Community leaders agree that we want to grow as community in a way that promotes economic expansion and sustainability, but we are running out of space to do so.
The populations of Chapel Hill and the campus of UNC are increasing, and with growth comes inevitable change. The task at hand is to decide how to have development happen across the town in a way that serves the community, but many disagree about the best approach.
Aaron Nelson, President & CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, says he is fully in favor of embracing redevelopment.
“I think a lot of the future will be in redevelopment. If we are going to protect the green stuff out there, we are going to have to redevelop the stuff within our municipal boundaries or begin talking about getting into the rural buffer,” Nelson says.
Nelson has been a supporter of the proposed plan to revitalize the area surrounding the Ephesus-Fordham intersection, which includes vacant lots, confusing intersections, and traffic tie-ups.
That plan is causing conflict within the community, with many residents pushing back against the proposed redevelopment, arguing that the process is moving too fast. The Council delayed taking a formal vote on the plan Wednesday evening.
Julie McClintock, President of the Friends of Bolin Creek and a former Chapel Hill Town Council member, has been outspoken about her opposition to the current state of the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment.
“The fact is that what is so fascinating about everyone of these so-called focus group processes is the citizens have gotten well informed and have pointed out to the council that we need to be more comprehensive. I mean, you cannot just look at the traffic in the Ephesus-Fordham intersection. You have got to look at the entire 15-501 corridor,” McClintock says. “I would really fault the Planning Board of the Town of Chapel Hill. Why do we employ planners if they aren’t to plan comprehensively?”
McClintock also served as a member of the Central West Steering Committee, the group that was tasked with formulating a plan for the future redevelopment along Estes Dr.
Central West, like Ephesus-Fordham, is one of the several focus areas designated for redevelopment in the Chapel 2020 plan, a strategy the Town developed with a hope of formulating a vision for growth for Chapel Hill.
That is where McClintock says she believes that this approach is not living up to expectations.
“I would say that we don’t have an economic development strategy, and we need to get one. I think the Town is in crisis. Fiscally, we have unfunded transit, unfunded houses, unfunded roads. We are in trouble. We need a strategy to get out of this mire,” McClintock says.
Michael Parker, Chair of the Town Transportation Board, co-chaired the Central West Steering Committee. For more than 10 months, members of the group argued about issues such as how much density was appropriate for the area.
Parker says he felt that the Town Council should have been more specific about what it wanted from the Central West Steering Committee, saying that they spent a lot of time “wandering in the desert.”
After dozens of long, contentious meetings, the group ultimately produced a small area plan which was approved by the Council in November of last year.
As far as the Ephesus-Fordham Redevelopment Plan, Parker says it makes sense for the town.
“Until you take a proactive stance, until the town is willing and to say, ‘These are the things that we want, and we are going to do the things that will make it possible for those things to happen,’ we will be the recipients of things that we very often do not care for and then will have to scramble and struggle to make things right,” Parker says.
On the subject of the effectiveness of these focus groups, David Schwartz, a researcher for the N.C.Botanical Garden, says that Town leaders should consider the bigger picture.
“The small area planning processes are occurring now where you have each area being addressed in isolation from the others. We end up reinventing the wheel, or each area plan not taking into account what is being considered in the other areas, and why it may make more sense to do something integrated across the entire town,” Schwartz says.
Locally-Owned Vs. National Chains
As redevelopment plans are in the works across Chapel Hill, new businesses will move in.
Nelson says the Town should aim to support locally-owned business for a healthy locally economy, but added that national chains draw in consumers which benefit surrounding stores as well. He shared that downtown Chapel Hill was about 80 percent locally owned and operated business and 20 percent national chains.
McClintock says she feared that the Town could loose its character if too many national chains moved in.
Nelson says that Orange County residents have the highest per capita income in the state, but the county is ranked 65th in per capita retail sales—so we are spending our money somewhere else. He says that in order to change this, retail brought into our area should be tailored to serve the population, not excluding big box stores.
All agreed that job creation and a strong transit system were key factors in economic prosperity.
Schwartz, McClintock, Parker, and Nelson made those comments during the “Economic Development” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum. To hear the full discussion, click here.http://chapelboro.com/news/2014-community-forum/economic-development-causing-growing-pains-chapel-hill/
Affordability, taxes, housing, solid waste, economic development, and the future of Carolina North and Rogers Road: all longstanding hot-button issues in Orange County, and all requiring strong partnerships between the local municipalities as well as UNC.
