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.

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.

Retail Superstore Target Could Come To Chapel Hill

When it comes to the rumors of a Target coming to Chapel Hill, mayor Pam Hemminger can’t say much.

“I can’t confirm or deny the story,” she said. “But I will tell you, wouldn’t it be exciting to have what’s called a Metro Target? I’ve been to a few in other cities.”

If a Target were to move in to Chapel Hill, it would be at Carolina Square, formerly University Square on Franklin Street.

Hemminger said it could take up nearly 16,000 square feet of retail space in the complex, which would be almost all of the retail space available.

“It’s usually a two-level store that provides groceries and other types of things,” she said. “Wouldn’t that be fabulous for our downtown residents that live there in Northside and along Franklin Street and students to be able to have some grocery opportunities there?”

Hemminger said the possibility of a Target has not changed any development plans.

“It’s still going to have the commercial office space,” she said. “Still going to have the residential space. Still going to have the performing arts center. Still going to have the green space. Still going to have 880 parking spaces.”

Construction on the 123 million dollar mixed-use space began in October.

UNC has been a major partner in the project so far, already committing to half of the office space when it is scheduled to open in August 2017.

Hillsborough Approves Master Plan for 1,000+ Unit Development

The master plan for the proposed Collins Ridge development in Hillsborough was approved by the Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Monday night.

Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens says that the developer has altered its plan to include more affordable housing after several public hearings.

“We had concerns about the level of affordable housing,” Stevens said. “The developers had originally proposed something like 40 units and then they came back when we just didn’t feel like that was adequate.

“They couldn’t do that with units for sale, but they came back [and] working with CASA we could do rental units.”

Stevens says by working with Community Alternatives for Supportive Abodes, CASA, the developer will be able to provide 88 affordable rental units.

The Collins Ridge project would be located on about 125 acres on the eastern end of Orange Grove Street in central Hillsborough.

The master plan, which has now been approved, states that no more than 1,038 units will be permitted on the property.

The town’s planning board had recommended that the master plan be approved with specified conditions, and Stevens says most of the continuing concerns will be handled as the developer moves through the remaining approval process.

“[The master plan] specifies a little bit about the streets, what kind of amenities would be done,” Stevens says, “but it isn’t a specific plan for each one of those parcels.”

Stevens says now that the master plan has been approved, the developer will have to come back to the board and apply for a special use permit.

“That would have a lot more details about lighting and where specifically the roads are and how many units and what setbacks were,” Stevens says of the potential Special Use Permit. “A lot of those things that are of concern we really won’t even see until the SUP.”

Stevens says another concern has been the amount of traffic the development would add to the historic town continues as it continues to expand housing availability.

Town Council Continues To Review American Legion Possibilities

The debate over what to do with the 36-acre property soon to be the former home of the American Legion is far from over.

“We have this opportunity now,” Mayor Pam Hemminger said during the town council’s work session Wednesday night. “I wanted to hear whether the council wanted to look for other options or let it go down the development path that has been proposed at this point in time.”

American Legion entered a contract to sell the property to Woodfield Acquisitions for $10 million.

The Town of Chapel Hill had the option to buy the property for $9 million, but waived its right to first refusal in a closed-session meeting in November.

The decision was made just after the November election, when a new mayor and three new council members were elected.

Councilwoman Maria Palmer was in the closed-session and said the town did not have the money to purchase the property.

“Help me understand how, just because there was an election, all of a sudden we can come up with $10 million,” she said.

Woodfield builds multi-family homes and apartment complexes. Along with these complexes, Woodfield is also considering building office or retail spaces, but their deal is contingent on the developer receiving a special use permit from the town.

Should they not receive an SUP, Hemminger said the town could possibly use bond money to help purchase the property or enter into a partnership with a private business.

“There’s different partnerships that are available if we choose to make those kinds of things a priority,” Hemminger said. “There is a contract on this property, but it hinges on upzoning this property to be more dense and we control if that happens or not.”

Hemminger suggested moving some or all of the $8 million allocated in the recent bond for parks and recreation towards purchasing the property.

“People spent so much time coming up with a list of things on that parks and rec priorities,” said councilwoman Donna Bell. “This was not a priority. This was not listed as one of the things where we’re like ‘let’s put some money away for the American Legion project’ because there were other things that were priorities.”

While no decision was made Wednesday night, the council will continue to discuss possibilities.

