Chapel Hill To Begin Road Improvements For Ephesus-Fordham

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously approved the beginning of the next phase in a plan to improve roads in the Ephesus-Fordham district of Chapel Hill in its meeting Monday night.

The plan includes intersection improvements at Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard.

“There were other improvements in the network that include extension of some streets, Elliott Road, Legion Road,” said Earl Lewellyn, a traffic engineer at Kimley-Horn and Associates. “There were internal improvements within Eastgate Shopping Center.”

The initial estimates for the plan were around $4.3 million, but that number does not include the cost of land acquisition or right of way acquisition, something mayor Pam Hemminger said she wanted to learn.

“We just need to know what kind of money we’re looking at,” she said. “That’s a huge chunk of land through somebody’s property. It’s an estimate, I get that, but that needs to be part of this process as well.”

The updates to the roads are part of a larger plan for the Ephesus-Fordham area to make it more attractive for development.

An improvement to the surrounding infrastructure would make it better suited to handle higher-density traffic that could come from a potential development.

“This is us continuing a process that we’d already started with the projects that we have going on at Ephesus Church and Fordham,” she said. “What we need to know is that if this is not the final piece in the holistic picture, we need to know what is.”

Chapel Hill Town Council Discusses Rosemary Street Development

Jared Martinson from MHAworks Architecture presented his company’s plan for a new development on 322 West Rosemary Street, the current location of Breadmen’s.

“Where we are today is with a multi-generational and mixed-use building,” he said. “That included affordable housing that targets 50 percent AMI, as well as market rate apartments. It also includes community use, mercantile and business opportunities, specifically fronting Rosemary Street.”

The developer has not officially submitted an application.

The presentation given in the Chapel Hill Town Council meeting Monday evening was for the council to give suggestions on the project.

“As we look at Rosemary Street, while it may not be Franklin Street, it should be the second most important street in town,” said councilman Michael Parker. “We have to start working at that proactively so my major concern is probably the lack of street activation.”

Under the plan presented to the council, the developer would not build the affordable housing units, but would donate the land to an organization that would.

Parker, along with other council members, said the developer would have to have an agreement before they would approve the building permit.

“I would have a very hard time approving a project such as this, absent some firm commitment from somebody to actually fund it,” Parker said. “Rather than hope you’ll fund it and two years go by and the project either fizzles or you come back with a modification.”

Community input at the meeting was mixed, with some residents supporting the expansion of affordable housing, while others expressed concerns over the impact on the Northside Community.

Councilman George Cianciolo said his vote for the project hinged on the acceptance of the community.

“This really needs to be project where the community comes forward and says ‘we want this,'” he said. “That they feel they’re getting what they need out of it while (the developer) is getting what (the developer) needs.”

The developer will host 5 focus meetings throughout June and July to try to work with residents and alleviate their concerns.

American Legion Members Growing Restless

American Legion Post 6 commander William Munsee expressed his frustration with the town of Chapel Hill in a letter sent to the town manager.

Munsee said he read a report on a meeting held March 16, during which the Chapel Hill Town Council discussed the possible future of the American Legion property.

“In the report were heartfelt desires from community residents outlining the needs of the community and the town,” he said. “And after all was said and done, there was not one word that had to do with the needs of American Legion members.”

American Legion Post 6

American Legion Post 6 (Photo by Blake Hodge)

After two and a half years of debate, the legion decided to sell the 36-acre property and entered into an agreement with Woodfield Acquisitions for $10 million.

Chapel Hill was given the right of first refusal and waived that right in a closed-session meeting in November.

When the decision was announced publicly, there was public outcry by neighboring residents and other community members for the town to buy the property and turn it into a park.

“I must confess I think it was a discussion that should have taken place after the town purchased the property, which it declined to do when given the opportunity,” Munsee said.

The decision to waive the right of first refusal was made just after the November election, when a new mayor and three new council members were elected, but not yet sworn in.

“When development started around us, the Legion was silent and didn’t protest any of the developments,” Munsee said. “It was the ‘right thing to do.'”

The contract between Woodfield and American Legion is contingent on the developer receiving a Special Use Permit from the town.