Orange County leaders say the time is now to make those partnerships stronger.
“One of our major issues is to renew the strength and vitality of our partnerships with the municipalities,” says Barry Jacobs, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “I think we’ve lost touch to some degree.”
At the center of the conversation is the eternal question of affordability: how to manage the cost of living while preserving a desirable community, in a space with little room to grow.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt says that’s often an issue in college towns – and it’s certainly the case in Chapel Hill.
“University towns are very, very highly sought after,” she says. “I try every day to recruit faculty and staff and students…of course they’re concerned about price of living, (but) mostly we hear that people want to live here. So I think we are still on the positive side of this equation: this is a very high-choice place.”
But with that desirability comes a number of challenges – including, perhaps most notably, the cost of housing. Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says those costs are worth it: “I sometimes look around (my house) and think, wow, for this price I could be in a much bigger place in Durham,” he says, “but I’d rather be in Chapel Hill.”
And while higher property values still mean Chapel Hillians are paying more dollars in taxes, Kleinschmidt notes that Chapel Hill’s property tax rate is actually lower than many of our neighboring communities.
Still, the cost of housing is a strain, one that makes it difficult – if not impossible – for many people to live in Chapel Hill. And not only Chapel Hill: Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens says the affordability question is affecting his community as well.
“We’re seeing rising costs (too),” he says. “It’s a little bit less expensive to live here, so we’re finding families move out (of Chapel Hill-Carrboro) and folks wanting to be in Hillsborough – (but) as prices go up, we’re finding a lot of our families are moving to Mebane.”
The housing crunch has driven local leaders to explore creative policies for developing more affordable housing in all of Orange County’s municipalities.
But as Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle points out, housing is not the only factor driving the cost of living.
“We’ve studied extensively the interplay between transportation costs and affordable housing,” she says. “A typical income earner spends anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their income on transportation – owning a car, taxes, insurance, and so forth.”
That, she says, gives local leaders a strong incentive to develop housing downtown – so residents don’t need vehicles to get to and from work. Kleinschmidt adds that he’s equally proud of Chapel Hill’s fare-free bus system, which also keeps the cost of living down.
Taxes too are a primary concern – and local leaders are quick to point out that they’ve managed to maintain services while avoiding tax increases, even through the long recession. (Lavelle says she expects Carrboro to maintain that streak this year too.) But Barry Jacobs says that, at the end of the day, it’s just as important to preserve the services that make Orange County a desirable place to live.
And the most important of those services, he says, is education.
“We’re proud of public education (and) we’re going to fund it to the best of our ability,” he says. “Going through the recession, and then having a state legislature that’s attacking public education, we have actually raised the per-pupil funding…and in the last 20 years we’ve built 14 schools in this county. And three of them were high schools. Those are expensive suckers…
“And that’s part of what makes this an attractive community. That’s what draws people here. It’s a double-edged sword, to use a cliché.”
But Jacobs adds that the need for education spending must be weighed against the concern for affordability – particularly the fact that many Orange County residents are seniors on fixed incomes.
And so the question returns to partnerships: town, county, and UNC officials working together to promote efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve the standard of living. Local leaders agree that’s already happening (if slowly) on the issue of Rogers Road remediation, and Chapel Hill Mayor Kleinschmidt says he’s confident it will also happen on the issue of solid waste: “I think we’re going to come together with a solution,” he says, “(and in) four, five, six years, we’re going to have a site for a transfer station that we’re all going to use.” (Kleinschmidt says there are several attractive candidates for that site in the northern part of Chapel Hill, including one off Millhouse Road.)
It’s also happening on the question of economic development, where UNC is actively partnering with the towns and county on projects ranging from the LAUNCH entrepreneurial incubator to the redevelopment of 123 West Franklin, the former University Square – though Chancellor Folt says little is happening right now when it comes to Carolina North. (“We’re really not having any active plans there right now,” she says. “It’s really not at the top of the list.”)
In the end, though, while local leaders seem to agree that municipal partnerships have been stronger, there’s also a shared commitment to strengthening them in the months and years to come.
“How we should go forward is together,” says Jacobs.