Representatives from Woodfield were in attendance, but did not address the council during the meeting.

Scott Underwood, who ran a community forum about the possible development in January, said they would be meeting with council members to help figure out the best way to move forward.

Think About Why Your Tax Dollars Are So High

Now that the economy has improved, there are several big developments before Chapel Hill and Carrboro governments.  And there are the usual protesters saying don’t build it.  Or at least don’t build it so all those lovely vistas that I enjoyed, but belong to other people, will be replaced by developments that I don’t want to live next door to.

I spoke to a neighbor to see what her taxes were like.  “Oh, they are way too high.  I can barely afford them anymore.”

When I pointed out that it is because there is little commercial base to relieve the burden on individual homeowners, she hadn’t thought of that.

I am asking everyone to think of that.

What is amazing to me is the number of people who don’t live anywhere near proposed developments.  I was pleased that the Villages, Obey Creek, and Edge developments because there are few homes close by and they are on major thoroughfares.  But, no the usual protests were raised even though they live nowhere near them.

I used to buy my underwear and lots of other things at Belk and Dillard’s in Chapel Hill.  So, I shopped at Belk in Southpoint.  There were traffic jams and no parking spaces and guess who else was there shopping?

Lots of people from Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

And guess whose library, police, and parks got the taxes from all of those Orange County shoppers?


So, the next time you go before the council and ask for extra funds for our libraries, swimming pools, and all those other amenities you enjoy, remember where you left your tax dollars that would have paid for all of that.


— Ellie Kinnaird

Carrboro Board Of Aldermen Considering Main Street Hotel

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen are exploring the possibility of allowing Hilton to build a hotel in downtown Carrboro.

In their meeting Tuesday night, the aldermen unanimously agreed to continue the discussion over whether or not to allow Hilton to build a five story hotel on 300 Main Street.

A number of local businesses, including the owners of Fleet Feet and Bella’s showed their support for the hotel.

Bridget Pemberton-Smith from Cameron’s said the Hampton Inn helps her generate revenue for her business and others around town.

“We make sure (guests) know about all the great restaurants in town,” she said. “The hotel brings a lot to Carrboro in terms of business and I think having a second hotel would just amplify that.”

An original conditional use permit was given in 2008 for the purpose of building a five-story mixed-use development.

Laura Van Sant from Main Street Properties said the hotel would employ around 50 people and will provide meeting and event space.

“We think this is a better project for downtown Carrboro,” she said. “More tax revenues, more people with money in their pockets going out and spending at local businesses.

One major issue that still needs to be resolved is parking.

Part of the original CUP allows the company to build an expansion on the current parking deck in 300 Main Street.

Van Sant asked the town to allow deck to be built after the construction of the hotel.

“We have to go to the bank and finance this project,” she said. “If we go to the bank and say ‘well the town really wants us to build a $3 million parking deck expansion’ and we don’t need it, that’s not going to go.”

Van Sant said she was in favor of building the parking deck expansion at the same time as the hotel, but there were issues with the bank that prevented that.”

“The problem is, it could kill the deal,” she said. “We can’t finance the deck.”

In the meantime, there is scheduled to be 39 parking spaces underneath the hotel. The expansion would add another 118 spaces.

Board member Jacque Gist said she wanted the expansion to continue with the rest of the project. She said the community helped during the construction of the first hotel and that should be reciprocated as this one is built.

“I don’t think we can afford to turn away from additional parking,” she said. “It might not hurt your businesses, but it would hurt surrounding businesses, whose tax dollars were necessary for your businesses to accomplish what they’ve done.”

The board will talk about this issue again on March 8.

New Chapel Hill Mayor Hemminger Looks Ahead To 2016

It was one of the biggest local stories of the year: Pam Hemminger, last seen losing a bid for reelection as county commissioner three years ago, returning to the political scene and upsetting incumbent Mark Kleinschmidt to become Chapel Hill’s new mayor.

Hemminger’s been on the job for a couple weeks now, after the official swearing-in ceremony earlier this month. On Thursday she joined Aaron Keck on WCHL for a discussion about the initial learning curve, what she’s experienced in her first few days, and what’s on the town’s agenda for 2016 – including continuing development talks, new procedures to improve transparency and get residents involved in town government, and an initiative to help kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch during the school year stay nourished over the summer. (Also, pickleball.)

