CHTC Postpones Vote on Ephesus-Fordham Plan

The Chapel Hill Town Council’s vote on a controversial plan to rezone 190 acres surrounding the Ephesus Church-Fordham Boulevard intersection has been postponed.

The Council was scheduled to meet Thursday, but a malfunction of the television broadcast equipment at the Southern Human Services Center led town leaders to reschedule.

The entire agenda from Thursday’s meeting will be moved to Monday, April 21, at which time the council will hold a public hearing on the budget and consider approving the Ephesus-Fordham plan. A public hearing previously planned for Monday will be moved to Wednesday, April 23.

You can find out more at the Town of Chapel Hill’s website here.

CHCCS Officials Ask Town Council To Save Room For Schools

As the Chapel Hill Town Council eyes new residential development at Obey Creek, Glen Lennox and in the Ephesus-Fordham area, officials from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system want to be sure there’s space available if new students move in.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the Town Council on Wednesday that district schools are nearing full capacity.

“We currently have about 12,100 students in the district,” said LoFrese. “You can see that we’re close to full.”

He added school officials are projecting enrollment numbers will continue to rise.

“While we do have some breathing room at the elementary level that was created when Northside opened earlier this year, our projected growth rate shows that we’re growing at about 1.5 percent annually at all three of the levels, so in the next few years, all school levels will be at or above 100 percent capacity.”

Using the current projections, LoFrese said a new elementary and new middle school will be necessary by 2020 and Carrboro High School will need to expand in 2023.

Compounding the problem, LoFrese told the council there are few sites left in the district that are suitable for new schools. A site near Morris Grove could be the home of the next middle school, and the next elementary might be built at Carolina North or on the Greene tract north of Homestead Road.

Land across from Southern Village is earmarked as a potential school site, but that’s also where East West Partners is looking to build the 120 acre Obey Creek mixed-use project.

Currently, potential school sites are designated within the town’s comprehensive plan and any developer seeking a special use permit or SUP for one of those locations must ask the school board to release that site. But with the Town Council considering a variety of new development approval methods that sidestep the SUP process, administrators worry the school board might lose that power.

“I know that there are various development processes that are being considered, whether it is a negotiated agreement or a form-based code process,” said LoFrese. “The [school] board is going to be considering a resolution that requests the Town Council to honor the spirit of the potential school site process, regardless of the type of development process used.”

The school board also wants to make sure developers using form-based code or a development agreement are required to seek a Certificate of Adequate Public Schools from the district to ensure there’s room in the school system to accommodate residential growth.

There’s some controversy, however, about how the student generation rates are determined for new developments in the post-recession economy. Apartments and condos are projected to bring fewer students to the district, but lately, LoFrese said the results have been unpredictable.

“The East 54 project has 254 units. Generation rates expected 37 students out of that project. We actually only have two,” said LoFrese. “However, look at Chapel Watch Village. Chapel Watch Village, off of Eubanks, has a total of 120 units. We expected 21 students and in reality we got 46.”

LoFrese told the Council the school district is working on a two-pronged approach to address the question of future school capacity. In the short-term, the board has asked Orange County to commission a new study to update the data on student generation rates for new residential development.

A larger, more expensive plan is to renovate the district’s oldest schools to add capacity. While that would cost upwards of $100 million dollars, it would delay the need for $57 million worth of new school construction. Orange County leaders are discussing a possible bond package to cover the cost of some school renovations, but that might not make it to the ballot until 2016.

In the meantime, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board will consider a resolution on Thursday night asking the Town Council to keep school sites, and school capacity, on the table during upcoming development negotiations.

Town Council Seeks County Buy-In For Ephesus-Fordham Plan

When it comes to financing the Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan, Chapel Hill leaders say they have a unique investment opportunity to offer Orange County Commissioners, if they act fast.

“We’re letting you in on a really good thing,” said Council Member Maria Palmer, at Thursday’s joint meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

“I’ve heard that before and it doesn’t always work out so good,” replied Commissioner Mark Dorosin.

