Town Approves Obey Creek

Developer Roger Perry has been waiting on approval for Obey Creek for six years. And Monday night, he finally got his payday. The Town Council voted seven to one in favor of an agreement that would allow a 1.5 million-square-foot development to be built across from Southern Village.

The development will include housing, retail and commercial space, and it’s been a point of contention at town council meetings over the past several years. That tension was palpable Monday night as resident Arthur Finn spoke during the public hearing before the vote.

“How can a person who makes a living putting up 90-foot buildings talk about what’s good for Chapel Hill?” Finn asked.

The town has been working with an independent consulting firm and a council-appointed compass committee to vet the development agreement. But despite these efforts, many citizens at the meeting, like Esther Miller, shared lingering concerns about size, building heights and traffic mitigation.

“Traffic is bad, and it’s going to get a lot worse,” Miller warned.

The council members who voted for the agreement expressed a shared belief that Obey Creek had been thoroughly vetted and would provide needed housing and retail.

“I believe that the balance has been struck between a really dynamic wonderful, new area of Chapel Hill that supports many of our goals that have been mentioned, including new housing,” Councilwoman Sally Greene said.

Councilman Ed Harrison was the only member voting against. He said Obey Creek was a well-designed development, but still had concerns about traffic and size. He also felt several changes to the document made during the meeting had not been sufficiently reviewed.

“Even if I don’t agree with every point they’ve made,” Harrison said, “I would like someone to represent the folks who have had concerns about this that haven’t been alleviated. And I’m willing to do that. If that means I vote tonight then I do. In that case, I can’t vote for this. I certainly can’t vote for it if I haven’t seen the whole contract.”

While Harrison did not vote in favor of the development agreement, he did vote in favor of other provisions that allow Obey Creek to go forward—namely, the creation of a zoning amendment that allows for a development agreement to be used, the actual rezoning of the Obey Creek site and a land-swap between the town and the developer.

Several other council members shared a desire to see the final draft of the agreement, but were comfortable adding an article that would give the town until July 1 to make minor changes.

Perry says he isn’t certain when construction will begin, but it probably won’t be this year.

Chapel Hill Town Council Delays Obey Creek Vote

The Chapel Hill Town Council chose not to vote on the approval last night of the 120-acre Obey Creek development near Southern Village. Instead, the council used the meeting to hear further public comment and pushed the vote until next Monday.

The council’s decision not to vote seemed to come as a shock to Obey Creek’s developer Roger Perry.

“Damn! I got all dressed up,” Perry said.

Town staff had recommended the council approve the rezoning and development agreement, which would clear the way for construction to begin. But at the meeting, the council said it needed more time to review recent information from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The town spent last week in negotiations with the DOT over Obey Creek’s impact on traffic.

“There’s been a lot of questions from all of you, back and forth with the staff, getting and  seeking clarity,” Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said. “And so I think that having worked with these folks for a while, I think that they need to stew. And I think it’s reasonable because, much of what some of us have heard and learned, and the clarity we’ve sought on some issues, was hours ago.”

Despite successful negotiations with the DOT, some residents who spoke at the meeting expressed concern that the development agreement doesn’t ensure adequate traffic calming measures for south Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill resident Susan Lindsay said she wanted a stronger commitment to such measures for her area.

“You can’t get much more direct than the impact that Dogwood Acres Drive will feel from this development,” she said.

A few residents at the meeting also reiterated concerns about design, the amount of retail space, and a desire for an overall smaller footprint. Monte Brown was one proponent of a scaled-down development.

“To me it’s clear: You either value the life of the southern Chapel hill residents and your various boards, or you value the bunch of investors from Maryland,” Brown told the council.

Several council members signaled their support of the project at its largest scale: 1.5 million square feet. Councilwoman Maria Palmer said she supports a larger footprint because it means more housing for more people.

“We actually need housing in Chapel Hill. We need places for people to live. We have thousands of people commuting to Chapel Hill because there is no adequate housing for them. We have a lack of certain types of apartments, of housing for older residents, of affordable housing, of everything that is going into this development,” Palmer said.

The council plans to resume discussion and come to a vote on Obey Creek at its meeting next Monday night.

CHCCS Takes a Pass on Proposed Obey Creek School Site

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system is saying “thanks, but no thanks” to a proposed school site offered by Obey Creek developers.

The proposed Obey Creek site was marked as a potential school location several years ago on Chapel Hill’s land use plan.

Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent for support services at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, noted that in April 2014, the Board of Education approved a resolution for the Town Council to recognize that potential site, and to include that as party of negotiations with developers.

