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.

Carolina Ale House To Occupy Former Yates Building

The Yates Building at 419 West Franklin Street will be occupied once more, as LM Restaurants announced it will open a Carolina Ale House restaurant at that location within the next twelve months.

The site would be the 14th Carolina Ale House to open in the state and the 22nd in the Southeast.

The building, which has been vacant since 2003, was the site of a confrontation in November 2011 between Chapel Hill Police and 70 protesters seeking to occupy the site indefinitely.

The Yates Building raid sparked months of controversy regarding police tactics, as some objected to the deployment of the town’s Special Emergency Response Team. Officers armed with assault rifles arrested seven protesters and briefly detained two reporters at the scene.

Since then, the Yates Building has played host to seasonal art installations, but has sat largely empty. Now, the site is set to be remodeled and the newest Carolina Ale House should be open by next spring.

“We’ve been looking for a location on Franklin Street for years,” Lou Moshakos, president and owner of LM Restaurants said in a press release. “This spot is perfect for us.”

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.

Town Council Warms To Senior Housing Plan On Homestead

CHAPEL HILL- The third time might be the charm for developers looking to build a new subdivision on nearly 18 acres at 2209 Homestead Road across from Weaver Dairy Road Extension.

Ed Bacome of Epcon Communities told the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday he wants to build 65 single-family homes aimed at empty-nesters.

“We are proposing to create what we believe are America’s best ‘Boomer Homes,’” said Bacome.

In 2010 and again in 2011, developers made a pitch to bring student housing to the site, but each time met with stiff resistance from neighbors and the Town Council, who worried the projects would be too dense and too loud for the largely residential area.

This new plan, called Courtyards of Homestead, was warmly received by the council, as members commended the developer for offering moderately-priced homes to the town’s aging population.

“It’s to me, very refreshing to have a developer here who’s not pitching us on dense student housing plopped down next to a neighborhood where nobody can argue that the two could ever really coexist,” said Council member Matt Czajkowski.

The main sticking point for Council members was the developers’ initial reluctance to commit to building affordable housing on the site, instead offering payment-in-lieu to subsidize affordable housing elsewhere. Council member Lee Storrow told Bacome that’s not what the town needs.

“I would be challenged to think of a payment-in-lieu that would large enough that I would find compelling,” said Storrow.

Council members also pushed for greater connectivity to make sure residents could walk to nearby facilities like the Seymour Senior Center and the Homestead Road Aquatic Center.

However, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt challenged the idea that the homes would be sold to retirees rather than families with school-aged children.

“I don’t see how you’re able to get these sold to people of 50, 55 or older, if you don’t actually have an age restriction” said Kleinschmidt.

No formal plan has been submitted to the town yet. The developer will review the Council’s comments before deciding whether to move ahead with the project.

Town Council Wary Of East Franklin Hotel Plan

CHAPEL HILL- A plan for a new hotel on East Franklin Street met with opposition from residents and the Chapel Hill Town Council last week

Anthony Carey is the general manager at the Siena Hotel on the corner of East Franklin and Estes Drive. He told the Council he’s skeptical about a plan to build a new upscale hotel less than half a mile down the road.

“We currently do not have an urgent need for hotel rooms,” said Carey. “Between July 1 of last year and December 31, how many times was the Aloft, Siena, Sheraton, Franklin, Carolina Inn, Residence Inn and Courtyard sold out harmoniously? Zero.”

The concept was introduced to the Town Council at a public hearing last week. No formal plan has been submitted to the town, but developers heard an earful from neighbors critical of their proposal to build a five-story, 110-room hotel on less than two acres along East Franklin Street.

Dr. Terry Vance runs a psychotherapy practice across the street from the site. She said a new hotel would pose a threat to her business.

“The increased traffic and the noise of building a hotel would make our practice impossible,” said Vance. “We depend on listening, quiet and privacy.”

Residents in the nearby Coker Hills neighborhood also voiced concerns about noise, light pollution and traffic.

When the time came for the Council to offer feedback, members were similarly unimpressed. Lee Storrow told developers he was not excited about the plan.

“We have an approved hotel in the southern part of town that’s likely to break ground very soon, we have approved a rough concept that would, in the future, lead to a hotel across from Carolina North, and there’s discussions about ones in Ephesus-Fordham,” said Storrow. “So I don’t think this concept make sense at this space. I think we’re just moving around people who are in other hotels and I don’t think that has the benefit of expanding our market or tax base the way we want it to.”

Developers must now decide whether to formally apply for a rezoning and special use permit, or shelve the hotel plan in favor of a new idea.

CHTC Eyes Ephesus-Fordham Renewal Plan

CHAPEL HILL- Town planners call the chance to redevelop the Ephesus Church-Fordham Boulevard area a watershed moment in Chapel Hill’s history.

Members of the business and development community turned out Wednesday night to cheer on the Chapel Hill Town Council as the Council took the first steps of a process to rezone 190 acres in the Ephesus Church-Fordham Boulevard area.

“I rise in support of this plan, wholeheartedly,” said Jeremy Browner, who runs a law office on Legion Road. “I believe that it would bring much-needed private investment to encourage commercial redevelopment in Chapel Hill.”

The Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan is the result of nearly a decade of planning to redevelop an area currently known for vacant lots, twisted intersections and traffic snarls.

The plan calls for the Council to reconfigure the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard, extend Elliot Road and create new mixed-use zones that allow three to seven stories of commercial and residential development.