“What you guys need to keep in mind is the cost of not doing it right,” Palmer countered.

Council members hope Commissioners will sign on to the financing plan for the Ephesus-Fordham revitalization project, which calls for $10 million dollars worth of road and infrastructure improvements to the Ephesus Church-Fordham Boulevard intersection, as well as the rezoning of 190 acres to spur economic development nearby.

The improvements would be financed using Chapel Hill Town Hall as collateral, and paid off with the increased tax revenue expected to come with residential and commercial growth in the area.

But Chapel Hill’s Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer said there’s a lag between the time the town will reap the rewards of the investment and when the bills come due. He said paying down the debt will cost the town an estimated $800,000 each year, but the additional revenue won’t match that until 2030.

“That’s one of the things that we’re trying to solve for, is that gap between the town’s tax increment and our expected debt service cost,” said Pennoyer.

The town is asking the county to chip in by donating a portion of the county’s tax revenue from the redevelopment to help pay that annual debt service, a contribution of up to $400,000 each year.

Although the town has money in its debt management fund that could cover the shortfall, Pennoyer told the board Orange County’s participation in the project is vital.

“Our ability to do it would be marginal. It would be much tighter,” said Pennoyer. “The county’s participation creates the strength of a partnership that basically is a very strong, marketable debt structure. It creates a synergy there that makes it work a whole lot better, but if the town needed to do this on our own, we may be able to squeak by.”

Commissioners questioned the phasing of the plan, which anticipates mostly residential growth in the short-term and commercial development in later years.

County leaders also questioned the impact the project would have on school enrollment. Orange County Interim Manager Michael Talbert said adding 1,000 apartments would cost the county an additional $1 million each year in school funding and likely accelerate the need for new schools.

“That could also put pressure on our building capacity and may move future schools that were maybe five or ten years out up in the schedule,” said Talbert.

Commissioners expressed cautious enthusiasm about the Ephesus-Fordham project, but Chair Barry Jacobs said the board needs to know more before committing to the plan.

“It’s clear that y’all are excited, and as partners, that makes us at least somewhat excited, but I think we need to do our due diligence from our perspective,” said Jacobs.

The Chapel Hill Town Council is looking to vote on the rezoning portion of the plan in mid-April, but the financing would not need to be in place until June.

County Commissioners will discuss the plan at a future work session yet to be scheduled. The Town Council will meet with Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district administrators on April 9 to discuss the project’s impact on enrollment.

UNC Student Body President Asks CH Town Council To Overturn Occupancy Limit

Outgoing UNC student body president Christy Lambden is asking Chapel Hill town leaders to overturn an ordinance which bans more than four unrelated individuals from living in the same residence. He said it has resulted in numerous evictions of students, some of whom were unaware that the rule existed.

Lambden presented 917-signature petition against the ordinance to the Chapel Hill Town Council Monday night.

“No student should be told to move in the middle of the semester, especially due to misleading or lacking information.” Lambden said.

In December, town officials said they were stepping up enforcement of the policy in response to complaints from residents.

Lambden told the council students are being evicted from their homes in the middle of the academic year and consequently have to find affordable replacement housing, which is already scarce in Chapel Hill.

The ordinance was enacted in 2003 to address noise complaints, trash issues and vehicles parking illegally in the streets.

It imposes a $100-per-day fine for the first offense, with penalties going up to $500 per day for subsequent violations. Those fines are actually imposed on the owner of the house, but students have complained that the violations are falling on the renters.

“The burden placed upon students via fines passed onto them by landlords cannot continue. While the direct harm done to students is not the only consequence of this occupancy rule, it is my primary concern,” Lambden said.

In a letter to the student body, Lambden said that he commissioned a student body task force last November to research the enforcement of the occupancy rule. The group reported to Lambden that the rule has not been successful in fulfilling its initial aim, based on their findings. Lambden said that it has failed to substantially curb noise violations and issues of traffic congestion or to protect the historic neighborhoods.

