Carrboro Students Talk Development, Aid In NYC

Last week, Carrboro High School teacher Matt Cone led a group of students to New York City for a three-day visit to discuss global aid and development with some of the world’s leading experts.

The students were from Carrboro’s Global Health Club. The trip was organized in conjunction with Pope Francis’ visit to New York, but also in conjunction with the Global Citizen Festival, which brought leading development experts together from around the world. (Bono, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, and Beyonce were also on hand.)

From Thursday through Saturday, the students met with about a dozen experts, including author William Easterly and Wagner School of Public Service professor Sonia Ospina, discussing a variety of approaches to global development from microloans to national aid programs.

Matt Cone and students Hope Anderson and Lucia Lozano-Robledo stopped by WCHL on Thursday and shared their experiences with Aaron Keck.

Redevelopment Plan Could Push Out Eastgate BP

Chapel Hill could bid goodbye to Eastgate BP if a new redevelopment plan is approved by town officials.

Federal Realty Investment Trust has submitted a request to demolish the service station on Fordham Boulevard to make way for a 7,600 square foot, multi-tenant retail complex.

Though area is zoned for up to seven stories of mixed-use development, the proposal only calls for a one-story building.

The plan would also close the service road that runs parallel to Fordham Boulveard. The developer is offering part of that land to the town for use as a future bike or pedestrian path.

Because the property lies within the recently rezoned Ephesus-Fordham district, the project does not need to come before the Town Council.

Instead, it will be reviewed by the Community Design Commission and town staff to see if it meets the requirements of the district’s form based code. The final decision could come in 45 days, or 15 days after the CDC grants approval, whichever comes later. The CDC is scheduled to review the proposal on Tuesday, August 25.

This is the fourth project to be proposed for the Ephesus-Fordham district since the council adopted the form-based code last year in a bid to spur redevelopment in the area.

Village Plaza Apartments is already under construction. Plans for a free-standing CVS pharmacy and a new retail building at Ram’s Gate Plaza are currently undergoing staff review.

Town Approves Obey Creek

Developer Roger Perry has been waiting on approval for Obey Creek for six years. And Monday night, he finally got his payday. The Town Council voted seven to one in favor of an agreement that would allow a 1.5 million-square-foot development to be built across from Southern Village.

The development will include housing, retail and commercial space, and it’s been a point of contention at town council meetings over the past several years. That tension was palpable Monday night as resident Arthur Finn spoke during the public hearing before the vote.

“How can a person who makes a living putting up 90-foot buildings talk about what’s good for Chapel Hill?” Finn asked.

The town has been working with an independent consulting firm and a council-appointed compass committee to vet the development agreement. But despite these efforts, many citizens at the meeting, like Esther Miller, shared lingering concerns about size, building heights and traffic mitigation.

“Traffic is bad, and it’s going to get a lot worse,” Miller warned.

The council members who voted for the agreement expressed a shared belief that Obey Creek had been thoroughly vetted and would provide needed housing and retail.

“I believe that the balance has been struck between a really dynamic wonderful, new area of Chapel Hill that supports many of our goals that have been mentioned, including new housing,” Councilwoman Sally Greene said.

Councilman Ed Harrison was the only member voting against. He said Obey Creek was a well-designed development, but still had concerns about traffic and size. He also felt several changes to the document made during the meeting had not been sufficiently reviewed.

“Even if I don’t agree with every point they’ve made,” Harrison said, “I would like someone to represent the folks who have had concerns about this that haven’t been alleviated. And I’m willing to do that. If that means I vote tonight then I do. In that case, I can’t vote for this. I certainly can’t vote for it if I haven’t seen the whole contract.”

While Harrison did not vote in favor of the development agreement, he did vote in favor of other provisions that allow Obey Creek to go forward—namely, the creation of a zoning amendment that allows for a development agreement to be used, the actual rezoning of the Obey Creek site and a land-swap between the town and the developer.

Several other council members shared a desire to see the final draft of the agreement, but were comfortable adding an article that would give the town until July 1 to make minor changes.

Perry says he isn’t certain when construction will begin, but it probably won’t be this year.

Chapel Hill Town Council Delays Obey Creek Vote

The Chapel Hill Town Council chose not to vote on the approval last night of the 120-acre Obey Creek development near Southern Village. Instead, the council used the meeting to hear further public comment and pushed the vote until next Monday.

The council’s decision not to vote seemed to come as a shock to Obey Creek’s developer Roger Perry.

“Damn! I got all dressed up,” Perry said.

Town staff had recommended the council approve the rezoning and development agreement, which would clear the way for construction to begin. But at the meeting, the council said it needed more time to review recent information from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The town spent last week in negotiations with the DOT over Obey Creek’s impact on traffic.

