Town Leaders Talk Obey Creek, Glen Lennox…And Chatham Park

What is the future of development in Chapel Hill? The Chapel Hill Town Council will be making a pair of big decisions on Monday.

That’s when the Council votes on whether to approve a development agreement for the Glen Lennox neighborhood – and whether to proceed to the negotiation phase on another development in the works, Obey Creek.

See the Council’s full agenda.

Located just across 15/501 from Southern Village, the 120-acre Obey Creek site represents the next big phase of the ongoing discussion around development and redevelopment in Chapel Hill. (Since the town’s new comprehensive plan was approved in 2012, Chapel Hill has begun moving forward on several “future focus” areas, including Central West, Rosemary Street, and Ephesus/Fordham as well as Glen Lennox.)

See an image of the broad vision for Obey Creek, as laid out in the “Chapel Hill 2020” comprehensive plan.

Developer Roger Perry of East-West Partners has proposed a 1.5 million square foot development for the site, with 600-700 residential units, 327,000 square feet of retail (including a large anchor store, perhaps a ‘big box’), and a hotel. The proposed development would cover 35 of the 120 acres, with the rest conserved for public use, wilderness preservation, and a possible future school.

See the most recent development proposal.

Reaction to Perry’s proposal has been mixed, at least so far. (No surprise: the discussion process is still in the early stages.) Residents and town officials generally agree that some development ought to take place at the Obey Creek site, if only to generate more retail spending: fewer dollars are spent on retail in Orange County than in any of the surrounding counties, and that in turn forces Chapel Hill’s tax burden disproportionately onto property owners. (The Town Council, indeed, just approved a one-cent property tax increase.)

But some have objected to certain features of Perry’s proposal. Its large scale is one concern: some have proposed a smaller development, closer to 750,000 square feet than 1.5 million. (Perry has argued, in response, that a certain level of density is necessary to make the project financially viable.) Others have expressed concerns about the environmental effects, pedestrian and bike accessibility, and the impact on traffic on 15/501 (which is already busy in that area). And still others have emphasized the need to make sure that Obey Creek has a “sense of place”: aesthetically pleasing, with a real connection to Southern Village and a feeling of being Chapel Hill’s southern ‘gateway.’ (Some residents involved in the discussion have held up the East 54 development – also Perry’s – as a cautionary example in this vein: the East 54 development isn’t as inviting as it could be, they say, because drivers along Route 54 can only see the backs of the buildings.)

Last year, the Town of Chapel Hill appointed 17 residents to a committee, to study the proposal, solicit public feedback, and provide recommendations on moving forward. On December 16 of last year, the Obey Creek Compass Committee submitted its final 43-page report.

Read the Compass Committee’s report here.

Committee members say they have some concerns about the proposal that’s currently on the table, but they’re confident the disagreements can be worked out before final approval from the Town Council.

And all of these discussions are taking place in the wake of Chatham County’s recent approval of Chatham Park – a massive development that’s set to add about 60,000 residents to Pittsboro over the next three decades. (Pittsboro’s current population is about 3,000.) How that will affect development in Chapel Hill – or the entire Triangle, for that matter – remains to be seen.

Two weeks ago, WCHL’s Jim Heavner spoke at length with Roger Perry about the Obey Creek project and the state of development in Chapel Hill.

(Listen to part 1, part 2, and part 3 of that conversation.)

And last week, Aaron Keck welcomed several key town officials and Compass Committee members into the studio to talk about Obey Creek – as well as Glen Lennox, Chatham Park, and development in general in Chapel Hill.

Listen to Part 1 of Aaron’s conversation with Jeanne Brown and Susan Lindsay of the Obey Creek Compass Committee:

And Part 2:

Listen to Aaron’s conversation with Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt:

Listen to Part 1 of Aaron’s conversation with Kristen Smith of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce:

And Part 2:

Finally, listen to Aaron’s conversation with Chapel Hill Economic Development Officer Dwight Bassett:

The Town Council meets on Monday night at 5:30 in the Southern Human Services Center.

CHTC Down To The Wire On Glen Lennox Plan

Months of negotiation on the Glen Lennox development agreement came down to the wire Monday night as the Chapel Hill Town Council rushed to conclude a four and a half hour meeting before accidentally triggering the automatic alarms at the Southern Human Services Center.

