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.

Youth To Play Major Role In Design 2020

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says a big part of Chapel Hill’s future relies on the youth of the town, and he says he’s excited to see the Chapel Hill Youth Initiative set in motion.

“We’re going to not only set priorities in our town’s budget for meeting the needs of youth in our community, but I believe we’ve also inspired some change and new approaches to meeting the needs of young people by non-government organizations in our community,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.

The Chapel Hill Youth Initiative comes from the town’s Design 2020 and is called Chapel Hill 4 Youth.

The Chapel Hill Town Council and its advisory boards were deep in the Chapel Hill 2020 process throughout 2013. And some portions of the planning discussions were a bit contentious.

“We saw a few projects slowly—particularly the Central West project, through a long process of community meetings, a lot of hard work by extraordinary volunteers, and we now have a vision that ultimately received—and I don’t think anyone would have guessed it even a month ago that it would receive a unanimous vote on the council,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.

There are still projects that will go before the Council like Obey Creek, Ephesus-Fordham, and Glen Lennox that are currently in the advisory board phase. Mayor Kleinschmidt says he can see using the members of the first project to help others move along smoothly.

“I think that that’s a sign that, folks who worked on that project…I think it’s a sign of how valuable their work was and will continue to be as we use them to help us with other projects, other areas of town that have received some very intense study,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.

Design 2020 is the implementation process of the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan that will shape future development in the town.

To read more of Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s thoughts on what the town accomplished in 2013 and what he’s looking forward to in 2014, 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.

Implementing 2020: CHTC Candidates Weigh In

CHAPEL HILL – Most of the candidates for the Chapel Hill Town Council say they believe your voice is being heard during the implementation process of the Chapel Hill 2020 process, but they also agree that much improvement can be made.

The Town of Chapel Hill is reworking its Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) and late last month it kicked off its LUMO update project. The LUMO is a ten-year-old zoning and codes rulebook that guides the development of land in Chapel Hill.

Monday during WCHL’s forum for the nine candidates seeking four seats on the Council, the contenders discussed what they saw as good and bad in the early stages of Design 2020—the implementation step of the Chapel Hill 2020 planning process.

George Cianciolo says he’s glad the Town has decided to change the LUMO and wants to see provisions put in place that benefit not only the Town but also the consumer.

“One of the things that’s being considered and obviously is being tested with the Ephesus Church small area plan is a form-based code system—or a hybrid of it,” Cianciolo says. “What citizens need to keep in mind is a form-based code uses citizen’s participation. It’s based on going to the citizens (and) asking what they want to see.”

He says there are two areas of the form-based code he’d like to see considered that other codes haven’t always used.

“What kind of a form-based code we might devise would be one that might allow for consideration of design,” Cianciolo says. “The other thing is consideration of affordable housing.”

Gary Kahn says he’s noticed too many struggles in the early stages of the implementation process of future development of Chapel Hill.

“What sounds good on paper doesn’t necessarily work,” Kahn says. “The Central West Committee actually has proved that. I have to say that it sounds great, but unfortunately I think it’s come to the point where you can’t satisfy everybody.”

But Cianciolo says you’re never going to get everyone to agree on every issue.

“The Central West Committee which Amy is co-chair on has adopted a plan, and the issues that were voted on were adopted by a vote of a super majority,” Cianciolo says.

And Maria Palmer says just because you can’t satisfy everybody doesn’t mean the process doesn’t work.

“Everybody feels like they gave a little bit, but it’s the only way that parties that started out disagreeing can come to a resolution,” Palmer says. “That’s how we do business. It’s politics, and it’s not a dirty word.”

Amy Ryan is one of the co-chairs of the Central West Steering committee. She says she’s confident that the process has allowed the voice of the people to be a valuable part of the decision making.

“The citizen processes are contentious, but I think that having that dialogue and getting everybody to the table and inviting everybody in to talk about these issues is what’s really important.”

And she says what would really help the process move smoother is by creating better guidelines for these focus groups after finding what worked and what didn’t during these early groups.

“I would really like to see the Town adopt a template for this kind of process to say when you want to do a small area plan or something, this is how you do it; this is how you set up a committee; these are the steps that you go though; this is the kind of facilitation that you have,” Ryan says. “So I think that will make it easier. Some of what happens at Central West is we had a lot of issues about process.”

