CHAPEL HILL- The advisory committee charged with evaluating a development proposal for the Obey Creek property across from Southern Village said Tuesday that plan is not ready to move forward to the Chapel Hill Town Council.
“There are just too many pieces that are not known to make a responsible decision for the town and the community,” said committee member Jeanne Brown.
The concept plan calls for 1.5 million square feet of retail, office space and housing along South 15-501. This past spring the Town Council appointed a 17-member committee to evaluate the plan and decide if elected officials should begin negotiating a development agreement with East West Partners to govern the design and build-out of the project.
The committee is due to report to the council in January, but the majority of members signaled they are not ready to approve the next phase unless major changes are made.
***Addition: The committee took a vote on whether to accept the plan, reject it, or change it. The vote made was to change it to go along with the set of principals that were adopted by the committee. (This information was shared with WCHL from Aaron Nelson who is a member of the committee)
***The committee also voted to extend the exploratory phase in the effort to accomplish:
1. Council review of scope and direction given to Technical Team
2. East West Partners provides a new concept plan that is aligned with Compass Committee principles
3. Economic cost/benefit and traffic analysis data are applied to the new plan
4. Inclusion of all or part of the Compass Committee in evaluating the new plan
A decision whether or not to move into phase two will be based on the outcome of those topics. (This information was shared with WCHL from Jeanne Brown who made the motion to to extend the exploratory phase)
Specifically, they want to see a new, smaller concept plan from East West Partners, one that incorporates the design principals the committee has outlined. Much of Tuesday’s three hour meeting focused on ways to keep the project “human-scaled” by limiting building heights, capping square footage, reducing block size and focusing on pedestrians and cyclists.
Members also say the council shouldn’t consider any next steps until studies of the traffic and economic impacts of the project are completed.
“I don’t think the Town Council has the information right now that will allow them to be able to specifically define the things that they want as an outcome from that negotiation,” said committee member and Southern Village resident Susana Dancy.
The committee meets again in two weeks to finalize its recommendations, but some want to ask the council for an extension to allow time to evaluate any new data or revised plans.
The council will hear from the committee and the developer on January 13.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/compass-committee-rejects-obey-creek-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- Thirty meetings, ten months, seven community outreach sessions and $230,000 worth of consultant fees- that’s what it took for a 17-member committee to craft the Central West small area plan, which outlines future development near the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Susana Dancy was one of more than a dozen speakers on Tuesday who asked the Chapel Hill Town Council to support the committee’s plan.
“I believe the steering committee has produced a small area plan that is both forward-looking and realistic,” Dancy told the council. “It reveals significant compromises that defer to neighborhood concerns.”
The Central West plan calls for three- to five-story buildings with retail, office and a mix of uses along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard tapering to smaller residential development along Estes Drive.
Committee co-chair Amy Ryan said the group scaled down the plan following a community feedback session in September.
“We heard back loud and clear that this is too big and too dense,” said Ryan. “So when we came back and worked up the final Central West plan, you’ll see that our numbers have gone down considerably. We did hear that it was time to pull back.”
Still, some area residents were displeased with the committee’s final result, saying it will bring too much traffic to the already congested roads and threaten ecologically sensitive regions. David Tuttle served on the committee, but he said he said he could not support the committee’s plan.
“We strongly disagree with this picture that high density is needed to save our neighborhoods,” said Tuttle.
He and other neighbors offered what they dubbed a lower-density “alternate plan“, along with a 260-signature petition asking the council to study development impacts on traffic, stormwater control and the cost of town services.
Instead, the Council voted unanimously to adopt the committee’s plan, though they asked that the alternate plan be acknowledged in the official documents.
Although Council members said the Central West small area plan offered a balance between growth potential and neighborhood preservation, some worried it was too narrow in scope.
Early next year the Council will consider shifting the focus from planning small sections of town to wider studies of traffic and the economic impact of growth.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/council-unanimously-approves-central-west-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council is cautiously optimistic about a plan to build a six-story apartment building behind the Franklin Hotel, but Council members say there are still questions to be answered before the project moves forward.
