CH Town Manager Approves Village Plaza Apartment Plan

Town Manager Roger Stancil signed off on the Village Plaza Apartments plan on Thursday, paving the way for a new mixed-use development near Whole Foods on Elliot Road.

The project will bring a six-story building with 265 apartments, ground-floor retail and a parking deck to the vacant three acre lot that formerly housed the Plaza Theater.

It will be the town’s first project under the new form-based code approved by the council last May.

Within the 190 acre Ephesus-Fordham district, developers do not need to submit their projects for review by the Town Council if they meet the criteria laid out in the code. Instead, the town manager can issue permits once the plans have been vetted by the Community Design Commission.

The Village Plaza Apartment plan was submitted in September, reviewed by the Community Design Commission in October, and then briefly delayed while developers tweaked the plan. Now that full approval has been granted, construction could begin in the next few months.

A second application has been submitted to the town for a plan to demolish the former Red Hot and Blue restaurant to make way for more parking. Town officials say they also expect to receive an application from CVS at Ram’s Plaza later this month.

The Town Council will hear a progress update on the Ephesus-Fordham revitalization plan on January 26.

Village Plaza Apartments Put On Pause

Following review by the Chapel Hill Town Manager and the Community Design Commission, the Village Plaza Apartments project was slated for administrative approval on Wednesday.

But Lee Perry, Development Director for East West Partners, wrote to town officials earlier this week to request a three week delay, pushing the approval date back to December 3.

“Basically, there are a few final items on the plan that required some revision, and the time that it took our engineers and architects to make those changes and get them turned back in and also give staff the time to review them and confirm everything, was going to most likely push us beyond the deadline date,” says Perry. “That being the case we agreed that extending the deadline was in everybody’s best interest.”

Perry says the revisions to the plan are minor.

The proposal calls for a six story building with 266 apartments, 15,600 square feet of retail and a parking deck with 463 spaces to be built in the vacant lot near Whole Foods on Elliot Road.

Unlike other large mixed-use developments, this one doesn’t require approval from the Town Council, merely a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Town Manager. It’s the first test of the new form-based code the Council voted to apply to the Ephesus-Fordham district last May.

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.

Perry says so far, the process has run smoothly.

“I think it’s been a good process. You know, it’s a new process for us and the town, so I think everybody has been learning as we go, but I’d say all things considered we’ve been very happy with how the process has gone to date.”

If the Town Manager signs off on the plan by December 3, Perry says they expect to break ground by the end of January.

Chapel Hill Town Council Approves Ephesus-Fordham Renewal Plan

The Chapel Hill Town Council took a series of votes Monday night to adopt a new type of zoning known as form-based code and apply it to a large swath of land surrounding the Ephesus Church Road-Fordham Boulevard intersection.

Council member George Cianciolo sided with the majority in supporting the plan.

“I do believe that this will be successful for Chapel Hill,” Cianciolo told the crowd of more that one hundred who turned out for the third public hearing on the proposal. “That’s what I was elected to do, use my best judgement.”

The Council voted 8-1 to adopt the new form-based code into the town land use plan, and 6-9 to apply it to the majority of the 190 acre Ephesus-Fordham focus area. Ed Harrison, Matt Czajkowski and Jim Ward voted against the rezonings.

The plan calls for the town 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.

Supporters say it will encourage new business growth in the area while also addressing long-standing flooding problems and traffic jams.

However, opponents have raised doubts about the efficacy of the stormwater management plan and questioned the cost and timing of the redevelopment proposal. Council member Czajkowski sided with critics of the plan.

“There’s no evidence that it will achieve the original goals, including stormwater, including traffic mitigation, including increasing commercial tax revenue towards the town,” said Czajkowski.

Council member Ward opposed the plan because he said switching from a Special Use Permit approval process to form-based code means the Council will lose the chance to negotiate with developers for affordable housing and energy efficient design.

“Sounds like the rest of the Council is ready to give away the store in terms of the one thing that we have, and that’s the ability to offer greater density as an incentive,” said Ward. “It baffles me.”

Using form-based code, the Council sets 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. Instead, projects will be reviewed by the Town Manager and the Community Design Commission. Council members expressed interest in reviewing the first projects that come forward under the new guidelines, but they will not be able to ask developers for concessions.

Mayor pro Tem Sally Greene proposed holding off on rezoning four parcels of land along Elliot Road from  East Franklin Street to Fordham Boulevard while staffers investigate the possibility of offering density bonuses for developers who build affordable housing.

“What I’m talking about is a proposal that would change properties 1, 2, 3 and 4 from WX 5 to WX 2, as in two stories permitted by right with a density bonus of five stories in exchange for 10 percent affordable housing,” said Greene.

The Council backed her proposal, leaving the land as-is for now.

In addition, the Council voted unanimously to rezone 8.5 acres on Legion Road so that nonprofit developer DHIC can apply for low-income tax credits to subsidize a proposed affordable rental housing project on the site. The town is partnering with DHIC on the project, but some backers worried the rezoning might not happen before Friday’s deadline to apply for tax credits.

While the zoning is now in place, the town is still in the process of figuring out how to pay for the $10 million dollars worth of infrastructure improvements. To that end, the town is asking Orange County to help pay down the town’s debt by contributing a portion of the increased tax revenues the redevelopment is expected to generate.

County commissioners will consider that plan on Thursday night.

Ephesus-Fordham Vote Delayed Again

Despite a four-hour meeting and a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100, the Chapel Hill Town Council had no time for public comment at Monday night’s public hearing on the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan.