“We believe that repealing the Occupancy Rule will increase the density of housing and can help to stop the increase movement of students into historic neighborhoods,” he said. “This can be achieved in part by allowing more than four students to live in houses that have already been built to accommodate more than the occupancy rule allows for. We ask that you reconsider the occupancy rule and find ways to better protect renters.”

By repealing the Occupancy Rule, Lambden said he believed it would minimize the student impact on traditional neighborhoods and reduce resident displacement due to student housing needs.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt asked the council and Town Staff to incorporate the petition and the concerns that it raises into the Town’s “good neighbor” planning efforts, particularly for Northside neighborhoods.

“I think the occupancy ordinance is implicated in those conversations and in those discussions as much as it is anything else.” Lambden said.

As the council voted to receive the petition, it will come up again for discussion and possible action at a future meeting, though a date was not set.

Council And Residents Wrangle With Ephesus-Fordham Questions

More than 100 people came out for Monday’s public hearing on the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan and nearly a third of the crowd shared their thoughts with the Chapel Hill Town Council.

Brett Bushnell was one of fifteen to speak in favor of the plan to spend $10 million on road and infrastructure improvements in the area.

“The Ephesus-Fordham plan has the ability to fix the broken infrastructure in this area. The road network in this area is extremely dated and not functioning well,” said Bushnell. “It should also reduce the need to drive to Durham, Chatham or even Wake County for shopping, dining and working. It will broaden the tax base and take the burden off of residential property owners.”

The project would reconfigure the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard, extend Elliot Road and create new mixed-use zones to allow three to seven stories of commercial and residential development on 190 acres in a bid to spur economic development.

But opponents worry the proposed new zoning tool known as form-based code will take public input and Council control out of the approval process.

“Once the form-based code is passed, you’ve lost control,” Bruce Henschel told the Council. “You might assume developers won’t build 190 acres of seven story buildings and parking lots cheek-by-jowl, but the code would allow them to do it. You couldn’t stop them as long as they met everything on the checklist.”

Using form-based code, the Council will set parameters for development including building height, setbacks and parking guidelines for each zone, but once these are in place, individual developers will not need to bring their projects before the council if they meet the established criteria.

This kind of zoning and approval process would be new to Chapel Hill. Supporters and critics alike raised questions on Monday about how the zoning would work. In the three hour discussion that followed, Council members tried to address some of the limitations of form-based code, including the town’s inability to mandate affordable housing.

The Council is looking to partner with a nonprofit to build low-income housing on town land in the Ephesus Road area, but beyond that, Council members say there’s little incentive for developers to provide workforce housing.

The Council also received a cost benefit analysis of the project by Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer. He offered two scenarios. In the more fiscally conservative estimate, the project would cost about $26.4 million and the town would likely break even after 20 years. But if Orange County leaders agree to pledge a portion of the additional revenue the project is expected to generate, Pennoyer said the project would bring in $46.9 million dollars for the town over the next two decades.

“Obviously their participation helps our financial numbers and therefore makes the project more viable,” said Pennoyer. “If the project isn’t viable and doesn’t go forward, then [Orange County] doesn’t benefit at all.”

The Council will discuss the funding partnership with Orange County Commissioners at a joint meeting on Thursday. The Ephesus-Fordham plan will come back before the council for a vote in mid-April.

CHTC Wants More Time And Data For Glen Lennox Plan

CHAPEL HILL- After the Chapel Hill Town Council took its first look at the draft Glen Lennox development agreement, elected officials insisted they’ll need more time to review the twenty-year plan to redevelop one of Chapel Hill’s historic neighborhoods.

“I will not be pushed. This needs to be a deliberate conversation, not one that is rushed,” said Council member Jim Ward, speaking at Wednesday’s work session.

The Glen Lennox planning process began back in 2010, when developer Clay Grubb held monthly meetings with residents to discuss how to revitalize the commercial and residential development on 70 acres at the corner of Raleigh Road and 15-501.

The formal procedure for negotiating the long-term build out of the project got underway last March, and the town manager and attorney have been hashing out the details of the plan with developers for the past six months.