Folt, Jacobs, Kleinschmidt, Lavelle, and Stevens made those comments during the “Town and Gown” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum; they were joined on the panel by outgoing UNC student body president Christy Lambden.http://chapelboro.com/news/2014-community-forum/costs-partnerships-people-want-live/
CHAPEL HILL- After the Chapel Hill Town Council took its first look at the draft Glen Lennox development agreement, elected officials insisted they’ll need more time to review the twenty-year plan to redevelop one of Chapel Hill’s historic neighborhoods.
“I will not be pushed. This needs to be a deliberate conversation, not one that is rushed,” said Council member Jim Ward, speaking at Wednesday’s work session.
The Glen Lennox planning process began back in 2010, when developer Clay Grubb held monthly meetings with residents to discuss how to revitalize the commercial and residential development on 70 acres at the corner of Raleigh Road and 15-501.
The formal procedure for negotiating the long-term build out of the project got underway last March, and the town manager and attorney have been hashing out the details of the plan with developers for the past six months.
On Wednesday, the Council was scheduled to discuss the four big issues that remain unresolved, but Council members said they need more time to evaluate transportation improvements, affordable housing, design standards and the economic impact of the project.
Ian Colgan is a consultant hired by the town to evaluate how the proposal will impact town revenues. He told the Council commercial development generates tax revenue for the town, while single-family housing costs more in services than it produces in property tax. Colgan said the Glen Lennox project, with its emphasis on multi-family housing and commercial development, will likely generate at least $1.7 million dollars of tax revenue.
“Based on all the other studies I’ve seen, I think it’s a very conservative estimate,” Colgan told the Council. “I think this truly will be a net positive.”
But Council members pressed for more information, including the full cost of multi-family housing and an idea of how the additional rental units might impact schools.
Transportation was also a key issue, as the project is estimated to add 17,500 vehicle trips to nearby roads. Changes to Raleigh Road and a new road that intersects with 15-501 are proposed to help ease congestion, along with bike lanes and a greenway.
Council members want to be sure the road improvements are phased in along with development. Mac McCarley, who facilitated the negotiations, assured the council this would be written into the agreement.
“They can develop as fast or a s slow as they choose, but the infrastructure has to be at or ahead of their development,” said McCarley.
The Town of Chapel Hill has only negotiated a development agreement once before in 2009 with UNC officials to govern the build-out of Carolina North. Now, in addition to the Glen Lennox project, the Council is also currently pursuing a development agreement for the Obey Creek property on South 15-501.
The Council is planning to hold public hearings on the Glen Lennox plan this spring, with a vote scheduled before the June recess. The date of the Council’s next work session to discuss affordable housing and building design standards has yet to be announced.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chtc-wants-time-data-glen-lennox-plan/
CHAPEL HILL-Adam Golden is the vice president of development for Northwood Ravin, the company that’s been planning the Edge project for more than a year. He came before the Chapel Hill Town Council this week to ask the town to help pay for the $3.5 million dollars worth of road improvements needed to widen Eubanks Road.
“Please consider participating in these road improvements to fix an existing condition that is already in trouble,” said Golden. “Enable the Edge to move forward. Open the northern edge of town for economic development opportunity.”
The Edge is a 54-acre site on Eubanks Road next to the town’s Park and Ride lot. Golden says the proposed project would be pedestrian and transit-oriented, with a mix of retail, residential and office space. But he told the council it can’t happen without help.
“Our firm can absorb some of the costs associated with The Edge, but we cannot absorb all of the costs associated with some of this background improvement that’s required,” said Golden.
Town officials and representatives from NC DOT agree that to support the proposed development, Eubanks Road needs to be widened with new turn lanes and bike lanes.
The developer is planning to submit a formal application soon, but council members said they couldn’t offer any guarantees that the town would contribute to the road improvements. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the council would be willing to listen but could not make a commitment.
“There is no way that the Council can provide you assurance today or this week that the end of those discussions is going to be affirmative and that you’re going to have that level of participation that you seek,” said Kleinschmidt.
Golden said his company would likely abandon the project if the town decides not to chip in. “If we can’t get help with the improvements, we may be left with a project that’s not feasible.”
Council members agreed to refer the matter to staff for a report, but warned Golden they would not likely have a reply any time soon.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/edge-developers-seek-help-road-improvements/
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.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/town-council-wary-east-franklin-hotel-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.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chtc-eyes-ephesus-fordham-renewal-plan/
CARRBORO- The past twelve months have seen a whirlwind of economic development blow through downtown Carrboro as the town welcomed its first hotel and parking deck as part of the 300 East Main project.