The meeting ran long, forcing the Council to delay public comment on the plan until later this week. Though Council member Maria Palmer urged the crowd to stay for the remainder of the lengthy staff presentation on the topic, some audience members reacted with angry shouts and many walked out after waiting more than three hours to have their say.

“You might get really, really important information,” Palmer said to the crowd. “You’re saying you’re not interested. If you leave you are saying you’re not interested in the details. I know we need to hear from the public, but there’s also the purpose of informing the public and ourselves.”

The Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan proposes rezoning 190 acres near the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard in a bid to spur development.

If approved, the plan would be the town’s first experiment in form-based code, in which the Council sets parameters for development, then individual projects are approved at a staff level with the input of the Community Design Commission.

Council member Matt Czajkowski is a vocal skeptic of the plan. He protested what he said was bias on the part of Lee Einswieler, a consultant hired by the town to create the form-based code.

“To a lot of us, it feels like we’re being sort of sold,” said Czajkowski. “We didn’t hire you to sell us, we hired you to give us the alternatives in an objective manner.”

Czajkowski called for scaling back the plan to include just a handful of commercial properties, a concept Einsweiler rejected.

“Objectively, I personally believe you’ll lose planning objectives of consistency throughout the district,” replied Einsweiler. “Unless you include some of the smaller properties in here, you’ll lose the leveling benefit of the form-based code, which allow the smallest guy to do just as much with his property as the biggest guy.”

The Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan would use Chapel Hill Town Hall as collateral for $10 million dollars worth of storm water and roadway improvements to try to address the longstanding flooding and traffic issues in the area.

While town staffers provided detailed presentations on revised storm water proposals and the criteria for project approval, the Council ran out of time before reviewing the transportation improvements, affordable housing and the financing of the plan.

The Council will reconvene at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, an hour earlier than usual, in an effort to get through a full agenda. The remainder of the staff presentation on Ephesus-Fordham plan will begin at 7:00 p.m., with public comment scheduled after that.

Looking ahead to Wednesday’s meeting, Council members pleaded with the public to have patience as they sort through the plan.

“There’s just a lot of stuff here to work through, and I think we all have to be patient with each other while we do that,” said Mayor pro Tem Sally Greene. “You know, can’t go over it, can’t go under it; we’ve just got to go through it.”

The Council could choose to vote on the rezoning on Wednesday, or decide to wait until April 28.

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.

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.

CHTC Candidates Debate Transit, Growth and Affordable Housing

CHAPEL HILL- At Wednesday’s forum hosted by Friends of Bolin Creek and Neighbors for Responsible Growth, the nine candidates vying for four seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council reflected on the ways the town is looking to implement the new comprehensive plan.

One approach is through the introduction of form-based coding. It’s a new planning tool that supporters say will make the development process more predictable, though opponents worry it will move the approval process out of the public’s view.

Planning Board member Amy Ryan said if elected she would aim to make sure citizen input remains part of the process.

“As we talk about the form-based coding, that actually implies changes to the development review process, and I hope that as we go forward we work out some mechanism for public input at the end of that process,” said Ryan.

The council is currently considering applying form-based code to the Ephesus/Fordham Boulevard area in a bid to spur redevelopment. It could be considered for other areas in town as well.

Former Transportation Board Chair Loren Hintz said citizens need to decide how widespread that type of rezoning should be.

“I do think what everyone needs to decide is whether we want to apply form-based code to one neighborhood, which personally I think makes sense for the Ephesus/Fordham Boulevard, or apply it to other places,” said Hintz.

Incumbent Sally Greene said there are there are drawbacks, as form-based code does not allow the council to negotiate with developers for trade-offs like affordable housing.

“Once you have set form-based code in place and you ask someone to build, you have given away the store when it comes to affordable housing,” said Greene.

She said the council is looking to partner with a developer to use low-income tax credits to bring affordable rentals to the area instead.

George Cianciolo, co-chair of the Chapel Hill 2020 process, said these types of public-private partnerships will be key to increasing the supply of affordable housing in town, as the current system isn’t working.

“I don’t think dictating to developers that they have to do affordable housing is working now,” said Cianciolo. “What they do is they build their affordable housing then they jack up the price of the market rate housing. In Chapel Hill it’s driving the affordability rate higher not lower.”

In keeping with the theme of partnership, pastor and educator Maria Palmer said she’d like to see major employers like UNC develop local workforce housing options.

“I think we need to push the university to build more workforce housing, maybe at Carolina North,” said Palmer.

Town Council candidates also weighed in on the future of the Orange County Transit Plan.

Although voters last year approved the half-cent transit tax that funds the bus and rail plan, challenger D.C. Swinton said he’s skeptical about the idea of a light rail route from Chapel Hill to Durham.

“Rather than putting any money towards that, which is like putting the cart before the horse, we’d be better putting funds into expanding our (bus) system,” said Swinton.

Incumbent Ed Harrison argued that the addition of light rail would free up buses for use in other parts of town.

“What the light rail is intended to do as it comes into Chapel Hill is to replace all the buses on the N.C. 54 corridor, which are then available to go somewhere else,” said Harrison.

Southern Village resident Gary Kahn suggested there’s no need for light rail in a town this size.

“Until we get like six million people, that is when we should seriously start talking about light rail,” said Kahn. “Up until that point I don’t think it should even be an issue.”

But real estate broker Paul Neebe said the time to plan is now.

“I think if you don’t plan enough in advance for light rail, by the time you get too many people, there won’t be a place to put it,” said Neebe.

The candidates will face off again Thursday at a forum co-hosted by the Sierra Club and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

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.