On Wednesday, the Council was scheduled to discuss the four big issues that remain unresolved, but Council members said they need more time to evaluate transportation improvements, affordable housing, design standards and the economic impact of the project.

Ian Colgan is a consultant hired by the town to evaluate how the proposal will impact town revenues. He told the Council commercial development generates tax revenue for the town, while single-family housing costs more in services than it produces in property tax. Colgan said the Glen Lennox project, with its emphasis on multi-family housing and commercial development, will likely generate at least $1.7 million dollars of tax revenue.

“Based on all the other studies I’ve seen, I think it’s a very conservative estimate,” Colgan told the Council. “I think this truly will be a net positive.”

But Council members pressed for more information, including the full cost of multi-family housing and an idea of how the additional rental units might impact schools.

Transportation was also a key issue, as the project is estimated to add 17,500 vehicle trips to nearby roads. Changes to Raleigh Road and a new road that intersects with 15-501 are proposed to help ease congestion, along with bike lanes and a greenway.

Council members want to be sure the road improvements are phased in along with development. Mac McCarley, who facilitated the negotiations, assured the council this would be written into the agreement.

“They can develop as fast or a s slow as they choose, but the infrastructure has to be at or ahead of their development,” said McCarley.

The Town of Chapel Hill has only negotiated a development agreement once before in 2009 with UNC officials to govern the build-out of Carolina North. Now, in addition to the Glen Lennox project, the Council is also currently pursuing a development agreement for the Obey Creek property on South 15-501.

The Council is planning to hold public hearings on the Glen Lennox plan this spring, with a vote scheduled before the June recess. The date of the Council’s next work session to discuss affordable housing and building design standards has yet to be announced.

CHTC Eyes Town Funding For Affordable Rental Housing Plan

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday unanimously endorsed a new plan to increase the town’s supply of affordable rental housing. While housing advocates applauded the move, they told the council it won’t work without money. Council members agreed, saying it might be time to consider dedicating one cent of the tax rate to fund the plan.

“I would to ask the [Town] Manager, when he brings us his proposed budget for next year, that it has the one cent tax on it,” said George Cianciolo. “Because I think it’s time that we started investing in something that the citizens have said repeatedly that they want to see.”

Approximately 54 percent of all housing units in Chapel Hill are rentals, far more than in surrounding areas. But demand outstrips supply. A 2010 study suggested the town would need to add 1,200 rental units to serve the population, but in the past five years only 539 units have been approved, none of which are priced to serve those needing workforce housing.

About 2,100 people are on the wait list for public housing or voucher programs in Chapel Hill, and wait time can range from one to five years. Compounding the problem, federal funding has been steadily reduced and town staffers say payments into the town’s affordable housing fund from local developers are unpredictable at best.

Mayor pro tem Sally Greene, who co-chaired the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, said the council could consider several options for creating a dedicated local revenue stream.

“Either carve out a penny on the existing tax rate or add a penny to the tax rate,” said Greene. “There’s also a discussion we could have about whether to have a bond referendum that is connected to affordable housing.”

Adding one penny to the property tax rate would generate approximately $729,000 annually. Lee Storrow said finding that money in next year’s budget could be a challenge. He asked for staff to come up with a plan to incrementally increase the funding over a period of years.

“Is there a three-year plan or a five-year plan for us to build to a designated town-generated revenue source?” asked Storrow. “It’s really important, because when I came on the council and realized the limited amount of funds that the town was spending on affordable housing it did make me feel uncomfortable.”

The majority of the council supported the concept of dedicating tax dollars to affordable housing. The precise timing and amount will be discussed when the town manager presents a budget plan later this spring.

The council voted unanimously to adopt the new affordable rental housing strategy. In addition to identifying sustainable funding, the plan calls for a senior staff member to focus on affordable rentals, encouraging partnerships between private builders and nonprofits, and the creation of a housing advisory board to monitor implementation of the strategy.

CHTC Likely To Delay Vote On Ephesus-Fordham Redevelopment Plan

The Chapel Hill Town Council indicated that it would likely delay a vote scheduled for March 24 on the controversial Ephesus-Fordham proposed renewal plan during a special work session Thursday night. Council members agreed that there were still many questions that needed to be answered, and more time should be taken to factor in the public’s growing concerns.