Though the opening of the Hampton Inn and Suites was a long time coming, Mayor Lydia Lavelle says it was worth the wait.
“Now having the hotel open, its so exciting with all the people coming to Carrboro and the synergy of the businesses opening around it,” says Lavelle.
Other stores are moving into the retail space below the hotel, including Cameron’s gift shop and Womancraft Gifts. Several restaurants are currently in the works as well.
This year also saw the long-awaited reopening of the PTA Thrift Shop at its newly-renovated location on Jones Ferry Road. In addition to helping fund education, Lavelle says the mission of the thrift shop is a good fit for the town.
“It’s just very Carrboro- reduce, re-use, recycle.”
And Carrboro’s office of Economic Development recently rolled out a new town logo and motto to help convey Carrboro’s unique ethos to the wider world.
“We’ve unleashed this new marketing campaign: ‘It’s Carrboro, feel free.’” says Lavelle. “It’s a great logo and there are shirts for sale with taglines like, ‘Openly Carrboro.’ Those are best-sellers, I think.”
Though there’s not yet much to see, Lavelle says ArtsCenter leaders and town officials are beginning to plan for another project that will redefine downtown.
“The folks with the ArtsCenter have been starting to meet with groups of people about the vision for the ArtsCenter moving to the far end of the property that it is on right now and having a brand-new, free-standing building- what that might look like, what it might include, how parking will work with that, how it will fit into our Carrboro landscape.”
As she looks ahead to next year, Lavelle says town officials will need to consider how construction and new development might be disruptive to those who work, shop or live downtown. But she says she’s confident Carrboro can come together to plan for the future.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/2013-marks-banner-year-carrboros-downtown/
CHAPEL HILL- Though the details are shrouded in secrecy, University Mall General Manager Peter DeLeon confirmed Friday afternoon that a key new addition would be coming to the mall on South Estes Drive.
The name of the new tenant will be revealed at a ceremony on November 12 at the mall’s main stage. Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Economic Development Officer Dwight Bassett and local Chamber of Commerce President Aaron Nelson will be on hand to make the announcement.
Speculation has swirled in recent months about the fate of the Dillard’s department store at University Mall, but DeLeon said he could not discuss the location of the new anchor.
CHAPEL HILL- Masao Hoshino, President of Morinaga America, Inc., told Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday that state and local economic incentives played a significant role in the Japanese company’s decision to build its first American production facility in Mebane.
“We decided to locate in Mebane, Orange County because it has a remarkable business environment: access to transportation, access to raw materials, infrastructure, et cetera,” said Hoshino. “Additional encouragement is the incentives. It obviously supported our decision.”
By a unanimous vote, the Board of Commissioners agreed to offer Morinaga performance-based incentives including a $1 million dollar grant to be paid out over the next five years. The grant money would represent three-quarters of the annual tax value of the $34 million dollar facility.
In addition to investment from Orange County and the City of Mebane, the state will contribute slightly more than $1 million dollars to the project.
Located just outside of Mebane, the 21 acre site, which up until recently was used to grow soybeans, lacks water, sewer or direct road access. The county will partner with the state to cover the cost of extending water and sewer infrastructure, which could total $700,000. The state will pay 75 percent of that; the county will pay 25 percent.
NC DOT will chip in half a million dollars to build a road to access the plant, and Durham Technical Community College will offer training to new workers at no charge.
The nearly 100,000 square foot production facility is slated to employ 90 people in the production of Hi-Chew candy. Hoshino told the board it will be a green facility.
“At the planned facility we will cook sugar and syrup, add fruit juice, vegetable oil and other ingredients to make chewy candy,” said Hoshino. “In the process, we do not produce harmful materials, there is no chemical pollution. It is environmentally-friendly.”
Board Chair Barry Jacobs said this project represents the culmination of 20 years of planning to bring new businesses to the 400 acre Buckhorn Economic Development District.
“We have just started as a county to embark of the course of providing incentives to companies to either stay here or locate here,” said Jacobs. “This has been a very amicable and collaborative process and we feel it will be a very fruitful process for everyone concerned.”
He also thanked Orange County voters for approving the quarter-cent sales tax, as proceeds from that will likely be used to cover some of the cost to extend water and sewer to the plant.
The board also unanimously approved a $140,000 contract to hire an engineering firm to design the road, water and sewer extensions. Planners estimate the facility could open for business in July of 2015.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/bocc-approves-incentives-to-bring-morinaga-to-mebane/
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/