New Delay For Village Plaza Apartments

Three weeks after asking Chapel Hill to push back a key deadline to approve Village Plaza Apartments, developers are once again asking for more time.

The project is the town’s first to be submitted under the new form based code in the Ephesus-Fordham district, which calls for review by town officials and the Community Design Commission instead of approval from the Town Council.

December 3 was the original deadline for the town manager to sign off on the plans for a six-story mixed-use development to be built in the vacant lot near Whole Foods on Elliot Road.

At that time, project planners asked for three weeks to sort out “minor revisions.” Now, they’re asking for two more weeks, pushing the deadline to December 17.

Developers from East West Partners say they plan to break ground shortly after approval is granted.

Form-Based Code Gets First Test With Village Plaza Apartments

Chapel Hill is moving forward with the first major project submitted under the new zoning rules in the Ephesus-Fordham district, but not everyone is pleased with the process.

The Town Council last week reviewed the Village Plaza Apartments project, planned for the vacant lot next to Whole Foods on Elliot Road. During the Council’s courtesy review, Matt Czajkowski railed against the project and the new form-based code.

“It’s astonishing to me that the first project out of the box is so appalling that you almost couldn’t have concocted it as such, to show all of the glaring weaknesses in the form-based code that we passed and that we, apparently, have no meaningful opportunity to revise,” said Czajkowski.

The proposal calls for a six story building with 266 apartments, 15,600 square feet of retail and a parking deck with 463 spaces.But unlike other large mixed-use developments, this one doesn’t require approval from the Council, just a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Town Manager.

Under form-based code, the Council sets out parameters for development including building height and parking requirements, but final approval rests with the Town Manager, provided the project meets the guidelines.

Chapel Hill resident Jane Kirsch told the Council she’s worried the code isn’t rigorous enough to guarantee quality development.

“I am standing her pleading with you to take the time to reconsider this one. This form-based code thing, I don’t get at all. I hope you do,” said Kirsch. “I hope you will reconsider it and give this your very best efforts, because I think Chapel Hill can do a whole lot better than this project.”

While a small portion of the 190 acre Ephesus-Fordham district does offer developers a density bonus for building affordable housing, there’s no mandate for affordable housing where Village Plaza Apartments is planned.

“How many apartments are there? 266. How many affordable units? Zero. No expectation whatsoever of affordable units. We knew it when we put this [code] in place, now we’re seeing it,” said Czajkowski.

Some on the council were also concerned about a plan to move the Booker Creek Greenway closer to the creek to make way for a new street to access the site.

Still, Council member George Cianciolo argued the apartments would be a better use of land than the currently vacant lot.

“This may or may not be successful, but what’s been there for the last ten years or so certainly has not contributed one iota to this town,” said Cianciolo.

The review also raised questions about how the new code should be revised. Sustainability Officer John Richardson pointed to contradictions in the code that the council will need to resolve next year, including conflicting requirements for bike parking.

The Community Design Commission reviewed Village Plaza Apartments last Tuesday before voting unanimously that the plan was in compliance with the code.

The project now awaits final approval from Town Manager Roger Stancil. He has a November 12 deadline to sign off on the plan.

Petitioners Question Chapel Hill Town Manager’s Spending

Chapel Hill resident Tom Henkel delivered a petition to the Town Council on Monday asking the Council to review what he calls “apparent fiscal mismanagement” by Town Manager Roger Stancil and town staffers.

Henkel says he’s seen a pattern of over-reliance on outside consultants and a failure to rein in costs for their services. He cites the Central West Small Area planning process as a recent example.

“In the case of Central West, the original contract was for $90,000, but the price kept going up and going up,” says Henkel. “It finally got up to $230,000 before the manager basically cut off the funds and said enough is enough. In our opinion it never should have even gotten that high.”

Henkel says the town should consult with experts from UNC instead.

“In general, we have a lot of professional talent at UNC-Chapel Hill. They have an outstanding city planning program and it just seems to me and others that we ought to try to get help from these experts and save the town a lot of money.”