As the clock ticked toward midnight, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt sped the council through a series of straw polls to dispatch the lingering points of contention between town staff and Glen Lennox developer Grubb Properties.

Much of the discussion focused on whether the developer should be required to provide bike lane improvements along N.C. 54, but Clay Grubb argued no amount of lane striping would help.

“The last thing we want is kids to think that they can ride in front of the shopping center and down under the bridge,” Grubb told the Council. “You know, I don’t care what hour it is, it’s a very, very dangerous street.”

The Council also considered, and then abandoned, the idea of asking the developer to extend the Meadowmont bike path from Burning Tree Drive to the eastern edge of the Glen Lennox property. Council member George Cianciolo said he believes that’s the town’s responsibility.

“We’re also talking about a developer who has been working for a couple years now on a very collaborative basis with the town, and I think we need to think very carefully about not trying to extract too much from this developer,” said Cianciolo.

As town staffers gathered papers in preparation for a hasty exit, Grubb Properties representative Rachel Russell told the Council there are still two unresolved matters the developer is looking to settle before signing off on a twenty-year plan to redevelop one of Chapel Hill’s oldest commercial centers and the surrounding neighborhood.

“There are two more issues that we brought to the table with some concern, and I recognize we’ve run out of time, but they are important issues to us that we need to address,” said Russell. “If I can, I’ll reach out to you this week and explain each of them to you.”

The redevelopment project has been in the works since 2004. Town planners and Grubb Properties have been actively engaged in the development agreement process since March 2013.

If approved, the Glen Lennox plan would add new roads, new housing and a greenway in the interior of the 70 acre site, as well as office and retail space along Fordham Boulevard and Raleigh Road.

All parties hoped to have the last few questions answered on Monday, in preparation for a final vote next week. The Council will reconsider the Glen Lennox Development Agreement on Monday, June 23.

Council Readies For June Vote On Glen Lennox Plan

Members of the Chapel Hill Town Council sat down with developers from Grubb Properties on Monday to hash out the details of a plan to revitalize one of the town’s oldest commercial centers, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.

The Glen Lennox redevelopment plan would add new roads and new housing at the interior of the 70 acre site and office and retail space along Fordham Boulevard and Raleigh Road.

The Town Council is negotiating a development agreement to govern the build-out of the plan during the next two decades. At Monday’s work session, Council members focused on traffic mitigation, design features and the fiscal impact of the plan.

The Council also heard a novel proposal to retain affordable rental housing during and after redevelopment.

Clay Grubb, of Grubb Properties, suggested a program aimed at keeping long-term residents. Renters who have lived in Glen Lennox for five years or more would be eligible to have future rent hikes limited to no more than the increase of the Consumer Price Index. This would apply to 15 percent of the rentals throughout the entire property.

Though there are still issues of contention, Council members voiced approval for the plan and signaled they are almost ready to put it to a vote.

And while development plans for other focus areas such as Obey Creek and Ephesus-Fordham have become mired in controversy in recent months, the members of the public who spoke at the work session seemed to embrace the Glen Lennox plan with open arms.

One current resident called it “a blessing,” telling the council the plan should be “the gold standard” for other developers.

The development agreement will undergo another review by town staffers before a public hearing and council vote in June.

CHTC Wants More Time And Data For Glen Lennox Plan

CHAPEL HILL- After the Chapel Hill Town Council took its first look at the draft Glen Lennox development agreement, elected officials insisted they’ll need more time to review the twenty-year plan to redevelop one of Chapel Hill’s historic neighborhoods.

“I will not be pushed. This needs to be a deliberate conversation, not one that is rushed,” said Council member Jim Ward, speaking at Wednesday’s work session.

The Glen Lennox planning process began back in 2010, when developer Clay Grubb held monthly meetings with residents to discuss how to revitalize the commercial and residential development on 70 acres at the corner of Raleigh Road and 15-501.

The formal procedure for negotiating the long-term build out of the project got underway last March, and the town manager and attorney have been hashing out the details of the plan with developers for the past six months.

On Wednesday, the Council was scheduled to discuss the four big issues that remain unresolved, but Council members said they need more time to evaluate transportation improvements, affordable housing, design standards and the economic impact of the project.