Listen to their conversation.

“Ephesus-Fordham” To Be Rebranded; Village Plaza Done In A Year

The crane has arrived and construction is under way on Village Plaza Apartments, the big project on Elliott Road that’s sparked an equally big debate this election season.

“Some of you may have noticed our crane showed up this week, the large crane that will start erecting the parking deck,” says Lee Perry of East West Partners, the developer behind Village Plaza (et al). “The deck will start going up this week, (and) we hope to have it done by early December.”

Village Plaza is the first major project in Chapel Hill’s revamp of the Ephesus-Fordham district. When it’s done, the complex will include 265 residential units and 15,000 square feet of retail – and Perry says it should all be finished in about a year.

“We’re pouring the podium slab now for the retail-commercial (units), and we expect to be delivering the first units of commercial space in August,” he says. “It’s tight, but we’re working towards meeting that goal – and then we’ll have a second phase that will complete the project (next) October.”

Village Plaza was the first project approved under Chapel Hill’s new development process for Ephesus-Fordham, a process called “form-based code.” The idea is to speed up the approval process by establishing development guidelines in advance and approving all projects that meet those guidelines – rather than having to examine every new proposal separately. Chapel Hill is trying the “form-based code” with Ephesus-Fordham, a district that town leaders have long argued is in need of major redevelopment.

Many local residents have objected to the guidelines, though – saying it allows for buildings that are too tall, doesn’t do enough to promote affordable housing or alleviate bad traffic, and doesn’t sufficiently address stormwater concerns in the flood-prone area.

That debate has been at the center of Chapel Hill’s 2015 municipal election, so Village Plaza has been something of a lightning rod. But construction is ongoing regardless – though Perry says when all is said and done, the project won’t be called “Village Plaza,” nor will the district be called “Ephesus-Fordham.”

“We’re going to be changing the name soon,” Perry says. “We’re waiting for the new branding of the Ephesus-Fordham district to mature a little further – there’s going to be a new name for the district and a new branding effort – so we’re waiting for that to take shape as we think about what we’re going to name the project.”

Village Plaza Apartments – or whatever it’s going to be called – is going up on the site of a former movie theater on Elliott Road.

Labor Shortage Hitting Local Construction

Even now that the recession is over, millions of Americans are still having trouble finding work. But experts say there’s actually a big labor shortage in the construction industry – and local developers say it’s causing some major headaches.

“We haven’t seen a labor shortage this dramatic since 2001,” says Holly Fraccaro of the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties. Speaking Tuesday at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s annual Orange County Development Briefing, she shared the results of a recent survey of home builders nationwide.

“Seventy-four percent (of home builders) reported shortages in rough carpenter sub-contractors, 73 percent in framing crews, 69 percent in finished carpenters, 59 percent in bricklayers and masons – and the list goes on,” she said at Tuesday’s briefing. (The survey was conducted by the National Association of Home Builders.)

And Fraccaro says that shortage is having a big impact on residential and commercial construction.

“Sixty-one percent of the respondents (to the national survey) were forced to raise home prices,” she says. “Fifty-eight percent had significant delays in delivering their homes on schedule, and over a quarter of the respondents reported projects losing money.”

And Chapel Hill is not immune. On Elliott Road, construction has begun on the new Village Plaza apartments – but developer Lee Perry of East West Partners says the labor shortage has already caused delays.

“We were delayed about a month just getting the crane on site,” he says. “That crane just showed up from South Dakota, of all places – that was the closest place we could find a crane to begin the (parking) deck.”

Jobs in the construction business pay well, but Fraccaro says there’s not much in the way of training programs locally: Durham Tech, for instance, offers carpentry courses, but no certification program. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools superintendent Tom Forcella says the district has offered vocational classes at the high school level – but students tend not to take them.

So Fraccaro says the Homebuilders Association is launching its own program: the Construction Careers Building Institute, in conjunction with national and local organizations like the Homebuilders Institute, Skills USA, and El Centro Hispano.

“The institute will provide skills-based apprenticeship training for carpentry, HVAC, electric, plumbing and masonry,” she says. “Eventually we will offer programs for construction site supervision, applied building science, (and) English as a second language, just to name a few.”

Fraccaro says the institute will have a physical home down the road – but if you’re looking for a new career, she says it will start offering programs beginning next fall.