Henkel also notes that the Town Manager’s administrative budget increased by 45 percent over the past five years, while spending for street repair and new vehicles dropped by 25 percent.

The eleven signers of the petition are asking the Council to hold Stancil accountable for these and other spending decisions during his upcoming annual performance review. While those usually take place behind closed doors, Henckel says the spending review should be made public.

“I think the review and at least some of the things we’ve asked for- the explanations- should certainly be made public.”

The group of petitioners, which includes former Planning Board chair Del Snow and former Town Council member Julie McClintock, has been critical of the town’s recent planning efforts for the Central West and Ephesus-Fordham focus areas, but Henkel says that they are more than mere naysayers.

“If we don’t offer constructive alternatives, I don’t think just being critical is worth very much. We have been offering constructive criticism and made very constructive suggestions for improving the process of approving development projects in this town.”

In the 2013 municipal election, Henkel was drafted as a write-in candidate as a protest against Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who was running unopposed. He garnered 244 votes, slightly more than 5 percent of the 4,675 votes cast.

Henkel’s petition was accepted by the Council on Monday and referred to town staffers and Council members for review. You can read the full text below:

Thomas Henkel, Ph.D

3 Mount Bolus Rd.

Chapel Hill, NC 27514


Petition to the Chapel Hill Town Council, September 8, 2014


Good Evening Members of the Council:

I am Tom Henkel, and tonight I wish to bring to your attention several recent instances of apparent fiscal mismanagement by Town staff, and to ask that you exercise your oversight authority to ensure that our tax money is used wisely and not wasted.

In our opinion, the recent instances of fiscal mismanagement include:

1.     Consultant cost overruns, such as during the Central West Small Area planning process.  The consultant contract for $90,000 was allowed to balloon to $230,000 before the Manager acknowledged the problem and cut off the funds.  

2.     Use of public funds to promote a private development project, as occurred in the case of Obey Creek;

3.     Use of projected Ephesus-Fordham district related fees to fund affordable housing initiatives for the FY 2014/2015 budget, when these funds were clearly designated during the Ephesus-Fordham rezoning deliberations as necessary to pay off the bond debt financing scheme.

4.     Failure to allocate funds in recent years to pay for the Town’s unfunded $56 million retiree benefits liability. 

5.     Poor planning to repair the flood-damaged Town Hall. The original estimate of $400,000 to $500,000 for the repairs has more than doubled to $1,200,000, and the bills have not yet been submitted.

6.     Finally, over the past five years, the Town Manager’s administrative staff budget has increased by 45%, while the funds available for street repair and vehicle replacements have both decreased by more than 25%. More generally, as you can see in this chart, over the past ten years, the proportion of the Town’s budget allocated to the Town Manager’s office has increased more than any other line item in the budget, while during the same period, the proportion of the Town’s budget allocated to essential services such as fire, police, and public works has been stagnant or declining.

In addition to these examples of actual fiscal mismanagement, there has been at least one instance of potential mismanagement that was averted only thanks to the vigilance of the Town’s citizens and (some) Council members. The $10 million the Town has borrowed to carry out infrastructure improvements in Ephesus-Fordham have never been tied to a specific scope of work with itemized cost estimates. This mismanagement almost led last June to the misappropriation of public funds to benefit private interests. Specifically, the Town Manager recommended spending public funds to build on private property a road that will primarily serve a private housing development.

We therefore petition the Town Council to use the occasion of the Town Manager’s upcoming annual performance review to request that the Manager provide explanations for each of these instances of fiscal mismanagement. We further ask that you direct the Manager to create a performance improvement plan that specifies policies and procedures he will implement to help ensure more prudent and responsible management of public funds in the future. Finally, we ask that the explanations the Manager provides for these lapses and the performance improvement plan be made public.



