UNC to Tear Down Odum Village Apartments

Built in the 1960’s, Odum Village is comprised of 36 apartment buildings that hold nearly 500 students on the southern end of UNC’s campus.

The UNC General Administration required that all residences halls have sprinkler systems installed by 2015, which Odum does not have. Odum Village was granted a one year extension but now the time has come where students can no longer live there.

Anna Wu, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Services, said the cost of the renovation did not add up.

“It just didn’t make financial sense for us to provide the utility infrastructure and the building infrastructure to upgrade to provide those fire sprinklers,” said Wu.

The demolition of Odum Village had been planned since 2001, according to Wu, for several different reasons.

“Because of a couple of things, one we intended to demolish those buildings to free up the development of open space, the development of future projects and the development of the light rail transit we knew that Odum was going to be impacted by those three,” said Wu.

Wu discussed the demolition with the Chapel Hill Town Council at their meeting on March 7.

Wu told the council that there is enough vacancy in other residence halls to accommodate Odum Village’s demolition and they would encourage students to stay on campus. But Council Member Maria Palmer said that cost was an issue for students to continue to live on campus.

“That’s a lot of money for students who are struggling with the tuition and the economic situation,” Palmer said. “Kids are going in debt. Parents are going in debt. When your child tells you ‘I can save $200 a month by moving off campus’ how many of us are going to say ‘you’re going to stay on campus’ when money is a concern?”

First year students are required to live on campus at UNC but after that many move off campus. For the 2016- 2017 school year, a standard two person dorm room at UNC cost $3,136.

Odum Village historically housed student families but that population of students has since moved to Baity Hill Student Family Housing off Mason Farm Road.

“The campus is a mature campus but there are buildings that reach the end of their useful life,” said Wu.

About half a dozen Odum Village apartments buildings have already been removed in the last few years to make room for new projects.

Several of the old apartment buildings will be repurposed into office space.


Town Council To Review Ephesus-Fordham Changes

The town council unanimously approved opening public comment on possible changes to the Ephesus-Fordham zoning district in their meeting Monday night.

Planning manager for sustainability John Richardson said these changes were introduced after the town received petitions from multiple advisory boards.

“The eight changes are being described as ‘potential short term modifications,” he said. “These are things that we the staff have developed in hearing from these boards.”

Some of the eight possible changes include enforcing a maximum building-block length and width, a minimum building height and requiring green spaces to be visible to the public.

“There’s a lot of things in the code that are unclear,” mayor Pam Hemminger said. “Some of these points were made to help make it more clear so we didn’t have confusion, which is what we’re hearing from the development world.”

The form-based code was approved by the council in 2014. It is intended to foster mixed-use developments and pedestrian-friendly districts by specifying building characteristics for potential developers. The form-based code is meant to attract certain types of development in a predictable way.

“This was an effort to move some smaller items that would yield us some better feeling results without compromising the form-based code,” Hemminger said. “I’m a big proponent of the form-based code, I think it’s great.”

The public hearing is scheduled for the next council meeting, which will be on March 14. The council will not make any decisions regarding these changes to the code until the following business meeting March 21.

The public will have a chance to speak at both meetings.


UNC, Town Council Discuss Student Housing

UNC officials and members of the town council discussed the issue of student housing Monday.

Council members expressed concern over the upcoming closure of Odum Village Apartments, a student housing complex that can hold nearly 500 residents.

UNC representative Anna Wu said if they wanted to keep Odum Village open, the university would have to install sprinkler systems in the buildings.

“However, since it’s not cost effective for us to provide the additional infrastructure and sprinkler the buildings, we have decided that these buildings are really at the end of their useful life,” she said. “We’ll be soliciting for a designer to work with us on the demolition.”

Once the buildings close, the students who might have chosen to live there will have to live somewhere.

Wu said the university has a high vacancy rate for other on-campus residence halls and will try to encourage students to stay on campus.

“We can encourage a certain behavior but our students still have that opportunity to make their own choice,” she said. “But we will be trying to work on our assignments and encourage them to stay on campus.”