Jay and Anup Patel of Wintergreen Hospitality want to build 55 apartments on Mallette Street behind the Franklin Hotel. The apartments were originally billed as student housing, but John McAdams told the Council on Monday they are rethinking that concept.
“Franklin Student Housing is a concept name and we will be changing it because it is meant to appeal to more than just students,” said McAdams.
However, Council member Lee Storrow said it wasn’t clear how appealing that mix might be to non-student renters.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that some of our older residents who are low-wage workers, even if you are providing some affordable housing, are going to have the same interests to live in a project that sounds like it is going to be about 90 percent undergrads,” said Storrow.
The developers are proposing a five- and six-story building on just less than one acre of land currently used as a parking lot. They told the Council they need to add density above and beyond what the area is zoned for to make the project economically feasible. In return, they hope to designate 20 percent of the apartments as permanently affordable rentals.
Council member Sally Greene pressed for details about the affordable rental plan, but Jay Patel said that’s still up in the air.
“For us, the priority now is to figure out the strategy and what the intent should be, based on your feedback and the community’s feedback, and then the logistics of figuring out how to make that happen,” said Patel.
Council members also urged the developers to rethink the buffer between the buildings and the Cameron-McCauley Historic District adjacent to the property.
“I don’t know how you do that, I’ve got no clue,” said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. “But right now it just seems too high, too close.”
Council member Donna Bell said this could become more of a problem in the future as new properties are developed downtown.
“We should work in coordination with the developer to think about how these bufferings should work and think of it as sort of a pilot program to figure out what we’re going to do long-term,” said Bell.
The Franklin Housing concept is still being developed and no formal plan has been submitted to the town.
A separate plan to redevelop Timber Hollow Apartments on Martin Luther King Boulevard was scheduled to come before the Council on Monday, but developer Ron Strom asked to delay deliberations until February.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chtc-mulls-mallette-street-apartment-concept/
CHAPEL HILL- When the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board met together for the first time last night to discuss shared concerns, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt called for the school board to take a more active role in how the town plans for growth.
“We really need your feedback… to be more engaged in commenting on the impact of growth in our community on how well you’re able to provide your services to it,” said Kleinschmidt.
But long-time school board member Mike Kelley countered that growth is not what the district really needs.
“The best situation for the schools is stability, not to have to build new schools, not to have to redistrict, to move kids from one school from another and change those communities,” said Kelley.
Nonetheless, both council and school board members recognized that the district’s high-performing schools are a significant draw for Chapel Hill, and that school enrollment numbers are likely to continue to grow.
School board member Mia Burroughs has represented the district in the Central West planning process. She told the council the specifics of development aren’t as important to school administrators as the bottom line.
“Within our district, we’re not super-concerned about where the kids are,” said Burroughs. “What we are concerned about is how to do we pay for the schools and the operating costs, and that’s what we want you to be cognizant of, that when there are more kids, there’s a cost.”
Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the council the district is already struggling to maintain aging facilities and that the cost of operating new schools continues to rise.
In light of that, Burroughs and others asked the council to examine the economic impact of residential development and consider what can be done to increase the commercial tax base.
At the same time, some are already looking ahead to where the next school will go. Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison suggested land-banking potential school sites across the district.
“With the astounding price of land in this district, we really have to pin down that land right now, so that in five or ten years it isn’t simply out of reach,” said Harrison.
This was the first time the two groups have come together to discuss joint planning efforts. The school board and council pledged to continue the collaboration through a series of future meetings and raised the possibility of forming a committee to facilitate communication.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chccs-asks-town-council-to-consider-cost-of-growth/
CHAPEL HILL- More than 200 people came out Monday night to voice their concerns about the draft plan for the future of the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“I am not against development,” Chris Hakkenberg told the council. “I am however stridently opposed to the aggressive and myopic plans that have carried the day thus far in the Central West process.”
“I feel like in some respects, this is a size nine foot going into a size six shoe,” said Elaine Marcus.
“This plan, in short, is not ready for prime time,” said Alan Tom.
The three were among nearly thirty speakers at the public hearing, most of whom criticized the small area plan created by the Central West Steering Committee.