Thomas Henkel

Fred Lampe

Ken Larsen

Julie McClintock

Will Raymond

David Schwartz

Del Snow

Mickey Jo Sorrell

Terry Vance

Diane Willis

Jean Yarnell

CHTC Likely To Delay Vote On Ephesus-Fordham Redevelopment Plan

The Chapel Hill Town Council indicated that it would likely delay a vote scheduled for March 24 on the controversial Ephesus-Fordham proposed renewal plan during a special work session Thursday night. Council members agreed that there were still many questions that needed to be answered, and more time should be taken to factor in the public’s growing concerns.

In an unusual move, the Council hosted a work session during which public comment was taken twice during the meeting. Residents who oppose the proposed redevelopment sounded off, and some Council members were apprehensive about the plan to redevelop the area surrounding the Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard intersection.

The plan calls for the rezoning of 190 acres to encourage new commercial and residential development, as well as $10 million worth of roadway improvements to one of Chapel Hill’s most congested and confusing intersections.Town staffers said the plan would improve the area’s traffic flow and stormwater problems while increasing the town’s commercial tax base.

However, some residents are concerned that a zoning tool new to the Town, called form-based code, will limit the Council and the public’s say in the development review process.

Area resident Karen Trout told the Council that she shopped in Rams Plaza often and was worried that the redevelopment would hurt local businesses and allow developers to retain too much power.

“With any development, there will be problems that cannot be foreseen from the original plan. The developers and subcontractors are naturally going to take care of their needs before they take care of the Town or individual citizens,” Trout said.

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.

Landscape architect Scott Murray was one of a few residents who shared that he was in favor of the form-based code. He said he had studied the code and what it would entail for his clients.

“Is it a good code? Yes. Is it a great code? I think it is. Is it perfect? Well, it doesn’t have to be, but it does work in the real world, and I think it is time to get on with it,” Murray said.

Former council member Julie McClintock echoed other residents’ anxieties, stating that the process was moving much too fast. She asked the council to delay the vote so the issues surrounding the plan could be fully discussed.

“Once this has been granted, there is kind of no turning back. Once the permit ability for the right to do these things [has been issued], and we, in fact, find that it is not working, that it is washed away, or attracting gridlock, there isn’t much we can do,” McClintock said.

Consultant Lee Einsweiler of Code Studio, the firm brought on board to write coding for the area, explained the benefits of the zoning tool. He said it offered developers “certainty” in challenging circumstances.

As to the approval process, he said it was a more “streamlined” and efficient process.

Einsweiler also pointed out that revisions had been made to the code, and that those changes reflected feedback from the council and residents. He said modifications could still be made.

An area of concern voiced by council member Donna Bell was that under the current plan, affordable housing would have to be a public project. Steps should be taken to find partners to provide affordable housing in the area, she said.

Council member Matt Czajkowski said he feared that residential buildings would overrun the area and retail businesses wouldn’t come until years later, if at all.

“This conceptually seems wonderful, but if the implementation doesn’t work out the way you say it will, then we end up with a mammoth apartment complex,” Czajkowski said. “We end up with a retail plaza that doesn’t really change very much, and what have we actually accomplished?”

Einsweiler responded to Czajkowski, explaining that residential developers would likely come first, but retail and others would follow.

“I think you are setting the tone. You are setting the quality. Admittedly, you are taking on some of the developer’s risk by putting in infrastructure yourselves, but that is attractive in its own right,” Einsweiler said. “If we look at examples around the country, I think we see the response to that.”

The Ephesus-Fordham plan is projected to be a revenue-positive venture for the Town. Council member George Cianciolo said he wanted to understand how this projection was calculated, but noted his support for the project was not dependent on the immediate return results. He said he saw it as “an investment in the future.”

Council member Lee Storrow said that he wanted the community to be aware that a vote on the plan would not be taken on the originally schedule date due to the remaining items still to be discussed.

Council member Jim Ward also asked to delay the vote for several reasons. He said the financial pressures and demands currently being placed on Chapel Hill Transit should be attended to first. He requested that staff investigate ways to incentivize developers to build energy-efficient structures. He also wished to wait until the Ephesus-Fordham stormwater report was presented to the Council later this month.