“Now that it is our turn to sell our land and move, we expect the same courtesies we extended to our neighbors,” Munsee said. “We do anticipate town oversite, but hope it does not turn into ‘analysis paralysis.'”

He said the American Legion needs to move as soon as they can because the current building is too old to continue serving their needs into the future and he hopes Woodfield will be in a position to submit a proposal within the next two months.

Chapel Hill Debates Weaver Dairy Extension Speed Limit

After receiving a petition from an advisory board, the town council considered raising the speed limit on Weaver Dairy Road Extension from 25 miles per hour to 35. The Chapel Hill Town Council ultimately chose not to raise the speed limit, due to a number of citizens who expressed concerns about pedestrian safety.

“There are a lot of pedestrians who walk around this area of Weaver Dairy,” said Kali Xu. “Raising the speed limit from 25 to 35 greatly increases the risk to pedestrians.”

Traffic engineer Kumar Nappalli said the town originally designed the road to have a 40-mile-per-hour speed limit

“The average speed is 33.5 miles per hour, the 50th percentile speed is 34 miles per hour,” he said. “What it means is 50 percent of the vehicles are going 34 or higher on that street.”

But the issue of raising the speed limit on Weaver Dairy Extension is not a new one.

Councilwoman Donna Bell said this is her seventh year on the council and this is the third time she has addressed the issue.

“One of the reasons we keep having this conversation is we don’t say what happens,” she said. “Our traffic engineer says the road is engineered for speed limit of 35 miles per hour, which would support the idea of raising the speed limit, but there is strong dissent from the neighbors and thus we don’t raise the speed limit.”

Bell suggested the council write down why they voted against raising the speed limit in an attempt to prevent the issue coming up again.

“That we do give a strong explaination as to why we’re not doing this,” she said. “So the next time this comes up there will be a basis for having the conversation, as opposed to an assumption that this is a new issue.”

The council approved Bell’s motion and included an explanation for why they chose not to raise the speed limit.

Nappalli said the town would work with the neighborhoods to help mitigate the speeding issues on the road.

Chapel Hill Town Council Receives Recommended Budget

With a lot of market uncertainty, Chapel Hill town manager Roger Stancil said his staff took a conservative approach to the town’s 2016-2017 fiscal budget.

“I’ve heard from different sources, different economics that although we might have a weak recovery, it’s perfectly feasible to think that within another year we could have the beginning of another recession,” he said.

Stancil presented a budget that was balanced, featured no tax increases and no increases in stormwater fees.

It also includes an almost $100,000 increase for affordable housing and human service agency funding.

“There is a 19 percent increase in funding for performance agreements and human services,” Stancil said. “Throughout the recession this town did not decrease funding for non-profits and human service agencies.”

He said Chapel Hill was unique in this way because many towns cut related funding in order to balance their budgets.

Nearly one million dollars has been put aside to purchase new buses for the Chapel Hill Transit system.

Overall the system will get a 1.9 percent decrease due to what Stancil called an unexpected receipt of $934,000  in state grants. The transit system is currently trying to replace 42 of its older buses.

“There’s still many more buses to replace,” he said. “Still conversation to have about what those buses should be, what technology should be used for those buses, how much it will cost the town.”

Stancil said the town learned from Winter Storm Jonas, which iced roads and caused school and work cancellations.

The budget will include an additional $30,000 for improved communications and staffing deployment during storm events.

“We’d put out information and we’d immediately get interactive communication with people who live in the community,” Stancil said. “We could say ‘we’re going to be on your street tomorrow’ and we’d get a tweet or a message back saying ‘when are you going to be at my house.'”

Stancil said the increase in staffing should help the town communicate better during these kinds of weather events.

The town also has multiple unfunded projects that the council could act on, should they decide to.

Those projects could include a possible development on the American Legion property and 415 W. Franklin St.

The council will hold four work sessions before approving the budget June 13.

Chapel Hill Planning Ceremony For New Cemetery Marker

Chapel Hill is getting a second chance at honoring the memory of 361 slaves and free people of color that are known to be buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.

