center.

The developers also say the new plan commits approximately 25 percent of the property to “open space, stream buffers and trails.”

Officials say the new development will offer an “improved trail network within the existing adjacent park and the American Legion property.” The developer also said it would work with the town to “compliment, enhance and activate the current park” already designated on the Ephesus-Church side of the property.

In addition to the 304 proposed dwelling units – with a maximum option of 400 – totaling approximately 400,000 square feet, the plans also call for 50,000 – 100,000 square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of flex space. The proposal says “Woodfield is committed to working with the Town to find a suitable mix to increase housing affordability in Chapel Hill, including ways to promote housing for teachers, police officers, fire men, and other Town employees.” Beyond that, no specifics were presented in the concept plan.

The developers say the area could serve as a space for “entrepreneurs looking to promote and support innovation and spin-off businesses of the University,” in addition to being utilized by UNC or UNC Health Care for office space.

Woodfield has also started conversations with the YMCA as a potential use on the Legion site, according to the documents.

Members of the American Legion went before the Town Council at its June meeting to ask for the council to rezone the property to allow the sale to go forward.

The plans are now scheduled to go before the Community Design Commission on August 23 at 6:30 in the evening. The plans are preliminarily scheduled to go before the Town Council at its September 19 meeting.

The Big Little Secret About the Legion Road Site

When Chapel Hill’s American Legion Post 6 announced they were selling their land on Legion Road to Woodfield Properties, who plans to build apartment homes and offices for young professionals on the site, the same gaggle of people who have invested decades in opposing changes to Chapel Hill’s landscape predictably rose up to protest this one.

Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey

As a part of their campaign to block the project, they’ve been drumming up support for the idea that if we simply get the town council to refuse to rezone the property, Chapel Hill can itself buy the American Legion and build a new park on the site instead. Better still, they argue, the town can buy the land from the American Legion for less than half of the $10-million that Woodfield Properties has agreed to pay for it, since denying the rezoning would make the property worth less money.

There are two details opponents of the Legion Road project conveniently are failing to tell you when they pitch the idea of a park.

First, Woodfield has already agreed to build a park on the eastern portion of the property that the entire community could use.  So, it’s not a choice between “luxury apartments” or a park.  It’s a chance to have homes for young professionals and a great new park, a park that would come at no cost to Chapel Hill taxpayers.

But there’s an even bigger little secret Chapel Hill’s anti-growth advocates don’t want you to discover: The American Legion’s property is already zoned for residential construction of 144 single family homes.  That means if the American Legion gets tired of town leaders dragging their feet on Woodfield’ proposal and simply want to cash out now, they could sell their land to a different developer to build 144 single family homes on the site, no rezoning required.

Do you think that new developer is going to build cute little starter homes for us working families?  Don’t count on it.  They’ll build 144 McMansions, homes that could easily cost half a million dollars each given the dynamics of the Chapel Hill housing market.

Unlike the apartments and offices Woodfield has in mind, those 144 McMansions won’t pay commercial property tax.  In fact, single-family suburban homes are the most expensive style of homes a town can have with the least value in return.  Sustainable Prosperity estimates each single family home costs a city two and a half times more in services such as water and sewer, roads and public transportation, police and fire services, libraries and schools, than do the city-styled multi-family homes Woodfield has in mind.

Unlike the young professionals Woodfield’s homes and office space would bring back to Chapel Hill, those 144 McMansions would attract wealthy families, probably right before their kids start kindergarten.  Good luck finding room for all those new trailers at Ephesus Elementary. (For the record, the school system prefers to call them “cabins.”)

Worst of all, for my neighbors who are genuinely excited by the prospect of a new park on Legion Road, town leaders won’t have the leverage to demand the public park that Woodfield has already said they’d give us for free, since those 144 McMansions won’t require rezoning.

For the record, I am neither for nor against Woodfield Property’s proposed project for the American Legion site.  Given that they haven’t submitted an application to the town at the time, there’s not yet a proposal to support or oppose. What I do oppose are efforts to mislead my neighbors about the best way we can get a new park simply because being “pro-park” sounds better than being “anti-apartment.” The fact is, our best shot at getting more park space on our side of town is to encourage town leaders to work collaboratively with Woodfield Properties to create the park they’ve already promised to create.

When someone tells you we have a choice between “luxury apartments” or a new public park, remember the real choice Chapel Hill faces:  We could have much needed homes and offices for young professionals and a great new park, or we could have 144 Luxury McMansions and no park at all.

The choice is yours, Chapel Hill.


— Matt Bailey

Parks Provide Many Economic Benefits

How do public parks economically benefit a growing town?

Let us count the ways:

First, residences near high-quality, well-maintained parks increase in value relative to similar properties located farther away, with the added value typically being around 15% for the properties closest to the park. This increased home value translates into increased property tax revenue for the municipality.

David Schwartz

David Schwartz

Second, high-quality parks attract not only local users but also visitors from out-of-town who spend money on food and other purchases, which yield sales tax revenue to the municipality.