The 17-member committee was convened nearly a year ago, and since them the group has met more than 30 times and hosted 10 public outreach sessions prior to submitting the small area plan.
The plan lays out potential land uses for the 97 acre area, calling for a mix of commercial development and housing in three to five story buildings along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, with the density and building height decreasing along Estes Drive.
The plan also focuses on the need for bike and pedestrian pathways to access the two nearby schools. The committee recommends widening Estes to five lanes at the intersection with Martin Luther King, but tapering down to two lanes for much of the length of the road.
Amy Ryan, Town Council candidate and co-chair of the Central West Committee, said the improvements could mean less traffic at the intersection even with more drivers on the road.
“What they are telling us is that the level of service in morning and evening are not worse than they are today, and in some cases will be improved with some of the mitigations,” said Ryan. “The delay times are generally at a minute or less at peak times.”
The plan was approved by a two-thirds majority vote by the committee, but a small minority rejected the plan, saying it was too dense, with too few details on the possible impacts of growth.
But Ryan argued that’s not what the process was meant to produce.
“Our job was not to produces a specific site design for this area,” said Ryan. “Rather it was our job to have a vision for positive change.”
Residents opposed to the work of the committee have circulated a lower-density citizen’s plan, as well as a petition asking that the council vote to adopt the plan be delayed indefinitely.
And some on the council, including Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison, seemed inclined to consider the request.
“If it does take longer, it should take longer,” said Harrison. “This discounts none of the work of the committee, which I think has been excellent and the citizen’s plan as well is a nice piece of work. But I just want to say that right now I am willing to extend the time if that’s what it takes.”
Nonetheless, council member Gene Pease told the assembled crowd the town faces tough choices about growth and taxes in the near future. He asked residents to make room for commercial development.
“I don’t know the answer, except we have to accept some commercial,” said Pease. “You’ve been trying to define it with your citizen’s plan, the committee’s trying to define it, but we have to find some way to find some middle ground or our taxes are going to continue to go up services will be cut and we will be pushing out the people that create a diverse community. This will become a bedroom community if we’re not careful.”
The Central West plan goes to the Town Planning Board for evaluation before returning to the Town Council for consideration on November 25.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/estes-drive-residents-pan-central-west-plan/
CHAPEL HILL – Most of the candidates for the Chapel Hill Town Council say they believe your voice is being heard during the implementation process of the Chapel Hill 2020 process, but they also agree that much improvement can be made.
The Town of Chapel Hill is reworking its Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) and late last month it kicked off its LUMO update project. The LUMO is a ten-year-old zoning and codes rulebook that guides the development of land in Chapel Hill.
Monday during WCHL’s forum for the nine candidates seeking four seats on the Council, the contenders discussed what they saw as good and bad in the early stages of Design 2020—the implementation step of the Chapel Hill 2020 planning process.
George Cianciolo says he’s glad the Town has decided to change the LUMO and wants to see provisions put in place that benefit not only the Town but also the consumer.
“One of the things that’s being considered and obviously is being tested with the Ephesus Church small area plan is a form-based code system—or a hybrid of it,” Cianciolo says. “What citizens need to keep in mind is a form-based code uses citizen’s participation. It’s based on going to the citizens (and) asking what they want to see.”
He says there are two areas of the form-based code he’d like to see considered that other codes haven’t always used.
“What kind of a form-based code we might devise would be one that might allow for consideration of design,” Cianciolo says. “The other thing is consideration of affordable housing.”
Gary Kahn says he’s noticed too many struggles in the early stages of the implementation process of future development of Chapel Hill.
“What sounds good on paper doesn’t necessarily work,” Kahn says. “The Central West Committee actually has proved that. I have to say that it sounds great, but unfortunately I think it’s come to the point where you can’t satisfy everybody.”
But Cianciolo says you’re never going to get everyone to agree on every issue.
“The Central West Committee which Amy is co-chair on has adopted a plan, and the issues that were voted on were adopted by a vote of a super majority,” Cianciolo says.