Later, the Council asked CHCCS if the school site offered by developers should be reserved.

The Board of Education has now come to a decision regarding Obey Creek.

“At a recent board meeting, the board passed a resolution thanking the Town Council for honoring that process,” said LoFrese. “The next was to communicate that we weren’t in reserving a school site. There are some challenges with the proposed area that was offered to the district as a school site.”

One of those development challenges, said LoFrese, is that the school would be difficult to access.

“There’d be an extensive bridge that would need to be constructed to cross over the creek,” said LoFrese.

In the final part of the resolution, the Board of Educations expressed that the Chapel Hill- Carrboro school system has other facility needs to address.

“We would be open to looking at other potential locations for where a school could be built,” said LoFrese. “We didn’t specify that it would be in the area that is currently proposed for development by Obey Creek. And the board also communicated that we have 10 older school facilities that have a lot of financial need.”

LoFrese said that it’s too early to estimate the impact the development will have on the school system, without a hard number of residential units to consider.

Right now, however, there are some spot-crowding problems that could be fixed, he said.

“Smith Middle School rises to the top of the list in my mind,” said LoFrese. “We had to close the school this year to new enrollment, even if you lived in the Smith zone. So we have some families who are being transported to either McDougle or Phillips, or Culbreth.”

LoFrese said there is still some breathing room at the elementary and high school levels. The next projected need for a middle school is in 2023.

In the meantime, said LoFrese, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system would like to expand older schools, while performing long-needed renovations.

That, he said, would further put off the need for new schools. He added that it could also create the equivalent of an entire new elementary school.

CHTC Discusses Obey Creek Affordable Housing Plan, Development Agreement

At Thursday night’s meeting, the Chapel Hill Town Council discussed an affordable housing plan for the proposed Obey Creek development.

Ben Perry, finance director of the development company East West Partners, proposed that 15 percent of the for-sale units and 5 percent of the rentals be designated as affordable housing.

East West Partners wants to build 1.6 million square feet of commercial, residential and office space on 35 acres at the Obey Creek site, which is across from Southern Village. Thursday’s meeting was part of the town’s ongoing negotiation with the developer.

An Obey Creek Affordable Housing Subcommittee, made up of some council members and stakeholders, had meetings with East West Partners over the last month.

Perry said East West Partners would provide 15 percent of the for-sale units at prices affordable to people earning up to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is $66,000 for a Chapel Hill household. In other words, the developer would offer six to eight for-sale townhouses at a reduced cost. This meets Chapel Hill’s inclusionary zoning ordinance for residential development.

Perry said the developer could offer 5 percent of the 600 rental units at a reduced cost.

Half of those 30 reduced-cost rentals would be eligible to section 8 and veteran affairs voucher holders. These would serve people who earn between 30 and 60 percent of the AMI.

The other half would be offered to people earning between 60 and 80 percent of the AMI. These tenants would pay 30 percent of their income for the units.

The council could ask the developer to pay a fee for affordable housing programs offsite instead of offering affordable housing at Obey Creek.

“My suggestion is that we take the affordable rental units, not the payment in lieu,” said Delores Bailey, executive director of the non-profit EmPOWERment Inc. She served on the Obey Creek affordable housing subcommittee. “There are lots of families that we can accommodate with this project when it happens.”

The town also discussed a draft of the Obey Creek Development Agreement. This agreement, a contract between the town and the developer, would list the permitted uses, housing requirements, environmental specifications, and other conditions and requirements.

The council would vote on the agreement in June, at the earliest. You can find the draft development agreement here. Email your feedback to and

The council’s next negotiation session is scheduled for Feb. 19 at Chapel Hill Town Hall at 7pm.

Obey Creek Special Meeting Focuses on Traffic Patterns

Much of Friday afternoon’s special meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council was taken up with discussion of changing traffic patterns on 15-501, if the town were to approve the Obey Creek development.

The Council held two days of meetings late last week to discuss the Southern Village Park-and-Ride lot area, and connections between the proposed 35-acre mixed-use development and southern Chapel Hill.

The town has hired the planning firm of Dover, Kohl & Partners to develop possible scenarios, and consultant Victor Dover led Friday afternoon’s discussion.

Dover proposed a modern roundabout at Dogwood Acres Drive, where rapid-transit buses could easily change direction.

Council member Ed Harrison expressed concern about that idea, citing unsuccessful attempts at multi-lane roundabouts in North Carolina. Dover said there’s proof it can be done right.

“There is a successful one in Davidson, now, that you might want to look at,” said Dover. “It’s easy to Google. You can see it on the aerial and satellite photograph quite vividly.”