Parks also provide residents with various kinds of direct savings. For example, residents’ use of free public parkland and free or low-cost recreational opportunities saves residents’ from having to pay for these amenities in the private marketplace.

A harder to measure, but equally important, form of savings is the increased community cohesion parks and other public gathering places support. This increased community cohesion helps ward off antisocial problems associated with urbanization that otherwise would cost the city more in police and fire protection, prisons, counseling, and rehabilitation.

Finally, parks provide ecological services that generate environmental savings, such as retention of rainfall by the park’s vegetation and soil, which reduces the need for costly stormwater management infrastructure.

Given the many and substantial economic benefits associated with parks, it is unfortunate that the previous Mayor and Town Council last fall passed up the opportunity to purchase the 36-acre American Legion property and that they instead sanctioned Town staff’s efforts to interest a developer of luxury apartments in acquiring the site.

The new Mayor and Town Council now have an opportunity to remedy the situation. They and Town staff should work with the Legion Post members to come up with a plan for the property that meets both the Post’s need for a larger, more modern facility and the Town’s need for expanded parkland and recreation opportunities. The developer with whom the Legion has signed a contract builds only market rate apartments, which the town does not need, so it is not the ideal partner for this collaboration. Fortunately there are other, more suitable developers waiting in the wings who will happy to step up if given a chance.


— David Schwartz


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Memorial Day Celebrations at American Legion

The veterans and members of the community gathered at the American Legion Post 6 in Chapel Hill on Monday to commemorate local soldiers who gave their lives in service of their country.

The Memorial Day ceremonies in Chapel Hill began on Saturday, as members of the American Legion, the VFW, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts placed flags on the graves of veterans at the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery.

Robert Medred, opened a ceremony at the American Legion building on Monday, reminding everyone the reason behind the holiday.

“Today, we remember and honor those active duty military who died in the service of their country during all American wars and conflicts or while on active duty,” said Medred.

The event also featured music, food and showcased artifacts from military history, including papers from the Pearl Harbor attacks and military equipment.

The American Legion is an organization that works to help unite veterans and support military members leaving the service.

Wreath honoring veterans (Photo by Chris Grunert)

Wreath honoring veterans (Photo by Chris Grunert)

There are 790,000 vets in North Carolina, according to Carolina Demography, which represents about 9.8 percent of the state’s adult population.

Pearl Maynor read the poem, “In Flander’s Field “, a popular military poem in honor of her son. She said even after her son’s passing she still help support the American Legion.

“My faith in God hasn’t weakened one minute, because I know there are many, many more boys and girls out there, fighting for us, for our lives and for our safety,” said Maynor.

Memorial Day began as a dedication day after the Civil War, where graves of soldiers would be honored. The first official Memorial Day was observed in 1971.

The event concluded with a two bell ceremony, a navy tradition, to honor local soldiers who passed away.

Veterans are especially important to our state; North Carolina has the fourth largest military population in the country.

Military vehicles on display (Photo by Chris Grunert)

Military vehicles on display (Photo by Chris Grunert)

The American Legion property is for sale, which has been the focus of recent debate. An offer from Woodfield has been made for the $10 million property. Town residents have voiced concern about development on the property but the town passed on an opportunity to purchase the property.

On Memorial Day, American Legion Remembers Fallen Vets

This Monday, the American Legion Post 6 in Chapel Hill will commemorate local soldiers who gave their lives in service of their country.

Memorial Day ceremonies in Chapel Hill began on Saturday, as members of the American Legion, the VFW, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts placed flags on the graves of veterans at the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery. On Monday at 8 am, the Legion will hold a short ceremony at the cemetery, followed by a memorial service at 11 am at Post 6 on Legion Road. After the service, the Legion will hold an open house, featuring live music at 12:30 by the Chapel Hill Village Band.

Lee Heavlin of the American Legion spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck about the ceremonies, the Legion’s work, and the larger meaning of Memorial Day.


For more information about the American Legion, visit

Reply to Matt Bailey

Recently, Matt Bailey, a fan of luxury apartments on the American Legion property asked, “Where were all these park lovers before January?”

Charles Humble

Charles Humble

We were all around you, Matt.  Our desire for a park on the Legion property was expressed clearly in the Comprehensive Parks Plan adopted in 2013.  That same year the 2020 Comprehensive Plan was approved with its own reference to a park in this area.  The former Mayor and the current Town Manager should have held an open discussion about creating this park.   Last spring the Legion property had an R-2 zoning and an appraised value of $2.4 million.  That much and even more could have been included in the recently passed bond measure.   This possibility was not raised by town officials.

Instead, town staff met behind closed doors with a developer; then they met behind closed doors with Council. No one talked to the public about the need to move sooner, not later, on any plans for a park.  The resulting proposal from the developer called for up to 600 luxury residential units – in a town that already has an approved 20-year supply of over 5,000 units.  The first the public heard of this was in January and hundreds showed up to express our concerns.

