Town Considers Changes to Ephesus-Fordham Code

The Chapel Hill Town Council heard opinions on Monday regarding changes to the Ephesus-Fordham Form Based Code and voted to extend the public comment period until April 18.

The council is considering eight modifications in all to the text of the code, which dictates what kind of development can happen in the area.

John Richardson, planning manager for sustainability, presented the changes to the town council, which are based on petitions the town received in January from community members. Many of the modifications deal with pedestrian access and appearance.

“What can be done from a design standpoint to encourage people to be on the street, to be talking to one another, that kind of thing,” said Richardson.

The form-based code was approved by the council in 2014. It is intended to foster mixed-use developments and pedestrian-friendly districts by specifying building characteristics for potential developers.

Council member, Michael Parker said that simplicity was important for the code.

“One of the things that Ephesus-Fordham was designed to do is to provide predictability for developers and town residents both,” said Parker.

Parker was concerned that a modification to require residential buildings to have ground floor access would affect internal building design, something the town wanted to leave up to individual businesses.

“Effectively by mandating stoops and therefore entrances on the street, in fact you are telling the developers how they have to lay out their apartments in these kinds of buildings,” said Parker, “are we really comfortable with getting that prescriptive in design?”

Kristen Smith presented a petition from the Chapel Hill- Carrboro Chamber of Commerce that proposed the town council form a technical commission with the chamber as part of the public review process for the modifications, which the mayor and town council agreed to.

The Town Council will vote on the modifications to the code at their meeting on April 18.

Proposed modifications to Ephesus-Fordham Form Based Code:

-Achieve a higher level of design aesthetic by changing Type C to Type B frontage along both sides of Fordham Boulevard. This would require residential entrances on the ground level.

-Establishing a minimum perimeter around buildings to avoid the creation of “super blocks” and allow the movement of people

-Each building must be a minimum of two floors and 35 ft.

-Require that the Community Design Commission review any parking structure based on its appearance.

-Streetscapes that provide amenities to pedestrians and bicyclist by establishing a clear zone that could not be obstructed on the sidewalk.

-Make outdoor or recreational space visible to public.

-Stormwater management facilities would also be reviewed based on appearance.

-Preventing utility and service equipment, such as a transformer, not be placed in the streetscape.

“Ephesus-Fordham” To Be Rebranded; Village Plaza Done In A Year

The crane has arrived and construction is under way on Village Plaza Apartments, the big project on Elliott Road that’s sparked an equally big debate this election season.

“Some of you may have noticed our crane showed up this week, the large crane that will start erecting the parking deck,” says Lee Perry of East West Partners, the developer behind Village Plaza (et al). “The deck will start going up this week, (and) we hope to have it done by early December.”

Village Plaza is the first major project in Chapel Hill’s revamp of the Ephesus-Fordham district. When it’s done, the complex will include 265 residential units and 15,000 square feet of retail – and Perry says it should all be finished in about a year.

“We’re pouring the podium slab now for the retail-commercial (units), and we expect to be delivering the first units of commercial space in August,” he says. “It’s tight, but we’re working towards meeting that goal – and then we’ll have a second phase that will complete the project (next) October.”

Village Plaza was the first project approved under Chapel Hill’s new development process for Ephesus-Fordham, a process called “form-based code.” The idea is to speed up the approval process by establishing development guidelines in advance and approving all projects that meet those guidelines – rather than having to examine every new proposal separately. Chapel Hill is trying the “form-based code” with Ephesus-Fordham, a district that town leaders have long argued is in need of major redevelopment.

Many local residents have objected to the guidelines, though – saying it allows for buildings that are too tall, doesn’t do enough to promote affordable housing or alleviate bad traffic, and doesn’t sufficiently address stormwater concerns in the flood-prone area.

That debate has been at the center of Chapel Hill’s 2015 municipal election, so Village Plaza has been something of a lightning rod. But construction is ongoing regardless – though Perry says when all is said and done, the project won’t be called “Village Plaza,” nor will the district be called “Ephesus-Fordham.”

“We’re going to be changing the name soon,” Perry says. “We’re waiting for the new branding of the Ephesus-Fordham district to mature a little further – there’s going to be a new name for the district and a new branding effort – so we’re waiting for that to take shape as we think about what we’re going to name the project.”

Village Plaza Apartments – or whatever it’s going to be called – is going up on the site of a former movie theater on Elliott Road.

Redevelopment Plan Could Push Out Eastgate BP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some residents’ words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.