Another Council member, Jim Ward, pushed to get and an answer about DOT approval for another idea, a signalized intersection at Sumac Road. The roundabout would require DOT approval, too.

“To me, the bottom line is, that needs to work, fully” said Ward. “That’s a decision, I feel like, we need to know early in the game.”

The next Obey Creek Special Meeting is scheduled for Feb. 12.

Chapel Hill Town Council Considers Redevelopment of Southern Village Park-and-Ride Lot

The Chapel Hill Town Council is considering options for redeveloping the park-and-ride lot at Southern Village. The council hired a consultant to help plan the future of the town-owned 8.5-acre lot.

Victor Dover, the consultant from the planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners, facilitated the discussion at Thursday night’s meeting.

Dover said a park-and-ride lot means “capturing an outer catchment or cloud of suburban drivers and hoping that we’ll intercept them so that they don’t ask us to store their big, expensive, space-consuming cars in the center of town or on campus or at the research triangle where we don’t have room for them, and instead store them somewhere on the edge of town and use transit for the rest of their trip  . . . Apart from the $2 they pay to park in the park-and-ride, which barely helps with recovering any costs, they’re not contributing economically to that place.”

Dover said putting shops between the parking space and the bus stop might entice drivers to spend money locally.

Dover listed several possible development scenarios to start the conversation about the park-and-ride lot. One scenario has surface parking with a few mixed-use buildings. Another scenario includes a parking structure, several mixed-use buildings, an access lane with on-street parking, and civic buildings.

Southern area resident Jeanne Brown offered suggestions to the council as they consider the future of the park-and-ride lot.

“Please make sure that your planning can be proactive and not reactive to what is being proposed across the road,” said Brown.

Council members are considering redevelopment as they negotiate with East West Partners, the future developer of the privately owned 120-acre property across the highway. This is the Obey Creek site, proposed as a residential, retail and office development of up to 1.6 million square feet.

Council members encourage people to come to Chapel Hill Town Hall for Friday’s 1:30 pm meeting facilitated by Dover and designed to get public input. The Town Hall address is 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. At 4 pm, council members will meet with Dover and the developer to discuss both the park-and-ride lot and Obey Creek.

Obey Creek Estimated to Net $600k to $1M Annually for Chapel Hill

On Thursday night, the Chapel Hill Town Council discussed the fiscal impact of the proposed Obey Creek development on the town.

Chapel Hill Business Management Director Kenneth Pennoyer estimated the mixed-use development would net between $600,000 and $1 million every year. This is the revenue, which comes from taxes and fees, minus the cost of extending town services, like fire, police and transit services.

Town council members are looking into the impact of two different development scenarios to help the town strategically negotiate with the developer, East West Partners. This wide range in the bottom line – $600,000 to $1 million – comes from comparing a bigger development plan, the original scenario, with a smaller development plan, the minimum scenario.

“The original development plan called for 1.5 million square feet of development with residential being slightly more than half, retail, office and also hotel included,” said Pennoyer. “The minimum scenario is slightly less than half the square footage containing residential, retail and office but no hotel.”

The development would also generate revenue for the county and the local school district. The town estimates the smaller development scenario would add 50 students to area schools and the bigger development would add 130 students.

Ben Perry, finance director of East West Partners, said this minimum development scenario may not be financially feasible for his company.

“I think what we’re really looking at is something closer to the original analyses you received on the traffic and on the fiscal, starting at that 1.5, 1.6 million and working down from there,” said Perry.

The public is invited to comment on the Obey Creek negotiation process at the town council’s 7pm meeting on January 12 in the town hall council chamber. The council will hold special meetings with Victor Dover from the planning firm Dover, Kohl and Partners, on January 22 at 7pm and January 23 at 4 pm. Both meetings will be in the council chamber.

WCHL’s 2014 Year In Review

The year 2015 is finally upon us – but before saying goodbye to 2014, the WCHL news team took a look back at the year that was in our local community.

In a year dominated by ice storms, high-profile elections, serious debates over policing and public safety and same-sex marriage, and still more scandal at UNC, what were the top news stories that shaped the year 2014 in Chapel Hill? And who were the top newsmakers?

As we do every year, WCHL’s news team compiled a list of the top 10 news stories, and the top 10 newsmakers, here in Orange County. Does your list match ours?

Listen to our 2014 Year In Review special!