In recent years UNC has closed two of its residence halls due to lack of occupancy.

Wu said it was their hope to open them again after the closure of Odum Village, but councilwoman Maria Palmer said UNC might have to consider lowering prices as a way to keep students on campus.

“That’s a lot of money for students who are struggling with the tuition and the economic situation,” Palmer said. “Kids are going in debt. Parents are going in debt. When your child tells you ‘I can save $200 a month by moving off campus’ how many of us are going to say ‘you’re going to stay on campus’ when money is a concern?”

Freshmen students are required to live on campus, but all other students have the option of living in an apartment or a house off-campus.

Mayor Pam Hemminger said the town currently has a petition to analyze how much space is available for off-campus living.

“We’re very conscious of the student population we have in town,” she said. “While we welcome them we want to make sure we’re being good partners with making sure students have that opportunity to be on campus.”


Town Talks Ephesus-Fordham Changes

Before putting the issue in front of the Chapel Hill Town Council, the town held an informational meeting about possible changes to the form-based code in the Ephesus Fordham District.

The meeting held Tuesday night was in response to two petitions from the public.

“What we have here tonight are just eight items that were identified as potential short-term changes,” said planning and sustainability executive director Mary Jane Nirdlinger. “This is the first meeting about these possible changes.”

The form-based code was approved in 2014 and is intended to foster mixed-use developments and pedestrian-friendly districts by specifying certain aspects of a possible building’s appearance.

Some of the possible changes include enforcing a maximum building-block length and width, a minimum building height and requiring green spaces visible to the public.

“The discussion was really about how you create a district that has some permeability, that’s not all one giant block of a building,” Nirdlinger said.

While many residents praised the effort to change code, many thought other issues needed to be addressed as well.

“I think it’s the intention of the planning commission and the CDC and other advisory boards to forge ahead and come up with a comprehensive transportation plan that has where your bus stops are and where your bicycle paths are and so on,” one resident said. “It seems to me you really need to have that in place before you go about approving these projects.”

Other concerns raised included the addition of green spaces that residents could use and the possibility of traffic problems that could result from adding the kind of development the town is looking for.

Nirdlinger said the town was unable to get these issues on the agenda when the council will open a public hearing on March 14, but they will continue to look for solutions.

In the hearing the council will evaluate the eight changes Nirdlinger outlined.


Town Council Endorses Estes Drive Bike Plan

The Chapel Hill Town Council endorsed a plan in their meeting Monday night to make Estes Drive more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.

The council endorsed what was presented as alternative two by long range and transportation planning manager David Bonk.

He offered the board  three potential plans, but alternative two was endorsed by the Parks and Recreation Commission before reaching the council.

“Beginning on the south side of the road there is a five-foot sidewalk and three-foot planning strip,” Bonk said while describing alternative two. “Then there is a six-foot wide bicycle lane that is raised above the level of the travel lane.”

Alternative one would have featured two five-foot long bike lanes, separated by a three foot painted buffer, which would be on the road itself.

Alternative three would have featured a 10 foot and 12 foot multiuse path, where pedestrians could ride or walk.

“All three of the alternatives include fairly extensive improvements at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Estes Dr,” he said. “To both accommodate bicycle and pedestrian lanes, but at the same time address some of the congestion at that intersection.”

The project design has cost an estimated $248,000, 80 percent of which has been paid for by the federal government.

Alternative one was the most expensive proposal at an estimated $2.431 million dollars. Alternative two came close to that at $2.285 million and alternative three was the least expensive at nearly $1.952 million.

“A total of 2.338 million is available for construction,” Bonk said. “Eighty percent of that from federal government and 20 percent from the town.”

The council voted unanimously to endorse alternative two.

Bonk said he hopes to have a complete design plan before the council breaks for the summer and expects to have construction underway around this time next year.


Pam Hemminger and Resident Opinions

A new year, a new Town Council in Chapel Hill, and a new mayor.