It’s also an experiment in a new type of zoning for Chapel Hill called form-based code.

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.

Town Manager Roger Stancil said this will provide clarity for both developers and the Council.

“We have proposed a form-based code for this district that clarifies and streamlines the development process and improves predictability for the developer,” Stancil told the Council. “We are testing the assumption that if we are clear in what we want, we might get it.”

In addition to spurring redevelopment and expanding the town’s commercial tax base, Stancil said the plan will also address the long-standing traffic and flooding problems that have plagued the area for decades.

“The rezoning creates the opportunity for new tax revenues that allow us to solve problems the community has not been able to afford to resolve in the past,” said Stancil.

Town planners said individual redevelopment projects have been scuttled in the past due to the high cost of the required road and stormwater improvements.

Instead, the town will invest in the improvements upfront and be paid back incrementally as development within the district occurs.

The $10 million dollar investment in infrastructure will be financed using Chapel Hill Town Hall as collateral. Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer explained the money will also cover the recently-approved Town Hall renovations.

“Basically this is a strategy of using the collateral of one project to cover two projects, which is not all that uncommon in using installment financing,” said Pennoyer.

The majority of the 26 speakers at Wednesday’s public hearing lauded the plan as an exciting opportunity to change the way business is done in Chapel Hill. Others were more wary, worried that form-based code will remove public input from the development approval process. Critics also wanted more specifics on how and when stormwater and transit improvements would occur.

Some Council members also expressed doubts, as the form-based code model does not allow the Council to mandate affordable housing, green space or energy efficient design.

Still, most were optimistic about the plan.

“There are a lot of challenges moving forward and I think we’ve heard a lot of them from the public and the Council tonight,” said Lee Storrow. “But my God, that is a challenged area of town right now that has so much potential and, I think, a lot of excitement.”

The council voted unanimously to adopt a two-month timeline for approval of the plan. A public information session is scheduled for February 20; the council will likely take a vote on the Ephesus-Fordham rezoning March 24.

Gun Control And Obey Creek Top CHTC Agenda

CHAPEL HILL- After six months of debate, the 17-member committee charged with evaluating the Obey Creek development plan for the 124 acres across from Southern Village says the project needs more study.

Monday, the Chapel Hill Town Council will review the Obey Creek Compass Committee’s report, along with recommendations from developers at East West Partners and the technical consulting team hired by the town.

All this is preparation for a vote to determine if the town should negotiate a development agreement with East West Partners to govern the long-term build-out of a mixed-use project that’s estimated to be the same size as Southpoint Mall.

Committee members argue the plans are too big and will draw traffic to an already congested thoroughfare. Although they did not suggest stopping the negotiation process altogether, they say the town should request an all-new plan that is smaller in scope and impact.

The town planning board agrees with the Compass Committee, but East West Partners and the team of consultants want the current plan to move forward instead. They say many of the concerns raised by the committee can be resolved in phase two, in which developers negotiate directly with the Council and town staff.

If the Council decides to proceed into the second phase of the negotiation process, staffers estimate it could take up to one year to draft a development agreement.

On Monday the Council will also consider amending the town’s gun laws to match new state regulations approved last July.

Under the new rules, municipalities cannot prohibit gun owners with concealed carry permits from bringing firearms to parks, playgrounds, recreational facilities or on town buses.

The proposed changes have spurred a slew of emails from concerned residents who want the current bans to stay in place, but legal advisers warn that Chapel Hill could be targeted for lawsuits if town leaders don’t comply with the new regulations.

In addition, the Council will take public comment on a proposal to extend the town’s extra-territorial jurisdiction to include the Rogers Road neighborhood. If approved, this would enable the town to contribute funding for sewer service extension as part of the Rogers Road Remediation plan.

The Town Council meets at 7 o’clock at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road. Click here for the full agenda.

Youth To Play Major Role In Design 2020

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says a big part of Chapel Hill’s future relies on the youth of the town, and he says he’s excited to see the Chapel Hill Youth Initiative set in motion.

“We’re going to not only set priorities in our town’s budget for meeting the needs of youth in our community, but I believe we’ve also inspired some change and new approaches to meeting the needs of young people by non-government organizations in our community,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.

The Chapel Hill Youth Initiative comes from the town’s Design 2020 and is called Chapel Hill 4 Youth.

The Chapel Hill Town Council and its advisory boards were deep in the Chapel Hill 2020 process throughout 2013. And some portions of the planning discussions were a bit contentious.

“We saw a few projects slowly—particularly the Central West project, through a long process of community meetings, a lot of hard work by extraordinary volunteers, and we now have a vision that ultimately received—and I don’t think anyone would have guessed it even a month ago that it would receive a unanimous vote on the council,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.

There are still projects that will go before the Council like Obey Creek, Ephesus-Fordham, and Glen Lennox that are currently in the advisory board phase. Mayor Kleinschmidt says he can see using the members of the first project to help others move along smoothly.

“I think that that’s a sign that, folks who worked on that project…I think it’s a sign of how valuable their work was and will continue to be as we use them to help us with other projects, other areas of town that have received some very intense study,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.

Design 2020 is the implementation process of the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan that will shape future development in the town.

To read more of Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s thoughts on what the town accomplished in 2013 and what he’s looking forward to in 2014, click here.

Compass Committee Votes To Change Obey Creek Plan

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.

Town Council Unanimously Approves Central West 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.