Ward and Czajkowski agreed that the strain that would likely be placed on the school district with the addition of a a large number of new residential buildings should be considered as well. Town staff said the Chapel Hill Hill Carrboro City Schools will make a presentation regarding Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (SAPFO) in April.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the Council needed time to “stew” on the worries raised by the residents and for members to have their own questions answered. He asked for more feedback from the public and welcomed emails to the Council.

Stormwater Issues Raised at Ephesus-Fordham Information Session

CHAPEL HILL – Less green space and increased storm water runoff were two of the main worries expressed by people attending Thursday’s public information forum on the Ephesus-Fordham Small Area Plan.

The lunchtime presentation and Q-and-A at Chapel Hill Public Library was moderated by Chapel Hill Director of Policy and Strategic Initiatives Mary Jane Nirdlinger.

“We know that traffic continues to be a concern in this area – that it’s difficult to get through,” Nirdlinger said during her opening remarks. “We know that stormwater and flooding are also a concern. And those points were considered during the small area plan.”

She and other Town staff members spoke to citizens about plans to re-develop 123 acres of commercial area between Franklin Street, Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road over the next decade.

They were joined by Todd St. John of Kimley, Horn and Associates. The design consulting firm is working with the town on stormwater issues related to the project.

St. John said the goal is to reduce, or at least, maintain current peak discharges in storm events rated on a scale of 24 hours-to-25 years.

But after showing the current percentage of impervious surface in the district is 57 percent, he raised some eyebrows in the room when he reported future projections.

“We expect the re-developed impervious cover to go somewhere between 63 and 68 percent for the whole district,” he said. “So, going from 57 up to 63-to-68 percent.”

Later in the meeting, someone in the audience asked how increased impervious surface can be called “renewal,” which got murmurs of agreement from others.

Chapel Hill Stormwater Engineer Chris Jensen told a questioner that while he’s not going to make false promises about future flooding, the re-development will ultimately make a positive difference in Chapel Hill’s efforts to get a handle on stormwater issues.

“You know, there’s still going to be flooding,” he conceded. “It’s not going to fix the problem from the whole Booker Creek Watershed. There is a stormwater master plan for the town that does have a component for watershed studies in it.

“And Booker Creek is one of those. The information we find from this, and what we do to learn about this district will help to inform the development of that master plan as funding becomes available for it.”

Stormwater improvements would account for $1.2 million of the $10 million improvement plans. The rest would go toward traffic improvements.

The Town wants to finance the plan by combining it with the $900,000 Town Hall Repair & Renovation Project, and Capital Improvement Plan projects worth $800,000.

The total $11.7 million dollar debt would be financed using the Town Hall property as collateral, and paid for, in part, by projected future revenues generated by the re-development project.

The next public meeting of The Chapel Hill Town Council is on March 24.

CH Planning Board Raises Concerns About Zoning Code For Ephesus-Fordham Area

Potential plans for the redevelopment of the area around the Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard intersection in Chapel Hill might be delayed until zoning code concerns are addressed.

Neal Bench, Chair of the Chapel Hill Planning Board, presented a petition to the Town Council Monday about the issues surrounding form-based code, which is a type of zoning new to the Town.

“The northern part of this area is the gateway to Town. The code should specify, in more detail, the character that the community would like to see in this area around the Fordham [Boulevard]-Franklin [Street] split,” Bench said.

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.

The Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan is the result of nearly a decade of planning to revitalize an area currently known for vacant lots, confusing intersections and traffic tie-ups.

Bench said that while the Board believed that form base code is appropriate for the area, the current code document is not yet ready to be adopted. He presented a list of suggested amendments and supplemental recommendations to the Council.

“We would also like RCD [Resource Conservation District] regulations, tree planting caliper standards, green building and energy efficiency standards, and steep slopes regulations and other environmental regulation from the Land Use Management Ordinances [LUMO],” he said.

Additionally, the Board recommended incorporating items into the code such as storm water management regulations, improvements to street crossings in conjunction with the Booker Creek Trail, the development of an open space green plan, and consideration of an affordable housing plan.

