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

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.

Economic Development Causing Growing Pains For Chapel Hill

Community leaders agree that we want to grow as community in a way that promotes economic expansion and sustainability, but we are running out of space to do so.

The populations of Chapel Hill and the campus of UNC are increasing, and with growth comes inevitable change. The task at hand is to decide how to have development happen across the town in a way that serves the community, but many disagree about the best approach.

Aaron Nelson, President & CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, says he is fully in favor of embracing redevelopment.

“I think a lot of the future will be in redevelopment. If we are going to protect the green stuff out there, we are going to have to redevelop the stuff within our municipal boundaries or begin talking about getting into the rural buffer,” Nelson says.

Nelson has been a supporter of the proposed plan to revitalize the area surrounding the Ephesus-Fordham intersection, which includes vacant lots, confusing intersections, and traffic tie-ups.

That plan is causing conflict within the community, with many residents pushing back against the proposed redevelopment, arguing that the process is moving too fast. The Council delayed taking a formal vote on the plan Wednesday evening.

Julie McClintock, President of the Friends of Bolin Creek and a former Chapel Hill Town Council member, has been outspoken about her opposition to the current state of the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment.

“The fact is that what is so fascinating about everyone of these so-called focus group processes is the citizens have gotten well informed and have pointed out to the council that we need to be more comprehensive. I mean, you cannot just look at the traffic in the Ephesus-Fordham intersection. You have got to look at the entire 15-501 corridor,” McClintock says. “I would really fault the Planning Board of the Town of Chapel Hill. Why do we employ planners if they aren’t to plan comprehensively?”

McClintock also served as a member of the Central West Steering Committee, the group that was tasked with formulating a plan for the future redevelopment along Estes Dr.

Central West, like Ephesus-Fordham, is one of the several focus areas designated for redevelopment in the Chapel 2020 plan, a strategy the Town developed with a hope of formulating a vision for growth for Chapel Hill.

That is where McClintock says she believes that this approach is not living up to expectations.

“I would say that we don’t have an economic development strategy, and we need to get one. I think the Town is in crisis. Fiscally, we have unfunded transit, unfunded houses, unfunded roads. We are in trouble. We need a strategy to get out of this mire,”  McClintock says.

Michael Parker, Chair of the Town Transportation Board, co-chaired the Central West Steering Committee. For more than 10 months, members of the group argued about issues such as how much density was appropriate for the area.

Parker says he felt that the Town Council should have been more specific about what it wanted from the Central West Steering Committee, saying that they spent a lot of time “wandering in the desert.”

After dozens of long, contentious meetings, the group ultimately produced a small area plan which was approved by the Council in November of last year.

As far as the Ephesus-Fordham Redevelopment Plan, Parker says it makes sense for the town.

“Until you take a proactive stance, until the town is willing and to say, ‘These are the things that we want, and we are going to do the things that will make it possible for those things to happen,’ we will be the recipients of things that we very often do not care for and then will have to scramble and struggle to make things right,” Parker says.

On the subject of the effectiveness of these focus groups, David Schwartz, a researcher for the N.C.Botanical Garden, says that Town leaders should consider the bigger picture.

“The small area planning processes are occurring now where you have each area being addressed in isolation from the others. We end up reinventing the wheel, or each area plan not taking into account what is being considered in the other areas, and why it may make more sense to do something integrated across the entire town,” Schwartz says.

Locally-Owned Vs. National Chains

As redevelopment plans are in the works across Chapel Hill, new businesses will move in.

Nelson says the Town should aim to support locally-owned business for a healthy locally economy, but added that national chains draw in consumers which benefit surrounding stores as well. He shared that downtown Chapel Hill was about 80 percent locally owned and operated business and 20 percent national chains.

McClintock says she feared that the Town could loose its character if too many national chains moved in.

Nelson says that Orange County residents have the highest per capita income in the state, but the county is ranked 65th in per capita retail sales—so we are spending our money somewhere else. He says that in order to change this, retail brought into our area should be tailored to serve the population, not excluding big box stores.

All agreed that job creation and a strong transit system were key factors in economic prosperity.

Schwartz, McClintock, Parker, and Nelson made those comments during the “Economic Development” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum. To hear the full discussion, click here.