And Maria Palmer says just because you can’t satisfy everybody doesn’t mean the process doesn’t work.
“Everybody feels like they gave a little bit, but it’s the only way that parties that started out disagreeing can come to a resolution,” Palmer says. “That’s how we do business. It’s politics, and it’s not a dirty word.”
Amy Ryan is one of the co-chairs of the Central West Steering committee. She says she’s confident that the process has allowed the voice of the people to be a valuable part of the decision making.
“The citizen processes are contentious, but I think that having that dialogue and getting everybody to the table and inviting everybody in to talk about these issues is what’s really important.”
And she says what would really help the process move smoother is by creating better guidelines for these focus groups after finding what worked and what didn’t during these early groups.
“I would really like to see the Town adopt a template for this kind of process to say when you want to do a small area plan or something, this is how you do it; this is how you set up a committee; these are the steps that you go though; this is the kind of facilitation that you have,” Ryan says. “So I think that will make it easier. Some of what happens at Central West is we had a lot of issues about process.”
Loren Hintz says he’s worried about the lack of transparency in some areas because of the fact that the citizens involved in the groups are in fact civilians.
“There’s a tendency for committee members to want information and it’s not provided in a timely fashion,” Hintz says. “And so, issues like how is storm water going to be handled or traffic, that information isn’t made available or might not even be able to be available. So some members are frustrated because they don’t have that information in a timely fashion.”
The Town hired an outside consulting agency to do a site survey and present plans for the committee from which to choose. The consultant cost the town $230,000.
Hintz says the Town can learn from the process and make the implementation step more efficient.
“I think we should continue to use more in-house facilitators and try to reduce the amount of consultant fees that we have to pay,” Hintz says.
There are currently three groups meeting to discuss future development: the Central West Steering Committee which presents its plan to the Town Council and opens the floor for public comment on it on Monday, the Ephesus/Fordham Focus Area, and the Obey Creek area across from Southern Village.
This discussion took place in the early parts of the second hour of the Chapel Hill Town Council candidates forum.
CHAPEL HILL- Molly McConnell told the Chapel Hill Town Council she’s lived in rentals since 1970, but it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet.
“I will tell you that 74 percent of my income goes to my housing, my heat, my electricity and my water,” said McConnell, who lives in the Glen Lennox neighborhood. “I am one of many, many thousands of people in this sort of situation in this community. We do not have a healthy or just community when we don’t have affordable or decent housing for all of our citizens.”
McConnell, along with a group of developers, elected officials and non-profit representatives, served on the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, which presented five month’s worth of research to the Town Council on Wednesday.
The panel recommended that the town shorten the approval process for developers building affordable rentals and incentivize the creation of new affordable rentals at all ends of the economic spectrum.
Council member Donna Bell, who co-chaired the committee, told the council demand quite simply outstrips supply.
“As long as there are more people than there are units, then people will continue to pay a premium to have property here,” said Bell.
Committee members suggested putting a bond package up for a vote and dedicating as much as one cent on the tax rate to create consistent funding for the development of new housing.
Bell said taxpayers will have to decide just how much diversity is worth.
“What we are talking about is investing in whether we want to be a bedroom community or if we truly are invested in being a community of diversity. There’s no wiggle room in this. This is the baseline question,” said Bell. “If the citizens want to create a bedroom community, they should let us know so that we can start making policies in that direction and so that I can pack up my family and move somewhere else.”
But council member Matt Czajkowski pushed back against what he said are contradictory policies.
“To have a policy that says ‘we’re going to find ways to add affordable housing, when we have Chapel Hill 2020, broadly endorsed by the Chamber, which is basically going to knock down 300 affordable units in Colony Woods, makes no sense,” said Czajkowski.
In a ten minute speech to the council, he argued that Chapel Hill needs to fight to preserve its present supply of affordable rentals instead of planning to build more in the future, and he rejected the idea that more development will translate into more affordable options down the road.
