Glen Lennox Approved, Obey Creek Plan Conditional

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously approved a development agreement for Glen Lennox on Monday night.

The council also voted 5-3 to conditionally approve entering the negotiation phase with East-West Partners, which seeks to develop 120 acres at the Obey Creek site.

“Make a decision tonight, either to enter into these negotiations subject to these reports, or make the decision not to enter into negotiations, and quit wasting your time, these folks’ time, and our time. If the potential positives of Obey Creek are not compelling enough for you to have a conversation with us, then say so, and we’ll live with the existing zoning. We are prepared to do that.”

That’s developer Roger Perry of East-West Partners, imploring the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday night to make a decision on whether to enter into a negotiation phase with the aspiring developer of Obey Creek.

Monday night’s five-hour meeting was run by Mayor Pro Tem Sally Greene, in the absence of Mark Kleinschmidt, who was attending a Mayor’s Conference in Dallas.

The contentious Obey Creek matter was on the agenda a few items down the list from Glen Lennox, and the mood in the room at Southern Human Services Center couldn’t have been more different when each one came up.

That’s not to say that the Glen Lennox redevelopment project of Grubb Properties has always been a harmonious issue since it was first proposed in 2004.

But on Monday night, developer Clay Grubb was praised for his collaborative approach with the town and his tenants.

The proposed redevelopment will include new roads, additional housing and greenway. New office and retail space will be built along Fordham Boulevard and Raleigh Road.

Molly McConnell has been a tenant of Glen Lennox Apartments for 15 years, and was once a skeptic about the development.

“I spoke against Mr. Grubb’s original plan in 2008,” said McConnell, “and to my total amazement, he did not evict me. And I have lived in other housing where my rent doubled, or my lease wasn’t renewed if I brought a problem. And it makes me tearful to think about this, because he was willing to talk with his tenants.”

When it was time for the council to weigh in, Councilperson Matt Czajkowski called the Glen Lennox process a “model” for other development discussions. The development agreement passed unanimously.

The proposed 1.5 million-square-foot Obey Creek development, however, still has a long way to go.

It would include 327,000 square feet of retail, with the possibility of a big-box anchor store.

Somewhere between 600 and 700 residential units would be built, plus a hotel.

All of that would cover 35 acres. The remaining 85 acres would be for public use, wilderness, and, maybe, a new school.

There were a lot of public comments about the Obey Creek plan on Monday night, and many of them came from members of the Compass Committee appointed by the council to study and make recommendations on the proposal.

All but one commenter urged the Council to wait until they had received and analyzed data before moving toward negotiations with East-West Partners.

Czajkowski agreed, and added that he didn’t like the way he saw the process going so far. He said that neither the council nor the developer were listening to the public.

“East-West Partners has never, to my knowledge, anyway – correct me if I’m wrong – proposed reducing the total square footage by a single foot.”

That prompted this exchange with developer Roger Perry.

“Our original concept plan that we brought you was two-and-a-half million feet,” said Perry. “We pared that down during the last two years to where we are now. So, it has not always been one-and-a-half million. It’s down 40 percent from what the original…”

“Fair enough, fair enough” Czajkowski cut in. “But the debate, fundamentally is: How many square feet, and what mix of uses? That’s the debate”

“Correct!” Perry shot back. “And that can only be resolved with conversation with you.”

Councilperson Maria Palmer sparked another heated exchange with Czajkowski when she told him that not everybody in Chapel Hill wants a smaller development.

“There are people that are desperate to live in Chapel Hill,” she said, “who work here, who want just a little apartment, just a place to live. And they don’t think that the aesthetics of somebody who owns a piece of property a mile down, and wants to look at the water tower, or whatever, should be uppermost in their mind.

“And I’m not saying that to be ugly. I have people complain to me that a tree’s worth more in Chapel Hill than a family.”

She went on to say that if she could build a Costco on that land, she would.

A motion was made by Councilperson Jim Ward to move to the negotiation phase with East-West Partners, subject to receipt and review of traffic impact, fiscal impact, and environmental impact analyses.

That motion carried, 5-3.

Glen Lennox Re-Development Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

CHAPEL HILL – The Town of Chapel Hill is developing the Glen Lennox neighborhood under a new process that offers greater leeway in negotiating with developers, but some residents are worried that change may not be for the best. The apartments have been a part of the Town since 1950, offering affordable housing in an area where those options are scarce.

Native Chapel Hillian Kay Hengeveld has lived in Glen Lennox for many years.

“I realize that as things get older, there are going to be more problems to maintain them. To me, though, it is very important to have an affordable product in Chapel Hill,” Hengeveld said.

Hengeveld was one of about 15 residents who took a tour of Glen Lennox Thursday, led by the developer, Grubb Properties.

Plans call for the construction of two-story commercial spaces, new town houses and duplexes, office space, and parking lots. Hengeveld said she is worried about what will happen to her if her home is torn down.

“I’m a retired senior citizen. I can’t afford to go to a Carolina Woods or a Carolina Meadows. It’s important for a senior to have an apartment all on one floor. It’s like living in your own house,” Hengenveld said.

Jan Halle has lived in Chapel Hill since 1974 and is not sold on the idea of two-story buildings in the area.

“Glen Lennox to me is a landmark of Chapel Hill. So many people have lived here that have graduated college. It is a community of young people and old people. It is very special. And it’s affordable units, in town, on the bus line.” Halle said.

Rachel Russell of Grubb Properties said that 118 units of the existing 440 units would be preserved.

“A lot of people don’t understand by just looking at a plan. By walking the site, you get a human-scale picture of what the new Glen Lennox will look like,” Russell said.

Kent Schwendy is a member of the team of consultants charged with facilitating a technical review of the project. He also took questions from the public at the input session held on Wednesday.

“Essentially we’ve been brought in to provide another layer of technical consulting to the Town’s staff, as well as a third party review. We can take one step back and say ‘Look, this is the best balanced and holistic solution.’ We hope this is valuable to the community,” Schwendy explained.

Schwendy said the technical team will advise both Grubb Properties’ development team and the Town’s project team through the planning phases and engineering phases.

In March of 2010, the Town Council endorsed the development of a Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) zoning overlay for the neighborhood. This allows for future commercial development in the area, while also preserving existing structures.

“We are building on what has been done. We’re trying to define more detail and make sure that everything works out the way it was intended. We’re not trying to rewrite history. The community did a great thing with the changes they made to the zoning,” Schwendy said.

The next step is to formulate the developer agreement which Scwendy explains will specify the way in which the zoning rules are applied in the area.

The Town Council has to approve the developer agreement, which Schwendy said that could happen by the fall of this year. Then negotiations would begin, which could take up to a year.

Russell said Grubbs Properties will continue to address the community’s concerns as the planning process moves along.

“I mean it is 70 acres, and we want to make sure that we are developing it in a way that the market supports it. We don’t want to overdevelop it and not have the tenants for it. It’s also a process and a transition so the community can get used to it,” Russell said.