Bench also said that it should be amended to include a mandatory evaluation of the effectiveness of form based code three years after it has been implemented.

The Planning Board’s stance is that if those concerns are addressed, then form-based code will provide an acceptable guide to redevelopment in the Ephesus-Fordham area and will benefit the community, Bench said.

Upon revision, the Board will then support form-based code for the Ephesus-Fordham area to be included into LUMO, the current set of development regulations for the Town.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said that the Council wasn’t prepared to comment on the Planning Board’s petition, but did state that a work session addressing the issue is scheduled for March 3.

The Council is slated to take a formal vote on the redevelopment plan in late March.

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.

Chapel Hill 2014: “I Believe We’re Going To Reap Great Reward”

CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill Town Council has concluded its 2013 business, and Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says 2014 will likely be defined by some challenging decisions that need to be made.

“I think there are going to be several, and many of them are going to be budget-related,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says. “When you think of 2014 as the year when we finally make some big decisions that have major budget ramifications like solid waste, Rogers Road, and leveraging state and federal resources for other projects like the Ephesus-Fordham district. Those are going to be difficult, challenging questions.”

But, he says he’s confident the council will get to some good solutions.

The year 2013 already faced some tough budget decisions including finding money in the budget to get the newly rebuilt Chapel Hill Public Library back to full-time hours.

“The culmination of that decades-long work by people in our community, advocates of the library, the citizens of our town, and a series of leaders on the Town Council,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says. “Being able to open that library and bring in a new director with a great vision for our future, I think it’s one of the most visible and exciting things the happen this year.”

He says another defining moment of 2013 in Chapel Hill was the completion of a major development downtown that provides housing, a place for new businesses, and still allows room for parking.

“We also saw 140 West really get going and filled up and our downtown realizing a lot of the promise that that project was designed to create come to fruition,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.

Mayor Kleinschmidt says he believes the completion of plans for the eastern part of town—the Ephesus/Fordham corridor—could revolutionize the community.

“Not just by being able to establish standards for redevelopment that have been vetted through the community that provide for a more streamline process for redevelopment in an area that we already know—or we already believe, at lease—can tolerate a much more intense commercial environment,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says.

And he says the process in which the redevelopment is achieved is also revolutionary.

“Within town government, things have changed so much in the way we have approached some of these challenges,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says. “The best example is the product of this district at Ephesus Church and Fordham. We have an economic development and planning team that have worked together in ways that they weren’t allowed to in years past. I believe we’re going to reap great reward.”

Check back with and WCHL Wednesday for part two of a look ahead to 2014 for Chapel Hill from the thoughts of its mayor, Mark Kleinschmidt.

Town Leaders Talk Possible Transformation Along Fordham Blvd.

CHAPEL HILL – Change is in store for University Mall with a new movie theater coming in 2015, and some town leaders hope more change will happen just down Fordham Blvd.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt has made it clear that he wants to move forward with plans to transform the area around the Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard intersection.

With Tuesday’s news that the Dillard’s in University Mall will close its doors and a 13-screen luxury movie theater will open in its place, Kleinschmidt said now is the time to embrace change which he believes is necessary in both areas along Fordham Blvd.


“I think for one thing, the announcement [Tuesday] will remind folks that we are serious about working to enhance our commercial tax base and providing high quality retail,” Kleinschmidt said. “If we can help people understand that then we can move forward with Ephesus Church and Fordham.”

As part of a greater redevelopment plan for UMall, four new boutiques, a sporting goods store, and a restaurant have already or soon will be moving in. The shopping center’s Harris Teeter is undergoing a $9 million renovation.

Kleinschmidt said he hopes that the momentum which has pushed the transformation for UMall helps to push plans forward for the Ephesus-Fordham Focus Area—which is the space surrounding Ram’s Plaza near the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard from South Elliott Road to the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery.

The Chapel Hill Mayor has said in the past that the area is hard to navigate and “dysfunctional.”