Town Council Unanimously Approves Central West Plan

CHAPEL HILL- Thirty meetings, ten months, seven community outreach sessions and $230,000 worth of consultant fees- that’s what it took for a 17-member committee to craft the Central West small area plan, which outlines future development near the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Susana Dancy was one of more than a dozen speakers on Tuesday who asked the Chapel Hill Town Council to support the committee’s plan.

“I believe the steering committee has produced a small area plan that is both forward-looking and realistic,” Dancy told the council. “It reveals significant compromises that defer to neighborhood concerns.”

The Central West plan calls for three- to five-story buildings with retail, office and a mix of uses along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard tapering to smaller residential development along Estes Drive.

Committee co-chair Amy Ryan said the group scaled down the plan following a community feedback session in September.

“We heard back loud and clear that this is too big and too dense,” said Ryan. “So when we came back and worked up the final Central West plan, you’ll see that our numbers have gone down considerably. We did hear that it was time to pull back.”

Still, some area residents were displeased with the committee’s final result, saying it will bring too much traffic to the already congested roads and threaten ecologically sensitive regions. David Tuttle served on the committee, but he said he said he could not support the committee’s plan.

“We strongly disagree with this picture that high density is needed to save our neighborhoods,” said Tuttle.

He and other neighbors offered what they dubbed a lower-density “alternate plan“, along with a 260-signature petition asking the council to study development impacts on traffic, stormwater control and the cost of town services.

Instead, the Council voted unanimously to adopt the committee’s plan, though they asked that the alternate plan be acknowledged in the official documents.

Although Council members said the Central West small area plan offered a balance between growth potential and neighborhood preservation, some worried it was too narrow in scope.

Early next year the Council will consider shifting the focus from planning small sections of town to wider studies of traffic and the economic impact of growth.

MLK And Estes Drive Residents Pan Central West Plan

CHAPEL HILL- More than 200 people came out Monday night to voice their concerns about the draft plan for the future of the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“I am not against development,” Chris Hakkenberg told the council. “I am however stridently opposed to the aggressive and myopic plans that have carried the day thus far in the Central West process.”

“I feel like in some respects, this is a size nine foot going into a size six shoe,” said Elaine Marcus.

“This plan, in short, is not ready for prime time,” said Alan Tom.

The three were among nearly thirty speakers at the public hearing, most of whom criticized the small area plan created by the Central West Steering Committee.

The 17-member committee was convened nearly a year ago, and since them the group has met more than 30 times and hosted 10 public outreach sessions prior to submitting the small area plan.

The plan lays out potential land uses for the 97 acre area, calling for a mix of commercial development and housing in three to five story buildings along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, with the density and building height decreasing along Estes Drive.

The plan also focuses on the need for bike and pedestrian pathways to access the two nearby schools. The committee recommends widening Estes to five lanes at the intersection with Martin Luther King, but tapering down to two lanes for much of the length of the road.

Amy Ryan, Town Council candidate and co-chair of the Central West Committee, said the improvements could mean less traffic at the intersection even with more drivers on the road.

“What they are telling us is that the level of service in morning and evening are not worse than they are today, and in some cases will be improved with some of the mitigations,” said Ryan. “The delay times are generally at a minute or less at peak times.”

The plan was approved by a two-thirds majority vote by the committee, but a small minority rejected the plan, saying it was too dense, with too few details on the possible impacts of growth.

But Ryan argued that’s not what the process was meant to produce.

“Our job was not to produces a specific site design for this area,” said Ryan. “Rather it was our job to have a vision for positive change.”

Residents opposed to the work of the committee have circulated a lower-density citizen’s plan, as well as a petition asking that the council vote to adopt the plan be delayed indefinitely.

And some on the council, including Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison, seemed inclined to consider the request.

“If it does take longer, it should take longer,” said Harrison. “This discounts none of the work of the committee, which I think has been excellent and the citizen’s plan as well is a nice piece of work. But I just want to say that right now I am willing to extend the time if that’s what it takes.”

Nonetheless, council member Gene Pease told the assembled crowd the town faces tough choices about growth and taxes in the near future. He asked residents to make room for commercial development.