***Listen to the discussion***
“When we talk about the need to add supply to the housing stock overall, let’s look at what we’ve added: East 54, 140 [West] Franklin, Greenbridge, the apartments that are coming at University [Square]. Every single one of them is among the most expensive per square foot in the entire town,” said Czajkowski. “What is the basis for the argument? Where is there any evidence at all that if we build more, or allow developers to build more, that it will result in ultimately lower rental rates?”
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt spent five minutes rebutting Czajkowski’s remarks, saying the problem is too big for the council to just throw up its hands.
“It requires every single one of us getting up everyday and making it work, and that means coming up with new ways of thinking about things,” said Kleinschmidt. “That’s what this committee has done.”
Despite the heated debate, the council took no action on the plan other than requesting a report from town staff on the feasibility of the proposals.
In the meantime, the council faces a November deadline to make a deal with a Raleigh-based nonprofit to use low-income tax credits to build affordable housing on town-owned land on Legion Road.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/council-members-square-off-on-affordable-rental-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- Residents living near Obey Creek got a look at a new development plan on Wednesday, but many still think it’s too much.
When developer Roger Perry presented a revised site plan to the Obey Creek Compass Committee, he told them that review by the town’s technical team had done much to improve it:
“It is a much better plan than the one you saw on Monday night,” said Perry. “We’re especially excited about figuring out a solution as to how to not turn our back on 15-501, but to integrate this project into the fabric of Southern Village and into town, instead of being an isolated place on its own.”
The revised plan is based on one presented to the committee earlier this week. It features a mixed-use complex with building heights ranging from three to six stories, with underground parking.
Revised Obey Creek Development Proposal
A team of consultants lead by Victor Dover reviewed the plan and made recommendations to the developer. The changes include breaking streets and buildings into smaller blocks, buffering 15-501 South with trees, and adding slow-speed circulator roads around the perimeter of the development.
“I think that’s one of the major breakthroughs in the last two days,” said Perry. “Now what we’ve designed is a streetscape along the creek that is really very much of a human scale. Three story townhomes where you could really create quite a pedestrian experience.”
But some committee members, as well as many of the three dozen audience members, said the plan did not address one of their fundamental concerns, that of scale. Robert Strauss questioned why the plan calls for a development footprint the same size as Durham’s Southpoint mall.
“I don’t feel like I have a good understanding, I don’t feel like there’s been a thoughtful approach to why it is the size it is,” said Strauss.
In fact, the revised plan is slightly larger that those the committee critiqued on Monday, though Perry said he’d be willing to scale it back to approximately 1.5 million square feet.
Dover warned the committee not to aim too low, saying the project must reach a critical mass of residential and retail density to succeed.
“You usually think about density like it’s a toxic substance, and that the thing to do is to reduce the dosage so you don’t overdose on it,” said Dover. “I don’t think that’s the situation that you have right here. You actually want to achieve a livable density, which means one that supports transit, one that puts enough souls close together to support neighborhood retail, to support neighborhood congregation. Those are public benefits and you don’t get to those by just taking density out.
“You want us to be successful. The last thing you want is a failure here,” said Perry. “So you want us to be successful, we feel like this is a scale that is in the best interests for us being successful and the town.”
The Obey Creek Compass Committee is in the first phase of the negotiation process for a development agreement. The committee’s report, due to go to the town council in November, will help the council decide whether to enter into the second phase of the process, in which town leaders would negotiate directly with the developer to hash out a long-term building plan for the 124 acres site along 15-501 across from Southern Village.
The newly revised Obey Creek map will be presented for public comment at a forum on October 16, from 7- 9 p.m. at Extraordinary Ventures on Elliot Road.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/so-village-residents-skeptical-of-new-obey-creek-plan/
CHAPEL HILL-Sustainability and citizen engagement were the key themes raised by candidates for the Chapel Hill Town Council at Thursday’s forum hosted by the Orange County Democratic Women.
Cuts to state and federal funding, as well as the persistent drain of retail dollars to surrounding counties have many in Chapel Hill looking for ways to grow the local economy.
Maria Palmer, who served on the Transportation Committee during the Chapel Hill 2020 process, said implementing the vision laid out in the new comprehensive plan will be the key to drawing new commercial development to the area.