Ian Colgan is a consultant hired by the town to evaluate how the proposal will impact town revenues. He told the Council commercial development generates tax revenue for the town, while single-family housing costs more in services than it produces in property tax. Colgan said the Glen Lennox project, with its emphasis on multi-family housing and commercial development, will likely generate at least $1.7 million dollars of tax revenue.

“Based on all the other studies I’ve seen, I think it’s a very conservative estimate,” Colgan told the Council. “I think this truly will be a net positive.”

But Council members pressed for more information, including the full cost of multi-family housing and an idea of how the additional rental units might impact schools.

Transportation was also a key issue, as the project is estimated to add 17,500 vehicle trips to nearby roads. Changes to Raleigh Road and a new road that intersects with 15-501 are proposed to help ease congestion, along with bike lanes and a greenway.

Council members want to be sure the road improvements are phased in along with development. Mac McCarley, who facilitated the negotiations, assured the council this would be written into the agreement.

“They can develop as fast or a s slow as they choose, but the infrastructure has to be at or ahead of their development,” said McCarley.

The Town of Chapel Hill has only negotiated a development agreement once before in 2009 with UNC officials to govern the build-out of Carolina North. Now, in addition to the Glen Lennox project, the Council is also currently pursuing a development agreement for the Obey Creek property on South 15-501.

The Council is planning to hold public hearings on the Glen Lennox plan this spring, with a vote scheduled before the June recess. The date of the Council’s next work session to discuss affordable housing and building design standards has yet to be announced.

Glenn Lennox Input Session And Property Tour Happening This Week

CHAPEL HILL – The Town of Chapel Hill is hosting the first Glen Lennox Public Input Session Wednesday at the Chapel Hill Public Library. It’s set for 6:30 p.m. in Meeting Room B and is an opportunity for the community to give feedback on key topics and interests regarding the project. A team of experts charged with facilitating a technical review of the project will also be in attendance.

On Thursday, there’s a developer-led property tour of Glen Lennox at 10 a.m. Those interested in attending should plan to meet at the Glen Lennox Apartment leasing center located in Glen Lennox at 5 Hamilton Road. The walking tour is an opportunity for participants to experience the property first-hand, and hear from the developer about how they propose to develop the site. Tour photographs will be posted online for those unable to attend.

CHTC Outlines Development Agreement Process For Obey Creek

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council approved a plan to explore a new type of planning process for three large projects, including the controversial Obey Creek development.

Though they haven’t always agreed in the past, developer Roger Perry and southern Chapel Hill resident Jeanne Brown told the council on Monday that they are ready to work together to plan the future of the proposed Obey Creek project.

“What we’re saying is, this is a positive pathway to resolving what should go on this site,” said Roger Perry. “We’re saying, let’s begin it.”

Brown has long been a critic of Perry’s plan to build a 1.5 million square foot high-density mixed use development across from Southern Village.

But she and other residents say they’re willing to engage in a new planning process, one that sidesteps the traditional Special Use Permit approval in favor of a longer period of back and forth negotiation between the council, citizens and developers.

Brown asked the council to prioritize public participation in the process, saying community dialog needs to happen before any technical review of site plans.

“While I recognize that public participation will be part of the proposed two-phase process, there has not been an agreement between all parties about a starting point for Obey Creek, a fact that suggests the need to begin with dialog, not just data collection,” said Brown.

But council members suggested the data gathering and public planning can happen simultaneously.

“My experience is that people start talking and they’re like, ‘hey where’s the data on traffic?’ said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. “It would be really great if it’s on its way.”

The council unanimously approved a two-part planning process to evaluate if pending projects would be suitable for development agreements.

The Glen Lennox redevelopment, the expansion of the Southern Human Services Center and the Obey Creek development could all be candidates for the process.

The six month exploratory phase will combine public dialog about a proposed project with technical review of the possible impacts. If all parties reach consensus on the need for a development agreement, the council would enter into a six-to-nine month negotiation phase with the developer to establish mitigation plans.

Developers would foot the bill for any consultants hired to provide technical expertise. Town planners estimate it could cost developers up to $150,000 to complete the process, nearly twice as much as a Special Use Permit application fee.

With the council’s blessing, the Town Manager’s office will launch the technical review and public outreach efforts for both the Glen Lennox and Obey Creek projects, as well as approach county officials to discuss if the Southern Human Services Center expansion meets the criteria for a development agreement.