Some would say that our most recent election demonstrated the frustrations of residents who felt that they hadn’t had much of a voice lately in local decision making.  Some of these residents who care a lot about what the Town Council decides thought their wishes were being ignored.

Raleigh Mann

Raleigh Mann

So, they elected representatives who may change the culture of the way decisions are made.  They wanted their voices heard.

Don’t you love it when you get to vote?

We actually do have a voice when we vote.  It does make a difference.

Now, comes Pam Hemminger.  Our new mayor whose election displaces former mayor Mark Keinschmidt.  Mayor Hemminger has set to work trying to change the way the town deals with concerns of its residents.

Listen to Raleigh Mann’s Commentary

Now, the Town of Chapel Hill is posting residents’ petitions and public hearing details online for everybody to see.  We can follow the progress of issues we care about and speak out about them.  We will have a voice says the mayor and she’s urging Town Council members to change the old culture and instead work to create an environment that encourages respectful listening to us and to our concerns.

Pam Hemminger’s administration will be different, she told a News & Observer reporter.  “We’re going to strive as a council to respect that you have a right to your opinion.

“Opinions aren’t right or wrong,” she said.  “They’re opinions and we’re going to listen.  This is your chance to tell us and our chance to listen.”

Her promise comes as a breath of fresh air to many frustrated Chapel Hill residents.  Let’s hope that our new Town Council gets on board and stays there.

— Raleigh Mann


Two Groups Ask Town To Donate Property

Habitat for Humanity and a private citizen separately petitioned the town Monday night to donate a property on Gomains Ave. to build an affordable housing unit.

“Habitat has been working in the Northside community for a number of years now,” said Habitat executive director Susan Levy. “We’ve also been in the process over the last 18 months of putting together lots that we can start building on in the fall of 2016.”

Levy said the addition of this lot would make eight total and the residents of these homes would pay between 500 and 675 dollars a month.

Habitat has already started taking applications for these homes and have three times as many qualified applicants than they will have homes.

The second petition was put in by Lydia Mason, who is the treasurer at Empowerment, another local affordable housing service.

“I would like, as a private citizen, petition the town to look at a model whereby a private citizen could have the land donated for me to build an affordable home for rental,” Mason said. “Rental space is as demanding as home ownership.”

Rental versus ownership is the major difference between the two petitions. Habitat applicants pay for their home through an affordable 30-year mortgage, while Mason would set up an affordable rental property.

No matter which direction the town goes in, councilwoman Maria Palmer said she wants to see a space where multiple families could live.

“I know we are trying to preserve the character of the community,” she said. “But if we have three times more people that qualify than the possible maximum units we are looking to build, there is a disconnect there.”

The council did not discuss the matter or make any decisions Monday night and are continuing to evaluate their options.


Chapel Hill Looks To Sell Fire Station Property

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously agreed to allow the town to sell the property that currently houses Fire Station 2 on South Hamilton Road.

East-West Partners has proposed to buy the property for $1.7 million and lease it back to the town.

That money would be used to build a new station on the property and East-West Partners would also build a two-story office building and a parking deck.

“The proposed agreement would allow the town to acquire a brand new fire station that would meet our needs into the future for $750,000,” town manager Roger Stancil said. “It’s a 500-year lease and the property would go on the tax books.”

The property is currently untaxed and Stancil estimated this would add $42,000 annually to the budget.

Without this deal, renovation of the new fire station is estimated to be nearly $3 million.

Interim Fire Chief Matthew Sullivan said the new station will be able to house two trucks and the EMS unit that Orange County EMS  has said it is interested in co-locating at the station.

“Given the condition of our Station 3 property and the crowding issues there, as well as the strategic location of Station 2, it’s our intention to move the ladder truck to the new fire station immediately when it opens,” he said.

The town will lease the property for the next 500 years and will pay $1 in rent per year.

“One of our citizens said ‘why are we not leasing the land, why are we selling the land,'” said councilwoman Donna Bell. “We’re getting a new station and that land underneath it, short of, you know, martians, is kind of ours.”