In a meeting held Tuesday night, members of the town council and local community members discussed early plans for a September ceremony that could feature community leaders, speeches and music.

“It’s the mission of the NAACP to actually pass the traditions of African Americans in this community to the younger generations,” said local NAACP member Jesse Gibson. “One of the ways of doing that is to make sure they understand the history.”

A commemorative marker was installed in February, but was taken down after community members criticized the wording of the marker, which read “Here Rest in Honored Glory 361 American Persons of Color Known But to God.”

Allen Buansi explained why he thought they should change the wording of the marker.

“The people that were buried there, we don’t know they were all African American,” he said. “There were Native Americans around and other people of color.”

Community members were also upset because there was no ceremony celebrating the marker.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP president Robert Campbell said he thinks the ceremony the town is planning will be a learning experience, especially for local students.

“When there were some games here at UNC, people actually parked on the graveyard,” he said. “The crew went out to clean up, and they saw these odd shaped rocks and they decided they would take all the rocks away, but they were actually markers of graves.”

The committee will meet again May 15 to try to narrow down the options for the wording on the new marker.

Campbell said he was happy with the way the meeting turned out Tuesday and hopes for more community input moving forward.

“We’ll try to get more people to voice their opinion, at least about the service,” Campbell said. “I think we’ve got enough information to shape some wording on the marker itself, so I think we’re in a good place.”

Mayor Pam Hemminger said the tentative timeline has the town council formally hearing about the project plans in June.

Chapel Hill Considering Adding Bus-Only Lane On MLK

The Chapel Hill Town Council approved a study that could be the first step to major changes along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The study will look at a travel corridor for buses between MLK, South Columbia Street and portions of 15-501.

“Things don’t always work well in that corridor,” said transit director Brian Litchfield. “Accidents occur, people try to make strange turning movements and what happens to our 19 buses is they get stacked up behind each other.”

Photo via Town of Chapel Hill

Photo via Town of Chapel Hill

To help solve this problem, the transit department offered three suggestions. Each suggestion includes having one traffic lane dedicated solely to bus use.

The least expensive option, estimated at $96.6 million is to convert one existing lane into this bus lane.

The other two options, both estimated around $105 million, will involve creating a new lane. One plan places the lane in the center of the road and the other places it on the outside.

“When we get down to the peak-hour traffic delay, you’ll see the first alternative results in slightly higher delays,” said Julia Suprock from AECOM Technology Corporation. “If you convert lanes that tends to result in slightly higher traffic congestion, whereas if you construct a lane you’re not affecting existing capacities.”

The new route would have a bus come up approximately every seven minutes.

Chapel Hill would also add 12 new buses to their fleet, something that has become a concern in recent years.

Photo via Town of Chapel Hill

Photo via Town of Chapel Hill

“We’re talking about providing service that’s arriving every seven minutes or better,” Litchfield said. “It changes who’s using that system. Anyone that’s traveling within that corridor can say ‘wow I can go out and use this bus and I don’t have to think about where it’s going or whether it’s going to be on time.”

Litchfield said if everything goes smoothly, between the report and the engineering, the town could move towards construction of the project in four to five years.

“That’s a perfect time frame,” he said. “That assumes that while we’re doing the project development and engineering, we’ve also arranged for all of the local funds and we’ve also arranged for all of the federal funds. Most of that we have no control over.”

Litchfield said he expects the majority of the funding for the project to be from the federal government.

Depending on the plan chosen, the town is looking to get between $77 million and $85 million from the federal government, with some other money possibly coming from the state as well.

Town Council Considers Franklin Street Development

After issuing a request for proposals, Chapel Hill will investigate the financial impact of a proposed six-story development on Franklin Street.

“It’s about 95,000 square feet,” said town manager Roger Stancil. “With the first floor being a retail, music venue-type use, the second floor being office space and music venue-type use, the third floor being office space.”

Floors four, five and six will be dedicated for affordable housing. Each floor will have 13 affordable housing units.

Still in the early stages, the potential development would be at 415 W. Franklin St., which is the current location of a public parking lot.

“To make this project work requires a parking deck to be built to add parking capacity to downtown,” Stancil said. “The proposal is to build a 450-space parking deck to replace approximately 150 existing surface spaces.”