Part 1: #10, #9, #8


Part 2: #7, #6, #5 (and the year in sports)


Part 3: Aaron Keck chats with Akiva Fox and Allison Driskill about the top stories of 2014 as viewed on


Part 4: #4, #3, and #2


Part 5: #1



News Story: Rooftop Incident At Hampton Inn
Newsmaker: Rita Balaban

Our #10 news story of the year took place on Tuesday, September 30, when Carrboro police got a call that a man was on the roof of the Hampton Inn on Main Street, threatening to jump. What followed was an 18-hour standoff, during which Chapel Hill and Carrboro police shut down traffic downtown so trained negotiators could talk the man off the roof – which they did, successfully, the following morning.

Our #10 newsmaker is UNC economics professor Rita Balaban, the professor who unmasked three streakers who dashed through her classroom in October. Coincidentally, she was also the professor of the class that police entered in November to arrest the student who’d posted a bomb threat in the Pit on social media.


News Story: UNC’s Response To Ebola Crisis
Newsmaker: Francis Henry

Thousands in West Africa died during the worst outbreak of Ebola in history. Other than a handful of cases, the disease didn’t make it to the U.S., but in Chapel Hill, the work of UNC researchers was pivotal in the fight against the disease overseas.

Meanwhile, the fate of Hillsborough’s beloved, now-dilapidated Colonial Inn was a hot topic all year. Francis Henry, the building’s current owner, petitioned the town for permission to tear the historic building down, but was denied.


News Story: Teacher Pay
Newsmaker: Robert Campbell

North Carolina public school teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation – a fact that sparked an outcry in 2014. That outcry was so loud that state legislators actually responded to it, passing a sizable pay increase, but that didn’t quell the controversy: those raises were minimal at best for experienced teachers.

2014 was a banner year for Reverend Robert Campbell, whose tireless work on behalf of the Rogers Road community came to fruition at year’s end. Orange County municipalities finally came together on a remediation plan to extend water and sewer service to the neighborhood, and a new community center opened in the fall.


News story: Development in Chapel Hill
Newsmaker: Roger Perry

Our #7 news story and our #7 newsmaker go hand in hand: 2014 saw big debates about new developments in Chapel Hill, primarily at Obey Creek and the Ephesus/Fordham district. Developer Roger Perry was at the center of both discussions: his East West Partners is both the lead developer at Obey Creek and the developer behind the first major proposal at Ephesus/Fordham.

Wrapped up with development is the ongoing discussion about affordable housing – which is getting harder and harder to find. Chapel Hill teamed up with DHIC for a major affordable housing project in Ephesus/Fordham, but that’s on hold because clerical errors in DHIC’s funding application led to its rejection.


News story: Ferguson and Police Militarization
Newsmaker: Charles Blackwood

The events in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked several major debates locally: from protests over the non-indictment of the officer who killed Michael Brown (as well as the officer who killed Eric Garner) to a debate about perceived police militarization, sparked by the heavily-armed police response to protestors in Ferguson.

This year’s local elections were mostly a low-key affair, but the sheriff’s race was an exception, as six candidates vied to replace longtime sheriff Lindy Pendergrass. Charles Blackwood emerged victorious, defeating David Caldwell in a summer runoff.


News story: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety
Newsmaker(s): Mark Kleinschmidt and Lydia Lavelle

Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC were all honored as “Bicycle Friendly” by the League of American Bicyclists, but our community was hit by a series of incidents involving bikers and pedestrians – most notably the tragic death of bicyclist Pamela Lane in October, in a collision with a vehicle on MLK.

It was a busy year all around for Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, but perhaps most notable was their respective contributions to the fight for same-sex marriage in North Carolina. Kleinschmidt was an attorney on the case that saw the state’s ban struck down; Lavelle and her partner Alicia Stemper were the first same-sex couple to apply for, and receive, a marriage license in Orange County.


News story: Ice Storm
Newsmaker: Rashad McCants

We won’t soon forget the February ice storm that shut down Chapel Hill and Carrboro for days, left motorists stuck on 15/501 and other roads for hours, and forced UNC to call off the Duke/Carolina basketball game scheduled for that evening. (Carolina won the rescheduled game, when it was finally played.)

Former UNC basketball star Rashad McCants made waves in the summer when he appeared on ESPN to declare not only that he’d taken phony classes and had tutors write his papers at UNC, but also that his coaches – including Roy Williams – knew all about it.


News story: Murder of Feng Liu
Newsmaker(s): Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan

Chapel Hill and the UNC community were shocked when pharmacy professor Feng Liu was attacked and killed on July 23, while taking a walk near campus in the middle of the afternoon. Two men were arrested for his murder the following day.

Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis waged a hard-fought (and extremely expensive) battle all year for a seat in the U.S. Senate. State House Speaker Tillis won, riding a Republican wave in spite of the unpopularity of the General Assembly.