Loren Hintz says he’s worried about the lack of transparency in some areas because of the fact that the citizens involved in the groups are in fact civilians.

“There’s a tendency for committee members to want information and it’s not provided in a timely fashion,” Hintz says. “And so, issues like how is storm water going to be handled or traffic, that information isn’t made available or might not even be able to be available. So some members are frustrated because they don’t have that information in a timely fashion.”

The Town hired an outside consulting agency to do a site survey and present plans for the committee from which to choose. The consultant cost the town $230,000.

Hintz says the Town can learn from the process and make the implementation step more efficient.

“I think we should continue to use more in-house facilitators and try to reduce the amount of consultant fees that we have to pay,” Hintz says.

There are currently three groups meeting to discuss future development: the Central West Steering Committee which presents its plan to the Town Council and opens the floor for public comment on it on Monday, the Ephesus/Fordham Focus Area, and the Obey Creek area across from Southern Village.

This discussion took place in the early parts of the second hour of the Chapel Hill Town Council candidates forum.

Click Here To Listen To The Forum

Community Input Development Sessions; Political Sign Regulations; Radon Prevention

CHAPEL HILL – Monday night, the Council Committee on Boards and Commissions in Chapel Hill held its first of five community input sessions.

Stemming from Chapel Hill 2020, the Council Committee on Boards and Commissions has arranged for five advisory boards to meet in order to further the Town’s development progress.

The first of these meetings hosted the Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board.

The topics covered in four following community input sessions include community design, environmental stewardship, community housing, and planning.

The Council Committee on Boards and Commissions arranged these sessions in order to gain participation from community members.

These meetings will be conducted at 6:30 PM at the Chapel Hill Public Library, located at 100 Library Drive.

If you would like to attend a meeting, click here.


The Land Use Management Ordinance of Chapel Hill has instituted rules for political signs to prepare for the upcoming municipal and school board elections in November.

Temporary political signs promoting candidates or topics are permitted, as long as they are at most four square feet in area.

Political signs erected on private land must be taken down seven days after the election has ended.

Signs located in the public right-of-way may be assembled up to 45 days before the election and must be taken down within 12 days after the election.

Signs may not block the traffic signals or road signs. In addition, signs may not use terms or images that could confuse drivers with directional or regulatory traffic signs.


Many families are not aware that they may be at risk of lung cancer, due to inhaling radon gas.

Radon gas comes from the decay of Uranium in soil and can sneak into homes by air movement through soil, cracks in foundation, well water, and some building materials, like concrete.

Radon stands as the chief source of radiation for Americans. Also, radon can attack sensitive tissues in the lungs, resulting in cancer.

Using Radon Resistant New Construction, home builders can construct new homes to prevent radon intrusion.

The North Carolina Radon Program is providing a limited number of free radon test kits, specially for NC families with newborns. Also, test kits can be bought at hardware stores and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Service’s website.

CHTC Hears Criticism Of Central West Committee

CHAPEL HILL- Nearly a year to the day after the Chapel Hill Town Council adopted the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan, town leaders reviewed the progress of one of the first fruits of that plan- a citizens advisory committee tasked with charting the future of the Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard- Estes Drive intersection.

But some residents of the area told the council Monday they’re not happy with the direction of the Central West Steering Committee.

Theresa Raphael-Grimm said she feels neighborhood input is being overlooked in favor of consultant recommendations.

“Is this the vision the town council has for the 2020 process?” Raphael-Grimm asked the council. “Do we really want to know what people think, or is the Central West Focus Area Steering Committee process merely a well-orchestrated charade, where citizen input is tolerated under the guise of active citizen engagement, but not actively considered?”

She was one of several speakers asking the council to extend the November deadline for the committee’s report and allocate funding for an outside facilitator.

The group of neighbors also presented an alternate plan for potential development that features less density than that suggested by consultants from Rhodeside & Harwell. The citizen plan was delivered to the council along with 200 signatures of support from residents in the area.

But council member Donna Bell warned against building single-family homes, arguing that given the scarcity of land in town, low-density development would preclude affordable housing.

“I think these small area plans will be a moment where we as a town decide whether we truly have a commitment to a diversity of folks living here, or whether we truly want to become a sleepy suburban town, a bedroom community,” said Bell.

The 17-member steering committee was appointed by the council last fall to create a small area plan for 60 acres near the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. About half of those on the committee are residents of the area, while the others represent business interests and stakeholders from the wider community.