In an unusual move, the Council hosted a work session during which public comment was taken twice during the meeting. Residents who oppose the proposed redevelopment sounded off, and some Council members were apprehensive about the plan to redevelop the area surrounding the Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard intersection.

The plan calls for the rezoning of 190 acres to encourage new commercial and residential development, as well as $10 million worth of roadway improvements to one of Chapel Hill’s most congested and confusing intersections.Town staffers said the plan would improve the area’s traffic flow and stormwater problems while increasing the town’s commercial tax base.

However, some residents are concerned that a zoning tool new to the Town, called form-based code, will limit the Council and the public’s say in the development review process.

Area resident Karen Trout told the Council that she shopped in Rams Plaza often and was worried that the redevelopment would hurt local businesses and allow developers to retain too much power.

“With any development, there will be problems that cannot be foreseen from the original plan. The developers and subcontractors are naturally going to take care of their needs before they take care of the Town or individual citizens,” Trout said.

Using form-based code, the Council will set parameters for development, including building height, setbacks and parking guidelines for each zone, but once these are in place, individual developers will not need to bring their projects before the council if they meet the established criteria.

Landscape architect Scott Murray was one of a few residents who shared that he was in favor of the form-based code. He said he had studied the code and what it would entail for his clients.

“Is it a good code? Yes. Is it a great code? I think it is. Is it perfect? Well, it doesn’t have to be, but it does work in the real world, and I think it is time to get on with it,” Murray said.

Former council member Julie McClintock echoed other residents’ anxieties, stating that the process was moving much too fast. She asked the council to delay the vote so the issues surrounding the plan could be fully discussed.

“Once this has been granted, there is kind of no turning back. Once the permit ability for the right to do these things [has been issued], and we, in fact, find that it is not working, that it is washed away, or attracting gridlock, there isn’t much we can do,” McClintock said.

Consultant Lee Einsweiler of Code Studio, the firm brought on board to write coding for the area, explained the benefits of the zoning tool. He said it offered developers “certainty” in challenging circumstances.

As to the approval process, he said it was a more “streamlined” and efficient process.

Einsweiler also pointed out that revisions had been made to the code, and that those changes reflected feedback from the council and residents. He said modifications could still be made.

An area of concern voiced by council member Donna Bell was that under the current plan, affordable housing would have to be a public project. Steps should be taken to find partners to provide affordable housing in the area, she said.

Council member Matt Czajkowski said he feared that residential buildings would overrun the area and retail businesses wouldn’t come until years later, if at all.

“This conceptually seems wonderful, but if the implementation doesn’t work out the way you say it will, then we end up with a mammoth apartment complex,” Czajkowski said. “We end up with a retail plaza that doesn’t really change very much, and what have we actually accomplished?”

Einsweiler responded to Czajkowski, explaining that residential developers would likely come first, but retail and others would follow.

“I think you are setting the tone. You are setting the quality. Admittedly, you are taking on some of the developer’s risk by putting in infrastructure yourselves, but that is attractive in its own right,” Einsweiler said. “If we look at examples around the country, I think we see the response to that.”

The Ephesus-Fordham plan is projected to be a revenue-positive venture for the Town. Council member George Cianciolo said he wanted to understand how this projection was calculated, but noted his support for the project was not dependent on the immediate return results. He said he saw it as “an investment in the future.”

Council member Lee Storrow said that he wanted the community to be aware that a vote on the plan would not be taken on the originally schedule date due to the remaining items still to be discussed.

Council member Jim Ward also asked to delay the vote for several reasons. He said the financial pressures and demands currently being placed on Chapel Hill Transit should be attended to first. He requested that staff investigate ways to incentivize developers to build energy-efficient structures. He also wished to wait until the Ephesus-Fordham stormwater report was presented to the Council later this month.