News story: Same-Sex Marriage Legalized
Newsmaker: Carol Folt

In May, Mark Chilton unseated incumbent Deborah Brooks in the race for Orange County Register of Deeds, at least partly because he said he’d be willing to defy the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. As it turned out, though, that wouldn’t be necessary: a district court judge struck down that ban in October, and it was Brooks (not yet out of office) who issued Orange County’s first same-sex marriage license.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt was at the center of every major debate on campus. The academic/athletic scandal was the most prominent, of course, but there were also plenty of major accomplishments as well.


News story: The Wainstein Report
Newsmaker: Mary Willingham

Commissioned in February and delivered in October, Kenneth Wainstein’s 131-page report on academic irregularities at UNC shocked observers who thought they’d heard it all – shedding light on a “scheme” of fraudulent classes that went unchecked for nearly two decades.

Former UNC academic advisor Mary Willingham sparked massive debate when she appeared on CNN in January to blow the whistle on UNC admissions – arguing that a sizable percentage of UNC football and basketball players couldn’t read above an eighth-grade level.

CHTC Talks with Obey Creek Developer About Affordable Housing

Three Chapel Hill Town Council members volunteered to lead a working group to analyze  affordable housing options for the proposed Obey Creek Development.

The developer, East West Partners, plans to bring a mix of retail, office space, and up to 800 residential units on 35 acres at the site, which is across from Southern Village. The town officially entered the negotiation phase with the developer in November.

At Monday’s meeting, the town council talked with members of East West Partners about options for the residential units. Council members Jim Ward, George Cianciolo and Sally Greene will plan housing strategies for the proposed mixed-use development. The team may consult with local affordable housing providers in the planning process, and the team will report findings to the town council.

The town council may ask East West Partners to provide 15 percent of the units at prices affordable to households that earn between 65 and 80 percent of the area median income. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lists the area median income for Orange County at $65,700 for a family of four.

Alternately, the council may ask the developer to pay a fee for affordable housing programs elsewhere in Chapel Hill. The council may choose a combination of these options or another option that supports affordable housing initiatives in the town.

The Chapel Hill Office of Housing and Community prepared this list of new developments and the number of affordable units or amount of payment in-lieu at each development.

Council members will negotiate with East West Partners to build infrastructure as part of the development agreement. The town council discussed possible bicycle and pedestrian paths, including a proposed bridge over U.S. 15-501 connecting Obey Creek with the town’s park-and-ride lot.

The town council will hold four meetings in January focused on the development of Obey Creek and the park-and-ride lot. The next meeting will be at Chapel Hill Town Hall on January 8 at 7 pm.

Obey Creek Project Proposes Senior Rental Housing And “Curated” Retail Mix

On Thursday night, The Chapel Hill Town Council started the negotiation process with the future developer of the Obey Creek project near Southern Village.

“We have a lot of commonality of interests in a lot of areas,” said Roger Perry, president of  the development company East West Partners. “It’s in the town’s best interest and our best interest that this works.”

Perry presented details of his development proposal to council members, focusing on the specific mix of uses and the design principles at the Obey Creek site.

Perry proposed minimum and maximum numbers for the amount of retail, office, residential, and hotel space at the property.

Here is the full chart:

Retail – 200,000 sf minimum – 475,000 sf maximum
Office – 150,000 sf minimum – 600,000 sf maximum
Residential – 250 units minimum – 800 units maximum
Hotel – 0 rooms minimum – 400 rooms maximum

Perry said an upper limit of 1.6 million square feet would be developed on 35 acres, and he said East West Partners would not build in a way that increases traffic beyond a threshold identified in a traffic impact analysis.

Perry said many of the residential units will be rentals available only for senior citizens. He also said “there will be almost no kids” in the proposed residential units.

Several council members expressed concern about the lack of age diversity.

East West Partners hired the architecture firm Elkus-Manfredi to work on the project. “The very fashionable word in planning now is that you have to curate the retail,” said architect David Manfredi. “It’s a little too cute for me, but the message is right that you don’t build space and then put a ‘for lease’ sign on it.”

Manfredi said the developer should plan spaces to accommodate particular uses. For example Perry proposed building a space to accommodate a large grocery store. He also said he wants to bring in a large department store.

Council member Jim Ward said that in addition to these large stores, the developer should plan spaces for “micro retail” or “affordable retail.”

Council members talked briefly about affordable housing, but they decided to discuss this issue in greater detail at the next Obey Creek meeting on December 8 at Chapel Hill Town Hall.