The town currently owns the space where the building would be, but mayor Pam Hemminger said the town does not own the space where the proposed parking deck would be.

She said there was still a lot the council needed to know before making a decision on the property.

“There are property tax implications, which will be part of the financial model,” she said. “There’s also parking income versus leasing versus how it all shakes out whether the town ends up owning the lot or whether the developer ends up owning the lot.”

The town council unanimously approved a motion to allow Stancil and the town staff to continue learning about and discussing the possible development.

Stancil said in June he would present the council with his findings.

At that point the council would decide whether or not to proceed with the development.

Chapel Hill Receives Offer To Purchase Fire Station Property

The Town of Chapel Hill has received a 1.4 million dollar offer from the State Employee’s Credit Union to buy the property on Weaver Dairy Road that currently houses Fire Station No. 4.

Town manager Roger Stancil said the station is one of three the town needs to consider replacing.

“This is the opportunity to replace an aging facility,” he said. “It would require us to relocate Fire Staton No. 4.”

The council did not authorize Stancil to move forward with the sale, but did authorize him to come up with a recommendation about how to handle a possible sale and the options for relocating the station.

“If people haven’t been in the fire station, don’t understand the condition we ask our public safety people to live in and work in,” councilman George Cianciolo said. “I think it’ll be an eye-opener.”

But the $1.4 million, which is the town’s estimated value of the property, will not be nearly enough to cover the cost of a new fire facility.

According to Stancil, the cost to relocate the station would be around $2.9 million, excluding the cost of any land leased or purchased.

Fire Station No. 4 is also home to training facilities, which is estimated to cost $7 million to relocate.

“You could decide once we come back that you want to rebuild a fire station on that site,” Stancil said. “What motivates us is that we need to replace this fire station. Is there a way to do that and save the taxpayers money?”

The town will continue to listen to offers for the property, as well as evaluate potential new locations for the station.

Chapel Hill Town Council Approves Merin Road Development

After a lengthy discussion, the Chapel Hill Town Council approved a special use permit for a 62 single-family home development for the Merin Road Communty.

These types of developments are required to have a certain level of recreation space, but sustainability and planning executive director Mary Jane Nirdlinger said the town usually expects 75 percent of the requirement to be on-site, with the other 25 percent given to the town as a payment in-lieu.

The payment helps pay for the town’s current parks.

“The philosophy behind the 25 percent payment in-lieu is that folks who move into a neighborhood in town also take advantage of other things in their neighborhood such as the aquatic center, Homestead Park, our existing greenways and trails,” she said.

Capkov Ventures, the proposed developer, offered to create 115 percent of the required recreation space, but asked to be exempt from the estimated $88,000 payment in-lieu. The payment in-lieu is not legally required, but has become an expectation of the council.

“This has been a fairly consistent requirement,” Nirdlinger said. “But the council has made a couple of exceptions.”

The council became split over whether or not to allow the developer to be exempt from the payment. Councilwoman Sally Greene said she wanted to see the developer make the payment.

“It’s a private amenity you’re providing,” she said. “The fact is, it is not supporting the public park system and I have actually maintained over the years that 25 percent is too low.”

Council members asked Eric Chupp, who represented Capkov Ventures, to consider agreeing to pay in-lieu, but he said he could not do it.

Chupp said part of the reason was because there was no law requiring the payment and that exceptions had been made by the council in the past

“When you’re looking at a $90,000 payment when you’re already providing 115 percent of what the ordinance required at the elevated status of active recreation, typically single-family developments only have to provide passive recreation, I have to draw the line in the sand somewhere,” he said.

Councilwoman Donna Bell said the town needed to go back and clarify their policies regarding the payment in-lieu.

“It’s not staff that’s been wavering, it’s been the council that’s been sitting, that’s been wavering,” Bell said. “I am considering wavering again this evening with the idea that we’ll have something in writing which means we don’t have to waver anymore.”

The special use permit passed by a margin of 6-3, with councilwomen Sally Greene, Jessica Anderson and Nancy Oates as the dissenting voices.