“A lot of what we have going on works, but a lot of what we have going on in that district isn’t working,” Kleinschmidt said. “We can’t just sit back. Lesser communities would just sit back and say, ‘Well some of it is working so we’re done.’ This isn’t that kind of community. We can do better.”

Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s economic development officer, said that he and town staff are currently working to rezone the area.

In order to do this, using form-based code has been suggested. It’s a new planning tool that supporters, like Kleinschmidt, have said will make the development process more predictable. Opponents worry that it will move the approval process out of the public’s view. The plan to create a form-based code is still in its early stages, with no action from the council planned until next spring.

Bassett said that the redevelopment of the Ephesus-Fordham Focus Area would complement the changes coming to UMall and revitalize the look of the area considered a gateway into Chapel Hill.

“There are numerous developers less than a half-a-mile away willing to invest in office residential, retail and hospitality uses, and that certainly adds to this center by providing additional market opportunities,” Bassett said.

The Ephesus-Fordham Focus Area is one component of the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan that seeks to set a vision for the Town’s growth.

CHTC Eyes New Zoning Tool For Ephesus-Fordham Area

CHAPEL HILL- Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt made it clear at a work session on Wednesday that he wants to see big changes to the area around the Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard intersection.

“We have an under-performing strip mall there. We have intersections that are impossible to navigate,” said Kleinschmidt. “We have these dysfunctions there and that distinguishes it from about everywhere else. You know, other parts of town have their problems, but this has got all of them at once.”

Lee Einsweiler is a consultant hired to update the town’s land use management ordinance. He says if applied correctly, form-based code has the power to transform parts of town that are currently underutilized.

“We’re talking about going from an auto-dominated portion of the community to a mixed-use walkable portion of the community with a much more intense development pattern than is there today,” said Einsweiler.

The Ephesus-Fordham area is under consideration for Chapel Hill’s first experiment with form-based coding.

Using a community-generated small area plan as its base, the council would designate certain development parameters like building height, setback from the road and parking, but beyond that, Einsweiler says approving new development in the 150 acre area would be an administrative function.

“In an ideal world, a form-based code is the result of great small area planning, great, tight coding to that small area plan, and therefore, with very proscriptive standards you can simply have a checklist for approving development,” Einsweiler told the council.

This would be markedly different from the current rezoning and Special Use Permit approval process, in which the council often bargains with developers to add affordable housing, transit infrastructure and a host of other concessions. Einswieler called this the “Mother-May-I” approach.

But some on the council worry the new method would come at a cost, as the form-based code does not allow the council to specify density within a development.

There is also no mechanism for requiring a developer to provide affordable housing, traffic impact analysis or energy efficient technologies. Council member Jim Ward said that would be a loss for the community.

“To me this seems like a loss from what we have now, the exactions that we have now,”said Ward. “This process doesn’t allow us to get an exaction on energy efficiency and public art and those are important to this community. They’re important to me.”

But Einswieler suggested that the code could provide the predictability developers are looking for. He said it might be enough to change Chapel Hill’s reputation for being a tough place to do business.

He stressed that the code would not be town-wide, as it would be tailored to only apply to certain areas designated by the council for redevelopment. Further, he said the council could allow the public to give input on design, landscaping and building materials by participating in project reviews by the Community Design Commission.

Though Kleinschmidt said there are some specifics to be ironed out, he welcomed the concept as a way to revitalize a major entrance-way to Chapel Hill.

“There is regulation here, this is not, you know, Wild West,” said Kleinschmidt. “That’s not what’s going on with this form-based code idea. There’s a lot of code, read rules, that have to be followed if you want to build in this district. We’re going to be writing them into it; we’re not going to be having three-year conversations about what the abandoned Volvo dealership should be. What we know it shouldn’t be is an abandoned Volvo dealership. I mean it’s ridiculous.”

The plan to create a form based code is still in its early stages, with no action from the council planned until next spring. Town officials are seeking public comment on the proposal by September 17.

In addition, town planners are preparing to launch a process to update the land use management ordinance. Staffers will be accepting public comment and answering questions at a series of events later this month.