Council member Matt Czajkowski called for the council to approve funding to hire a facilitator to work with nearby residents and the steering committee over the summer.

“When there are significant groups with different views on how the process is going and where we stand in it, we need to find some way to build the bridge back,” said Czajkowski. “So I would very, very much be in favor of spending the money, whatever it takes, to get a very able facilitator.”

However, his motion failed in a 5-2 vote after committee members acknowledged they had already rejected a similar idea earlier in the planning process.

Town Manager Roger Stancil said the steering committee does have the option of calling in outside facilitators over the summer if members decide that’s what’s necessary to move forward.

Looking ahead, council member Jim Ward urged both neighbors and committee members to consider the bigger picture.

“This needs to be a plan that really moves the town of Chapel Hill forward, while taking into consideration those who live near by and those more distant than that,” said Ward.

The council opted to leave the November deadline unchanged and appoint Ward as a council liaison to the steering committee.

The steering committee meets next Monday at 6 o’clock in the Sienna Hotel. That meeting is open to the public.

Meanwhile, the Chapel Hill Town Council will go on a summer hiatus. Regular meetings will resume in September.

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

Town Council Calls for Revamp of Advisory Boards and Committees

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council got its first look on Wednesday at plan to revamp the town’s advisory boards.

When it comes to gathering resident input, the Town of Chapel Hill relies on nineteen standing boards and committees, as well as a variety of task forces and work groups. But some on the town council worry that the current structure is not working.

“We’ve built up this system over several decades,” said Gene Pease. “If we could streamline it in some way, not only could we make the work more meaningful and hopefully get better feedback to the council, we could possibly save money or reallocate resources in the town to do other things that are frankly a little bit more important.”

Pease and a work group of fellow council members have spent the last year studying the roles and responsibilities of the various committees. On Wednesday they rolled out a proposal to combine many of the existing boards.

“I know this is probably hitting some of you as some radical change, but we think of it as evolution of our thinking, to be frank,” Pease told the council. “We know we haven’t figured everything out, nor has it been intended to so far. The committee feels it would be an important step to try to align our current system with our new thinking on 2020.”

The first phase of the revamp will focus on those boards involved in the development review process. Ten committees, including the Transportation board, the Bike and Pedestrian board, the Greenways Commission, Historic District Commission and the Community Design Commission could see their functions rolled into four new groups, each centered on a main goal from the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan.

The new advisory boards would be called Community Housing, Community Design, Transportation and Connectivity, and Environmental Stewardship.

A representative from each would also sit on the planning board, whose membership would be split between committee representatives and at-large members.

But Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt worried that kind of workload might discourage many from participating on the planning board or other advisory committees.

“Families and full-time job people are just going got have a hard time being in two major boards, which is what they’d have to do if they’re on the planning board, or even handling some of these major issues,” said Kleinschmidt.

Other council members also voiced concern that the new plan focuses too narrowly on development review, without recognizing the other functions of many of the advisory boards.

“If the general notion is to merge the Transportation, Bike and Pedestrian and Greenways, as far as how they interact with the development review process, that’s fine, I can see how that might work,” said Jim Ward. “But there continues to be, at least for Greenways and Bike and Ped, a tremendous advocacy role that they need to play in this community as far as I’m concerned, because we need those two elements in our community to a greater degree than we already have.”

Mayor Kleinschmidt stressed that this is just the beginning of the planning process, and that the role of each board will be thoroughly analyzed during the year-long review.

“What we’re not doing is jettisoning an important function of town volunteers who provide advice to the council, but rather taking those elements and reconfiguring them in a way that’s more efficient, yet continues to allow for their value to be added,” said Kleinschmidt.

The council will discuss the plan further at a business meeting on June 10.

CHTC To Discuss Land Use Ordinances, CH2020

CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill Town Council will move ahead with a plan to update the town’s land use ordinances when the council meets Wednesday.

The council will review the time line for the implementation phase of the Chapel Hill 2020 process. This year-long phase will involve public comment sessions as well as well as input from consultants at Code Studio.

Proposed changes to the Land Use Management Ordinance will focus on neighborhood conservation districts, storm water regulations, signage and the Future Focus areas outlined in the comprehensive plan.

The council meets at 6:00 p.m. in the Chapel Hill Public Library Meeting Room.