“I don’t know the answer, except we have to accept some commercial,” said Pease. “You’ve been trying to define it with your citizen’s plan, the committee’s trying to define it, but we have to find some way to find some middle ground or our taxes are going to continue to go up services will be cut and we will be pushing out the people that create a diverse community. This will become a bedroom community if we’re not careful.”

The Central West plan goes to the Town Planning Board for evaluation before returning to the Town Council for consideration on November 25.

Central West On Track To Present CH Planning Board

CHAPEL HILL – The Central West Steering Committee is on track to present its drafted plan to the Chapel Hill Planning Board next Tuesday. The group, which is disposed to having disagreements, decided to schedule an additional meeting Monday, though all the members won’t be present.

Committee member Sarah McIntee said she wanted to spend more time working out important details that were not addressed fully in the plan.

“I think this is a good start, but it is not finished. I think that putting a stamp on it would be premature,” McIntee said.

The committee’s looming deadline is November 25, when it will present final recommendations to the Chapel Hill Town Council for approval.

Since December of 2012, the committee has worked to craft its vision for future mixed-use development in the area, which is near the intersection of Estes Dr. and Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd. Recommendations in the detailed plan include uses and heights for the proposed development and suggestions for bicycle and pedestrian amenities.

Chapel Hillian Blair Pollock said during the public comment period that he was pleased with the provision for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“I’m really excited and happy to see that on the north side of Estes, there’s a plan for a wider path for non-motorized transportation.” Pollock said.

The committee made revisions to the draft on Tuesday evening in the sections dealing with streetscapes, transportation, and storm water management.

Before getting into the minutia of the meeting, the committee took time to read the draft and then gave feedback.

Julie McClintock, who has been vocal about her frustration with the process, said she believed that the transportation section, which in part discusses development and its impact on traffic in the area, won’t be completed or adequately addressed by Tuesday.

“I know the staff is doing the best they can, but this is an artificially imposed deadline, and we can’t really do a good job, a thoughtful job.” McClintock said.

Town staff said that more in-depth traffic analysis would be incorporated into the plan next week.

McClintock added that she did think that the draft had progressed and that it laid a good framework for moving forward.

Development and its relationship with storm water management has been a contested topic over which many community members have voiced concerns.

Town Planner Megan Wooley said that section of the plan was reviewed by the Town’s storm water management division. She said adjustments were made for practical purposes between stringent regulations and realistic expectations.

Committee member David Tuttle said he would rather “step up” storm water infrastructure, given the flash flooding that swept through Chapel Hill this summer.

The group agreed to meet again Monday at 3 p.m. at a location still to be determined. It will then present its recommendations to the Planning Board Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. in the Public Works Building 2 on Millhouse Road.

Central West Committee To Finalize Planning Board Draft Tuesday

CHAPEL HILL – Tuesday is likely the last time the Central West Steering Committee will meet before going before the Chapel Hill Planning Board to present a completed set of recommendations.

Last week, members of the Planning Board said that they were pleased with the drafted plan, but asked committee Co-Chairs Amy Ryan and Michael Parker for more clarification on several issues.

The recommendations included uses and heights for proposed mixed-use development in the area which is near the intersection of Estes Dr. and Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd. It also included suggestions for bicycle and pedestrian amenities.

The work of the Central West Steering Committee has not been easy since it was undertaken in December of 2012, and at times, the meetings have been contentious.

Four members have formed their own unofficial subgroup and have said they can’t endorse the “official” plan. The group presented their revised map to the Planning Board last Tuesday during the public input session, which included what they called a more in-depth traffic analysis. They believed it better explained how the development could impact the neighborhood. The group also presented a report summarizing what they believed to be the shortcomings of the official plan.

The committee meets Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. in the Town’s Transit Building on Millhouse Road.

Central West Stalled

CHAPEL HILL – The Central West Steering Committee has 12 days to present its plan to the Planning Board, and not a single item in the plan has a consensus agreement.

The action item for Thursday night’s meeting of the Committee was to see which items in the plan—which has been discussed since January—could be agreed on. The first motion to vote on an item was finally called more than two hours into the meeting. A representative of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Board, Jared Simmons, motioned that the committee vote on the bike and ped plans that had been discussed, which he said he believed the group agreed on.

After close to ten minutes of discussion, the motion got lost, and co-chair Amy Ryan asked the Chapel Hill Police Department’s staff legal adviser, Matt Sullivan—who was brought in to be a facilitator of the meeting—to get the meeting on track.