Mayor Pam Hemminger was also in favor of the sale.

“I’m very excited about this,” she said. “I’m not normally excited about selling town property or trading town property but we do get basically a $3 million station for $750,000.”

When renovation begins, UNC has agreed to house the crew currently at Station 2 at an old fraternity house near Finley Golf Course.

Stancil said the town also has two other fire stations that need renovation and already have proposals to buy those lots, but wanted to start with Station 2 before moving forward on to the others.


Town Council Discusses January Ice Storm

The Town of Chapel Hill reviewed their process for handling ice and snow after the recent storm in their meeting Monday night.

Interim Fire Chief Matthew Sullivan said the ice storm that hit the town last month had a few characteristics that made it tough prepare for and deal with

“It wasn’t fluffy, white easy to push snow,” he said.

Sullivan also said the temperature was too low and prevented the ice from melting.

Snow and ice storm

(Photo by Blake Hodge)

From noon on Friday, when the storm first began, to noon the Monday after, there were only 12 hours of over 30 degree weather and only seven hours of sunlight, which meant ice on sidewalks and roads didn’t melt.

Some residents were upset at what they saw as a lack of response from the town when it came to clearing sidewalks.

“How we clear our streets and how we clear our sidewalks isn’t just about how we get cars from place to place,” said councilwoman Donna Bell. “It’s really a social justice issue. There are people who don’t have cars. There are some people who have to walk.”

Response to the storm cost the town $350,776 , which included spreading 32,000 gallons of brine on the roadways and hiring contractors to help get everything done.

“The Town of Chapel Hill has four brine distributors, five box spreaders, 10 plows and a motor grader,” Sullivan said. “That isn’t sufficient to do the type of clean up we need to do and so we employ contract resources.”

The town brought in an additional four plow trucks, five motor graders, three rubber tire loaders and eight skid steers.

Sullivan said the cost of storm was factored into this year’s budget and can be absorbed by individual departments.

One town employee said there are measures the town can take if another storm exceeds their current budget.

“Obviously we’re not equipped or budgeted for multiple large-storm events,” he said. “If there’s another large-storm event, the first strategy would be to try to find additional funds in departmental budgets to cover those costs.”

If there are not enough funds in those budgets, the town will look to find money in other places. In case of emergency the council can grant an additional appropriation.


State Laws Affect Chapel Hill And Carrboro

Laws passed by the North Carolina General Assembly last year are now in effect that will limit the authority of local governments. Chapel Hill town attorney Ralph Karpinos presented some of these changes to the town council in their work session Wednesday night.

“As you probably have heard just by watching the media there’s not a lot of good news,” he said. “Most of it has been was in which the general assembly has been trying to reduce the authority of the town and other local governments.”

Towns in North Carolina derive their powers from the General Assembly, meaning the assembly can regulate what towns are able to do. One change made this year was to limit local government’s ability to regulate firearms.

“Prior to the 2015 session of the General Assembly, local regulation of the possession, ownership, transfer, sale, purchase, storage, licensing and registration of firearms was prohibited,” he said. “In 2015 the legislature added to this list taxation, manufacture and transportation.”

Should a local government attempt to regulate one of these issues, a person may file a lawsuit seeking damages and court costs. Karpinos said they still have the authority to regulate the discharge and display of firearms.

The General Assembly also prohibited towns from issuing sanctuary city ordinances.

“This is in large part a response to actions that were taken or reported to have been taken by a number of cities around the state, including Chapel Hill,” Karpinos said.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro had been sanctuary cities for several years, meaning that local police do not turn undocumented residents over to federal authorities, if the resident has no history of violence or felony behavior.

The law also prohibits the use of documents issue by a foreign consulate as acceptable documentation, but councilwoman Maria Palmer said the town was working on creating a local ID to give to immigrants.

“That legislation does authorize the use of locally-issued IDs, if the police accept them,” Palmer said. “We’re working right now with Centro Hispano and the chiefs of police in Carrboro and Chapel Hill and the sheriff to start issuing that documentation starting in February.”