After nearly a decade of debate, the Charterwood development is underway.
Bill Christian is the Chapel Hill-based developer behind Charterwood, one of the most contentious projects to come before the Chapel Hill Town Council in years.
While he’s glad to see the project finally breaking ground, the battle he fought to get to this point has left him bruised and bitter.
“I would not go through it again. There’s no possibility of my group making anything. We will lose money. That’s a foregone conclusion.”
According to Christian, the Charterwood project came before the Town Council 28 times since 2007. It was narrowly approved in 2012. But that wasn’t the end- neighbors filed suit against the developer and the town, and the mediation process that resulted lasted another year.
He says the approval process alone cost him upwards of $2 million dollars.
“It was certainly a poor outcome. My partners don’t blame me- that’s a good thing- because I could not have made up the process that I went through.”
Now, he’s sold a portion of the 15 acre lot to Zimmer Development out of Wilmington. They’ll build the first phase of the mixed-use project – a 154 unit apartment complex on nine acres near the corner of MLK and Weaver Dairy Road Extension. That’s under construction now and should be completed in a year.
“I think they’ll do a good job, and that’s important to me. What’s left to do is either stuff that we may do or future buyers may do, but I hope they also will do a good job. That’s important to me. It was from day one important to me.”
Christian still owns an adjacent five-acre parcel, which is zoned for a four-story mixed-use building plus a bank and a historic farm house he hopes to repurpose.
But he’s not sure he wants to continue to do business in Chapel Hill, given the kind of backlash he’s seen firsthand.
“I have often thought, ‘how did the process get to this point?’ For the whole time I’ve lived here, thirty years, it has surprised me. Why does everyone want to oppose virtually every project that gets proposed? It doesn’t matter the merits.”
He says he is encouraged to see the Council try new approval processes like form-based code.
“Form-based code is definitely a step in the right direction, because the way it’s supposed to work is that it takes the politics out of it, and that’s a good thing. The development review process here is highly political and that’s not a good thing for real estate.”
Chapel Hill’s form-based code is limited to 190 acres in the Ephesus-Fordham area. Since the council enacted the new zoning last spring, the Village Plaza Apartment project has already been approved and a second project application has been submitted.
The Ephesus-Fordham district is a test case to see if new methods of zoning and approval can spur economic development. Currently, there are no plans to extend the code to other parts of town.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/charterwood-begins-construction-after-7-year-battle/
In response to a letter by Snow to the Council asking why the Bicycle Apartments were not delayed further in a vote last week, Pease replied with a letter stating her personal opinions too often make way into the Town’s planning decisions.
“I don’t have an issue with any advisory board or commission member disagreeing or not agreeing to any kind of development agreement,” Pease says. “I don’t have any issue with a citizen suing somebody or the Town over a disagreement. I think those are all our rights.”
In late October, residents of Chapel Hill sued the Town over the Charterwood project—which abuts Snow’s property—after the Council approved the development in September. The lawsuit stated that the Superior Court of Orange County should review the Town’s decision and that the development would be an inconvenience to its neighbors.
Pease says as a member of the Planning Board, and especially the chair of the Board, it’s hard for him to see how she can be a part of that lawsuit.
“I’m not comfortable with not speaking up on it,” Pease says. “I think there’s an ethical line that’s been crossed. The essence of my email back to her (Monday) was to ask her to resign her position on the Planning Board.”
He says he feels it’s important to understand how far is too far.
“I don’t have an issue with any other Planning Board member unless they’re a participant in a lawsuit on a development issue against the Town,” Pease says.
Snow’s letter regarding the Bicycle Apartments stated that the Council brought up “legitimate concerns” about the project that should have been answered with “fact-based data” but instead were overlooked and the development was approved.
However, Pease stated multiple times in his response that “fact-based data” has often been a request from Snow. He says that term is often misused “by amateurs trying to sway an argument that is primarily based on their personal bias.” He added that “in our town the term has been greatly overused.”
“They use a word about not being against development, but being for smart development,” Pease says. “When I talked to them about being able to define that, I can’t get a clear definition of what they mean.”
He says these requests often don’t leave any options to further Town development.
“They don’t want our taxes raised,” Pease says. “They don’t want our services cut. But yet there’s a group in town that consistently rallies citizens and close neighborhoods to speak out against development. I can’t figure out how to have the balance in town we need.”
In late December, former council member and current Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich wrote a letter to Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt stating Snow should hand in her resignation.
Click here to read the full story.
Snow had appeared before the Board of Commissioners earlier in the month to voice her objections to the County bus and rail plan. In doing so, she identified herself as the Planning Board chair and cited the Board’s opinions on long-range transportation planning.
Rich argued this amounted to an over-reach of power, but Mayor Kleinschmidt appeared at the next Planning Board meeting to clear the air of the conversations he said were occurring through local media instead of face to face.
Mayor Kleinschmidt stated it was perfectly fine to have an opinion, and fine to credential oneself when the time is appropriate. However, he made it clear that the Planning Board is an advisory board and that the final say goes to the Council.
Click here to read the full story.
Pease says he’s had this concern for some time, but it wasn’t his place to speak up during the conversation over Snow’s visit to Orange County. He says since he wasn’t at the meeting, he didn’t have first-hand knowledge of what took place.
“I waited and this thing was festering with me,” Pease says. “The email she sent last week just kind of was the tipping point I guess. I felt I needed to speak up.”
Regardless of the Mayor’s comments and what role Snow says she is able to play on the Planning Board, Pease says he doesn’t see her performing that role properly anymore.
“I’m not at all complaining or it bothers me that we got sued,” Pease says. “That’s the right of somebody to do that. But to be part of the development process, I don’t know how somebody that’s suing us could be unbiased in future recommendations to the council and that’s where I think an ethical line’s been drawn.”
Snow was not available for comment on the matter Monday evening.
Click here to read Del Snow’s letter to the Town Council.
Click here to read Gene Pease’s response to Snow.http://chapelboro.com/news/second-public-official-says-ch-planning-board-chair-should-resign/