Ward and Czajkowski agreed that the strain that would likely be placed on the school district with the addition of a a large number of new residential buildings should be considered as well. Town staff said the Chapel Hill Hill Carrboro City Schools will make a presentation regarding Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (SAPFO) in April.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the Council needed time to “stew” on the worries raised by the residents and for members to have their own questions answered. He asked for more feedback from the public and welcomed emails to the Council.

CHTC To Explore Ephesus-Fordham Plan On Monday

The Chapel Hill Town Council will delve in the details of the proposed Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan at a special work session Monday night.

The plan calls for rezoning 190 acres to encourage new commercial and residential development, as well as $10 million dollars worth of roadway improvements to one of Chapel Hill’s most congested intersections.

Town staffers say the plan will improve the area’s traffic flow and stormwater problems while increasing the town’s commercial tax base.

However, some residents are concerned that the council’s plan to try a new type of zoning, called form-based code, will cut the council and the public out of the development review process.

The council will examine the proposal in-depth at Monday’s work session. Although public comment is not typically welcome at council work sessions, that rule will be waived to allow feedback both before and after the staff presentation.

The council meets at 6 o’clock at the Chapel Hill Public Library. You can read the full agenda here.

CH Town Council ‘Wonk’ Praises Federal Light Rail Approval

Chapel Hill Town Council member Ed Harrison says the Federal Transportation Administration’s approval of the Durham-Orange Light Rail plan clears a major hurdle for the project.

“It’s an initial vote of confidence,” he says. “If Triangle Transit and the region were a [political] candidate, it would be like getting through the primary.”

Harrison is also vice chair of the Triangle Transit Board of Trustees.

Back in 2005, a News & Observer reporter called him a “transportation wonk,” and Harrison says he’ll take that.

Harrison lives on Newton Drive, on the Chapel Hill side of Durham County. He happily mentions that he’s surrounded by future station areas for the 17-mile light rail system, which would run from UNC to Alston Avenue in Durham, near North Carolina Central University.

He’s also happy to mention that, in addition to Tuesday’s letter of approval from the FTA, it has granted Triangle Transit “pre-award authority.”

“What that means is that we are now eligible, as Triangle Transit carries out the project and the planning, for reimbursement of millions and millions of dollars,” says Harrison.

In 2012, construction cost for the light-rail line was estimated at $1.34 billion, as reported in Wednesday’s News & Observer.

Harrison says Orange and Durham residents should be prepared for a lengthy process that involves the construction of an exclusive right-of-way.

“That’s an expensive proposition,” he says, “and that would be the case if it were a bus as well.”

But the potential for cost savings over the long run is significant, he adds.

“There are a lot of buses carrying people into Orange County’s major employment center, the UNC campus, every day,” he says. “Over six thousand people. All those buses are replaced by one single train line. And the buses can then be moved elsewhere in Chapel Hill and Carrboro for use.”

While Harrison gets a lot of positive feedback from citizens about light rail between the neighboring counties, he sometimes has to defend the plan.

When he does, he points out that studies over the last 10 years show that public transportation has made areas around UNC a lot less congested with traffic than before, even with all the development that’s occurred there during that time.

“If you want to maintain that trend, we’re running out of the ability to do it with buses,” he says.

He goes on to say that a train would potentially carry 450 people, whereas a double bus only carries 90. That means one-fifth the number of drivers would be needed for the same number of commuters.

But it takes more than just facts and solid projections to get the go-ahead from the Federal Transit Administration. It also takes showing them some money. That’s why a planned 28-mile train line between Durham and Raleigh failed to get FTA approval back in 2006.

“It could not show the Federal Transit Administration that there was a source of local funding,” he says. “In that case, the voters of Orange County and Durham County made sure, this time around, that we do have that.”

He’s talking about a half-cent sales tax in Orange and Durham Counties to pay toward the light rail project, thanks to voter approval.

Not surprisingly, Harrison anticipates a struggle for state funding. He says that’s the reason that some Transit board members and other rail proponents are going to the The East Coast P3 Infrastructure Conference in Charlotte next week — to discuss alternative financing methods and public-private partnerships.