Mr. Bailey also suggested that we “newly minted park advocates” are really more interested in “keeping 600 new neighbors out of Chapel Hill.”  Not true, Matt: we already expect more than 5,000 new neighbors in the next 20 years.  An example of a new luxury development is close by on Elliot Road.  Drop by – you can’t miss it.  Meanwhile, we actually need affordable housing.  And we need ALL future development decisions to be informed by the traffic and storm water studies that will not be finished until late this year.


— Charles Humble

How Chapel Hill Can Get a New Park for FREE

How Chapel Hill Can Get a New Park for FREE

When the American Legion Post 6 announced it was selling its land on Legion Road for $10-million to a company that wants to build 600 apartment homes geared toward young professionals, some Chapel Hillians urged the town to buy the land—for $10-million—to create a new park instead.

American Legion Post 6

American Legion Post 6 (Photo by Blake Hodge)

From New York’s Central Park to Munich’s Englischer Garten, at the heart of the world’s greatest cities you’ll frequently find a grand public park. Undoubtedly, a public park would greatly improve the east side of Chapel Hill.  Currently a collection of disjointed suburban subdivisions, the east side could use a real community gathering space.

Before we talk parks, let’s review the history of this particular potential park site:

  • In 2005, Chapel Hill had their eye on the American Legion’s 36-acre home for a potential new school. The Legion, which didn’t want to move from its home since 1961, struck a deal with the town to take their land off the “Future School Site” list in exchange for first dibs if Post 6 ever did sell it.
  • In 2014, Post 6 announced it was exploring selling. Nationwide, the American Legion has been struggling financially and is seeking ways to adapt to serve today’s new generation of veterans as wonderfully as it has served past generations. Frankly, they need the money.
  • In 2015, Post 6 told the town it was selling its property to Woodfield Acquisitions for $10-million unless the town wanted to match the offer. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ superintendent Tom Forcella told town leaders the school district no longer wanted the land and, “we have over $160 million in currently identified projects that are our priority.” After consulting our checkbook and our other priorities, the council voted unanimously not to buy Post 6.

The buyer, Woodfield Acquisitions, wants to build 600 new apartment homes, office space, and retail on the site.  At a community forum hosted by Woodfield in January, Mayor Pam Hemminger urged citizens to not simply say what they don’t want, but instead to say what they do want.

“We want a park,” one resident shouted.

When Mayor Hemminger said the town doesn’t have $10-million dollars, another resident offered 50-bucks. Since then, the town council has received several dozen emails urging the town to find a way—and the $10-million—to buy the land and turn it into a park, an option the town may not legally have.

With that background in mind, there is a fundamental question town leaders need to ask about this particular wave of park advocacy.

Where were all these park lovers before January?

The Legion has been exploring selling their land since 2014. Why weren’t any of these park supporters down at town hall advocating buying the land back then?

The town already owns land on Legion Road worth over $2-million that it’s giving away to DHIC Inc., a Raleigh-based not-for-profit, to build reduced rent apartments for economically challenged residents—a project I wholeheartedly support.  If so many people really want a new park, however, why didn’t anyone suggest Chapel Hill use that land for the park before we gave it away?

As council member Donna Bell noted, “People spent so much time coming up with a list of things on [the list of] parks and rec priorities,” and, “this was not listed as one of [those] priorities.”

I can’t help but notice that this interest in a new park sprung up at the moment someone proposed new apartment homes.  Maybe I’m just too cynical about some Chapel Hillians’ aversion to new neighbors.  Maybe people really have awoken to the great benefit a park could have for our east side community.  As someone who lives within walking distance, I know I’d benefit tremendously from a new park close to home.

If we’re truly excited about a new park for our side of town, here’s how we can get one for FREE:  Let the developer create the style of homes that will attract young professionals on the Legion Road side of the property across from Europa Center’s five-story office building, in exchange for giving us land for a new park on the other side of the land next to Ephesus Park. Such a park would be a great opportunity to create walking trails that connect to existing neighborhoods so the whole area could share the land.  The new park could include a pond where the community could gather around that could also help with storm water in the area.  The east side could finally have our community gathering place—and we could get it for FREE instead of $10-million.

Don’t think a developer will go for it?  Woodfield has stated that they’re open to this idea. In fact, they already agreed to parts of it in exchange for the town not buying the land.  The project will be subject to Chapel Hill’s exhaustively comprehensive and lengthy Special Use Permit (SUP) process, which gives the town tremendous leverage to negotiate public amenities in exchange for approving new homes.

Perhaps I’m Pollyannaish, but just once, couldn’t this town at least try being positive and collaborative before we become negative and combative?

History suggests newly minted park advocates won’t go for the proactive approach.  Let’s be real.  The $10-million of your tax money isn’t about bringing a new park to Chapel Hill. The $10-million is about keeping 600 new neighbors out of Chapel Hill.

I just wish people had enough respect for the community-building power a public park could have for the east side to stop using it as a political pawn.


— Matt Bailey