“There’s been a lot of questions from all of you, back and forth with the staff, getting and  seeking clarity,” Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said. “And so I think that having worked with these folks for a while, I think that they need to stew. And I think it’s reasonable because, much of what some of us have heard and learned, and the clarity we’ve sought on some issues, was hours ago.”

Despite successful negotiations with the DOT, some residents who spoke at the meeting expressed concern that the development agreement doesn’t ensure adequate traffic calming measures for south Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill resident Susan Lindsay said she wanted a stronger commitment to such measures for her area.

“You can’t get much more direct than the impact that Dogwood Acres Drive will feel from this development,” she said.

A few residents at the meeting also reiterated concerns about design, the amount of retail space, and a desire for an overall smaller footprint. Monte Brown was one proponent of a scaled-down development.

“To me it’s clear: You either value the life of the southern Chapel hill residents and your various boards, or you value the bunch of investors from Maryland,” Brown told the council.

Several council members signaled their support of the project at its largest scale: 1.5 million square feet. Councilwoman Maria Palmer said she supports a larger footprint because it means more housing for more people.

“We actually need housing in Chapel Hill. We need places for people to live. We have thousands of people commuting to Chapel Hill because there is no adequate housing for them. We have a lack of certain types of apartments, of housing for older residents, of affordable housing, of everything that is going into this development,” Palmer said.

The council plans to resume discussion and come to a vote on Obey Creek at its meeting next Monday night.

Officials Break Ground on New Southern Village Hotel

After seven years of planning, the Southern Village neighborhood will get a new hotel.

Developers and elected officials leaned on golden shovels Thursday to break ground on the five-story Hyatt Place hotel. The facility will include 110 guest rooms as well as indoor and outdoor meeting space.

Though many were on hand to celebrate the occasion, the road to get to that point was at times rocky. 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 resurfaced, though this time at the edge of the development instead of at its center.

This change made all the difference, as those residents formerly opposed to the plan lined up before the town council to support it. It was unanimously approved in October, 2013, but negotiations over construction pricing delayed the start of the project.

Once the hotel opens in the summer of 2016, business owners on Market Street hope it will add a third retail anchor to the area to complement the Lumina Theater and Weaver Street Market.

Carrboro Residents Request Conditions for Development Permit

Three to four commercial buildings may be coming to 501 South Greensboro Street in Carrboro.

As the Carrboro Board of Aldermen considers rezoning and granting a permit to Woodhill LLC for building the restaurant and retail development on six acres, neighbors want the town to make sure certain conditions are met.

Resident Rob Joyner spoke on behalf of the Roberson Place Home Owners Association at Tuesday’s meeting, asking “that the establishments that play outdoor music be restricted to playing 10 am to 8 pm.”

The Roberson Place HOA also requests that the connection between the Roberson Place Subdivision and South Greensboro remain as a bike and pedestrian connection, and not be developed into a road; that waste pickup and deliveries to businesses be restricted to 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays; and that commercial properties use directional lighting which would not shine onto residential properties.

“I do have significant concerns that, no matter what we do, we’re going to be looking at a neon sign illuminating a business,” said Tommy Koonce, who lives with his wife Robin Koonce in a house adjacent to the proposed development.

Koonce asked the town to codify a requirement to screen bright signs from his house windows, not only for aesthetics, but also to protect property value.

Runyon Woods, a partner at Woodhill LLC, feels the council should not regulate certain things, like when a business can receive deliveries.

“A restaurant comes in. They want fresh seafood for Saturday night,” said Woods. “So they want a small seafood truck to come deliver Saturday morning. That condition would make that illegal.”

Instead of following a hard rule, Woods said his team would work with individual residents to meet their needs.

Alderman Damon Seils stressed the importance of building specific conditions into the permit.

“If we put a condition on the permit, that’s what allows the town to engage in an enforcement activity,” said Seils. “And so if it becomes a problem, then the town has the authority in that circumstance to actually start enforcing the rules.”

In addition to the residents’ concerns, the aldermen discussed many others, including the development’s potential to intensify flooding. And the aldermen said a proposed roundabout at the intersection of South Greensboro Street and Pittsboro Road should not be built on private land.

The public hearing will continue on May 26. At this point the board may decide to approve “conditional use rezoning” and a “conditional use permit” for this project.

Chapel Hill Development: What’s Working, What’s Not?

It’s been a decade since Chapel Hill leaders began to push for more commercial growth to balance the tax base. But David Schwartz, co-founder of Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, says in that time, the town has failed to move away from residential development.

“We cannot make up for a deficit in commercial by doubling down on the amount of residential that we build,” says Schwartz.

Town Council Member Maria Palmer says that’s not a fair assessment.

“You can’t say we’re not building enough commercial if every commercial proposal that is put forward is attacked by the same folks who have organized the group you represent,” says Palmer.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce President Aaron Nelson takes that idea even further.