“I don’t think any of us realize that the level of services we receive in Chapel Hill is unsustainable,” said Palmer. “We either pay a whole lot more in taxes or we cut services or we create new income, and that is one thing I really want to do.”
And 2020 co-chair George Cianciolo agreed. He said the town needs to focus on streamlining the development process and revising the town’s land use ordinances to provide guidance to developers to attract new business.
“There should be no reason that any applicant should have to wait more than a year to either get an up or down vote on their application,” said Cianciolo. “If we do those [revisions], I think we can get new growth, we can get thoughtful new growth, we can get well-designed new growth that will not only increase our tax base, it will bring in increased revenue from sales tax.”
D.C Swinton said he’d like to see new growth focused on job creation to help the approximately one out four Chapel Hill residents who live in poverty.
“There are a lot of people who are still in need of full-time jobs and I’d like to bring jobs through sustainable practices to Chapel Hill,” said Swinton.
Candidates also discussed ways to get the public engaged in town affairs. Loren Hintz said he wants to foster a proactive approach among town officials.
“So much of what local government does is complaint-driven,” said Hintz. “I want to create a new attitude where employees are going around town, council members are going around town noticing what the problems are and then pointing those out so they can be addressed rather than waiting for someone to complain.”
Current Council Member Ed Harrison said educating residents about the role of local government is one of the best ways to get the public involved.
“The more the town publicizes what the town actually does on a day-to-day basis, and what solutions the town can offer to people, the more people will understand that the policies of the town should matter to them,” said Harrison.
Only Democratic candidates were invited to Thursday’s forum. Cianciolo, who had previously been unaffiliated, recently registered as a Democrat, allowing him to participate.
Five of the nine candidates for town council were in attendance. Incumbent Sally Greene was out of town on a family matter, Planning Board member Amy Ryan was across town at the Central West meeting, and challenger Paul Neebe was absent. Gary Kahn, the ninth council candidate, was not included, as he is a registered Republican.
Election campaigning is well underway, with a slew of forums scheduled in the next six weeks. The local chapter of the League of Women Voters will host a forum for the Carrboro municipal candidates this Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at Carrboro Town Hall.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/chtc-candidates-talk-growth-engagement-and-sustainability/
CHAPEL HILL- When developer D.R. Bryan first suggested building a hotel in the heart of Southern Village back in late 2008, residents of the neighborhood responded with such vehement dismay that the proposal was tabled.
Fast forward five years and the concept of a hotel in the mixed-use village has resurfaced, though this time it would be at the edge of the development instead of at its center.
Barbara Crane lives and works in Southern Village. She told the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday that though she fought the prior plan, she’s changed her mind.
“Since the difficult times in 2009 when I and others questioned whether there was a market for an additional hotel, the market has improved greatly,” said Crane.
The new proposal is slightly smaller, and in a different location. Bryan wants to build a five-story, 112 room hotel on four acres along 15-501 across from Solar Strata.
At Monday’s public hearing, residents and business owners were lining up to praise the plan, which many said would bring much needed business to the merchants on Market Street.
“As an independent business we face a lot of challenges, and now we have big box stores like Wal-Mart encroaching on our territory,” said Micki Cashman, the store manager at Weaver Street Market’s Southern Village location. “We are looking for an additional anchor on the commercial center to really help strengthen all of our retail businesses.”
Gary Kahn, a Southern Village resident and town council candidate, was the only speaker to criticize the plan, warning it could generate unwanted traffic in the area.
“I encourage the mayor and the town council to act very slowly on granting the permit for the Southern Village hotel, or make it part of the Obey Creek process and let the community say whether we really need a hotel,” said Kahn.
The council was largely supportive of the hotel concept, although some questioned the idea that hotel guests would drive into the center of the Southern Village commercial district instead of driving.
“Real walk-ability is about passing places that are interesting and seeing windows and seeing activity and having the option of popping in and stuff,” said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. “You make a five minute walk feel like a 20 minute walk when you don’t have those things and so people won’t even take the five minute walk.”
The project will return to the council for a vote on October 28.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/new-hotel-plan-draws-praise-from-those-once-opposed/