“We have this meeting and the next meeting before we have to go to the Planning Board, and we have to bring them something,” Ryan said. “I’m hoping to bring them decisions, not just ‘these are things we’re thinking about’. So, if you could help us, maybe, move forward with that.”

“Well, I think he’s actually moving in the right direction,” Sullivan said.

More discussion ensued and the motion was removed with a different motion to make the bike/ped portion of the plan an agenda item for discussion at the committee’s next meeting.

With only 15 minutes left in the meeting before the committee had to allow for ten minutes of public discussion and adjourning, the second motion was called by land owner, Whit Rummel.

“I would like to make a motion that we accept the performance-based standards for traffic on development…on the basis that David and the staff can come up with a feasible way of approaching it,” Rummel said.

David Bonk is the town’s long range and transportation planning manager. He took time to explain that the performance-based standards are industry standards for these situations, and still the committee could not agree to vote on the item. Despite nearly reaching a vote, that item too got pushed to the next meeting with the request for more information from town officials.

Before opening the floor to public comments, Sullivan told the committee he is confident that it can come up with some items on which the members agree.

“I think it would be a shame that you invested all this time, energy, and effort to have it flounder,” Sullivan said.

A major hold-up for the committee is that there are now six proposals on the table for it to work on. The fifth map was presented last week by a group that expressed its items of concern were not being heard. That proposal was presented to the group Thursday and received mixed opinion.

The co-chairs of the committee also took the past week to meet one-on-one with almost every individual of the group to discuss the issues. The chairs then put the discussion together into a map, which the committee realized at the meeting ended up being a combination of concept A2 and B2. Both those concepts were heavily disliked by the committee.

*Update: Co-chair Ryan told WCHL on Friday that the goal of the one-on-one meetings was not to pick and choose what items from the four A and B concept plans were the best, but instead to just name the areas of concern and what they wanted to see in the plan. She said the performance-based standard will likely produce a less dense plan than the A and B concepts that were heavily disliked.

Last week’s public session saw more than 200 community members show up to give their input by placing a green dot on plans they agreed on and red dots on plans they were against. Town officials, members of the committee, and members of the public said Thursday there was evidence that people were seen removing dots and otherwise compromising the project, so the data was not submitted as official information.

*Update: Chapel Hill Housing and Neighborhood Services Planner, Megan Wooley, told WCHL on Friday that the dot exercise will be used, it’s just not going to be tabulated into numerical data. She said it was always meant to just be a visual representation.

The town survey received close to 450 entries and was given to the committee to review.

The Central West Steering Committee meets one final time before submitting a plan to the Planning Board. Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., the group will have to come up with something to present.

Central West Feedback; University Sirens; Honeysuckle Road

CHAPEL HILL – The Central West Steering Committee is looking for your feedback on its four concepts for the Central West Focus Area.

The Central West Steering Committee has been charged with developing a recommended small area plan for the Central West Focus Area, which is in the area of Estes Drive between Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and Franklin Street. The committee has developed four conceptual plans for the area and will be taking feedback through a survey.

The survey consists of seven questions and will be open until noon Wednesday.

To take the survey click here.


The University will test the emergency sirens and text messages through its Alert Carolina system Tuesday.

The sirens are tested every semester to make sure all the equipment works.  During the test, people outside on or near campus will likely hear the sirens between noon and 1:00 p.m.

Sirens sound for major emergencies or an immediate safety or health hazard.  No action is required during the test, but information for what to do is available by clicking here.


Construction on Honeysuckle Road near Redbud Road and Redbud Lane began construction Monday to repair a sinkhole caused by the heavy late-June rains.

The street will remain open with a lane shift for an estimated ten days or until construction is completed.

Central West Community Needs Your Input

CHAPEL HILL –  The future of the Central West Community needs your input during a workshop Saturday morning.

Two options have been laid out for the area west of Martin Luther King Blvd between the area just north of Estes Drive and extending south to Mt. Bolus Rd known as the Central West Community.

The workshop is open to the public. It begins Saturday at 9:00 a.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library. It’s scheduled to last until 12:30 p.m.

Central West Option A

Central West Option A

Central West Option B

Central West Option B