“We’ve moved beyond NIMBY in our community,” says Nelson. “NIMBY stands for ‘not in my backyard.’ We’ve gotten to NOTE: ‘not over there either.’ And so, it is a challenge when you both want to protect your neighborhood and prohibit it from happening in other appropriate places as well.”

Schwartz is also critical of the town’s new form-based code, in which the council sets specific parameters for development, then hands over the approval process to the Town Manager’s office. He argues the town isn’t asking enough from developers.

“The problem we have with our form-based code is that we didn’t ask for anything,”says Schwartz. “We asked for basically nothing. We said OK because we are so eager to get some kind of investment in here, any kind, even if in fact, it is the wrong kind in terms of what the town needs, that we are going to basically ask for nothing.”

Last spring, the Town Council rezoned 192 acres near Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard using form-based code in a bid to spur redevelopment in the area. Ben Perry is with East West Partners, the development company that submitted the Village Plaza Apartment plan, the first project under the new rules. He takes issue with Schwartz’s assertion that the town asked for nothing.

“We paid a very significant payment-in-lieu to Parks and Recreation for open space to develop that somewhere else. We paid a transit fee to Chapel Hill Transit which is not a requirement anywhere else in town,” says Perry. “It’s not that the town didn’t get the things they wanted and usually expect, they just told us what they want and we didn’t haggle. We just did it.”

Now, a little less than a year after adopting the form-based code, the Town Council is considering a laundry list of adjustments to tweak the code based on public input and planning staff feedback.

Southern Village resident Jeanne Brown said she’s happy to hear there’s room for change.

“One of the concerns in the community is that we’ve gone up significantly in height and density- that changes character,” says Brown. “That’s something we’ve got to address and understand, that not everyone is feeling good and comfortable with that.”

Dwight Bassett is the Town’s economic development officer. He says building dense residential developments like Village Plaza Apartments can help draw commercial investment, a strategy he ultimate expects to benefit the whole town.

“From my perspective I think we’re headed on the right path and we’re going to wake up one day and look back at that district and say that was a great decision because it helped create something that was missing in Chapel Hill.”

You can hear more debate on the changing face of Chapel Hill here.

Residents Voice Concerns Over Ephesus-Fordham Development, Form-Based Code

Chapel Hill residents voiced an array of concerns about the state of development in the Ephesus-Fordham district at Monday’s town council meeting.

Here are some residents’ words:

Jean Yarnell: “Ephesus-Fordham district form-based code only addressed water quality, not water quantity or flooding.”

Esther Miller: “I spent a half an hour . . . the other afternoon, right after school, trying to get through on Estes from Carrboro back to my neighborhood because there’s no place to go. The traffic has no place to go.”

Diane Willis: “The citizenry answered your surveys and said we want three-to-four-story buildings and human-scale development, not seven-story buildings with no affordable housing of any kind, no energy efficiency, no provisions for green space for the public.”

Residents were responding to the nature and pace of development since the town council approved a new type of zoning in the district called form-based code. The code sets parameters for building height, parking space and other details, and it authorizes the town manager, instead of the town council, to approve projects that meet the criteria.

Since the council enacted the new code ten months ago, the town received three project applications, and one, Village Plaza Apartments, has been approved and is now being built. The district has seen only two developments of a similar scale over the last several years.

At Monday’s meeting the town discussed amending the text of the code, including aligning the regulations with the town’s comprehensive plan and rewording the design guidelines.

In responding to residents’ concerns, Member Jim Ward said he voted against form-based code; he said the code, unfortunately, doesn’t incentivize affordable housing.

Member Lee Storrow said the parking guidelines ensure that seven-story structures will not be built “at every parcel.”

Member Donna Bell said that town leaders have listened to residents; they may feel unheard because they have experienced unexpected outcomes.

“It’s not that we don’t think about or care about our citizens who are living in a floodplain that were sold houses that are going to flood,” said Bell. “But we have committed to looking at the development at the upper end. We have committed to having some control over both quantity and quality of the water in the Ephesus-Fordham development district.”

After the planning commission reviews the text amendments and makes recommendations, the council will continue the public hearing on September 21.

Town Council Approves Walgreens Plan

A Walgreens could be coming to northern Chapel Hill.

The Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a rezoning and Special Use Permit for the Weaver Crossing development.

The project will bring 40,700 square feet of retail, medical and office space to 3.7 acres at the corner of Weaver Dairy Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The property is owned by Walgreens; the drugstore and drive-through pharmacy will be the retail anchor store at the site.

Council members approved a right-in-only turn from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into the parking lot, and right in/right out entrances at Sparrow Street and on Weaver Dairy.

The developer will also pay $16,800 for a new bus stop and shelter.

Charterwood Construction Begins After 7 Year Battle

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.