Trinitas, a national developer of student housing, broke ground on Wednesday for a new site being developed over the next few months for students who are looking to live within biking distance of classes and community. Dubbed a “bicycle community,” Trinitas celebrates both the housing’s location and tailored Carolina style.
CHAPEL HILL – The Bicycle Apartments—a $20-million student-housing project less than a mile from Downtown Chapel Hill—broke ground Wednesday morning. Town leaders say it will re-invigorate the Downtown economy in more ways than one.
Meg McGurk is the executive director for the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.
“Students are such a vital part of our local economy. Having them in a well-maintained, well-managed living community right Downtown is really tremendous. It’s going to be a great impact for all of us,” McGurk said.
Trinitas Ventures LLC, a national developer of student housing communities, is backing the project. The plan is to knock-down the existing three, 2-story apartment buildings at the Central Park Apartments location at 602 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
194 apartments — or 608 units— will be built in its place. The complex was designed in compliance with the LEED accreditation system.
“This is what we call student housing by design. This is a unique property for Chapel Hill. There isn’t a complex like this yet so this is groundbreaking. This is something that is needed in our community.” McGurk said.
The property management staff will live on-site in the complex.
“We thought this would be a perfect opportunity to bring a product where we can re-develop a space and build a by-design complex that is close to the students, close to the center of campus, and close to the center of town,” said Travis Vencel, the vice president of development for Trinitas Ventures.
Aaron Nelson, the president and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, says he’s excited to bring more students closer to Downtown.
“600 students will be with-in walking distance to the center of Downtown,” Nelson said. “The businesses there are very excited about it because there will be more shoppers, more eyes on the street, and more people coming to and from campus. We’re bringing students in from other communities where they are living right now.”
Nelson says it’s a good time for Downtown Chapel Hill. 140 West, the eight-story $55 million development on Franklin Street, opened last month. The building contains 140 residences and 26,000 sq. ft. of retail.
“Downtown is in a renaissance right now,” Nelson said. “We’re getting additional housing, additional retail, and more restaurants—so it is really an exciting time for Downtown.”
The Bicycle Apartments are slated to open in 2014, just before the beginning of the school year.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/bicycle-apartments-to-bring-hundreds-of-students-closer-to-downtown-chapel-hill
In response to a letter by Snow to the Council asking why the Bicycle Apartments were not delayed further in a vote last week, Pease replied with a letter stating her personal opinions too often make way into the Town’s planning decisions.
“I don’t have an issue with any advisory board or commission member disagreeing or not agreeing to any kind of development agreement,” Pease says. “I don’t have any issue with a citizen suing somebody or the Town over a disagreement. I think those are all our rights.”
In late October, residents of Chapel Hill sued the Town over the Charterwood project—which abuts Snow’s property—after the Council approved the development in September. The lawsuit stated that the Superior Court of Orange County should review the Town’s decision and that the development would be an inconvenience to its neighbors.
Pease says as a member of the Planning Board, and especially the chair of the Board, it’s hard for him to see how she can be a part of that lawsuit.
“I’m not comfortable with not speaking up on it,” Pease says. “I think there’s an ethical line that’s been crossed. The essence of my email back to her (Monday) was to ask her to resign her position on the Planning Board.”
He says he feels it’s important to understand how far is too far.
“I don’t have an issue with any other Planning Board member unless they’re a participant in a lawsuit on a development issue against the Town,” Pease says.
Snow’s letter regarding the Bicycle Apartments stated that the Council brought up “legitimate concerns” about the project that should have been answered with “fact-based data” but instead were overlooked and the development was approved.
However, Pease stated multiple times in his response that “fact-based data” has often been a request from Snow. He says that term is often misused “by amateurs trying to sway an argument that is primarily based on their personal bias.” He added that “in our town the term has been greatly overused.”
“They use a word about not being against development, but being for smart development,” Pease says. “When I talked to them about being able to define that, I can’t get a clear definition of what they mean.”
He says these requests often don’t leave any options to further Town development.
“They don’t want our taxes raised,” Pease says. “They don’t want our services cut. But yet there’s a group in town that consistently rallies citizens and close neighborhoods to speak out against development. I can’t figure out how to have the balance in town we need.”
In late December, former council member and current Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich wrote a letter to Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt stating Snow should hand in her resignation.
Click here to read the full story.
Snow had appeared before the Board of Commissioners earlier in the month to voice her objections to the County bus and rail plan. In doing so, she identified herself as the Planning Board chair and cited the Board’s opinions on long-range transportation planning.
Rich argued this amounted to an over-reach of power, but Mayor Kleinschmidt appeared at the next Planning Board meeting to clear the air of the conversations he said were occurring through local media instead of face to face.
Mayor Kleinschmidt stated it was perfectly fine to have an opinion, and fine to credential oneself when the time is appropriate. However, he made it clear that the Planning Board is an advisory board and that the final say goes to the Council.
Click here to read the full story.
Pease says he’s had this concern for some time, but it wasn’t his place to speak up during the conversation over Snow’s visit to Orange County. He says since he wasn’t at the meeting, he didn’t have first-hand knowledge of what took place.
“I waited and this thing was festering with me,” Pease says. “The email she sent last week just kind of was the tipping point I guess. I felt I needed to speak up.”
Regardless of the Mayor’s comments and what role Snow says she is able to play on the Planning Board, Pease says he doesn’t see her performing that role properly anymore.
“I’m not at all complaining or it bothers me that we got sued,” Pease says. “That’s the right of somebody to do that. But to be part of the development process, I don’t know how somebody that’s suing us could be unbiased in future recommendations to the council and that’s where I think an ethical line’s been drawn.”
Snow was not available for comment on the matter Monday evening.
Click here to read Del Snow’s letter to the Town Council.
Click here to read Gene Pease’s response to Snow.http://chapelboro.com/news/second-public-official-says-ch-planning-board-chair-should-resign