CHCCS Officials Ask Town Council To Save Room For Schools

As the Chapel Hill Town Council eyes new residential development at Obey Creek, Glen Lennox and in the Ephesus-Fordham area, officials from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system want to be sure there’s space available if new students move in.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the Town Council on Wednesday that district schools are nearing full capacity.

“We currently have about 12,100 students in the district,” said LoFrese. “You can see that we’re close to full.”

He added school officials are projecting enrollment numbers will continue to rise.

“While we do have some breathing room at the elementary level that was created when Northside opened earlier this year, our projected growth rate shows that we’re growing at about 1.5 percent annually at all three of the levels, so in the next few years, all school levels will be at or above 100 percent capacity.”

Using the current projections, LoFrese said a new elementary and new middle school will be necessary by 2020 and Carrboro High School will need to expand in 2023.

Compounding the problem, LoFrese told the council there are few sites left in the district that are suitable for new schools. A site near Morris Grove could be the home of the next middle school, and the next elementary might be built at Carolina North or on the Greene tract north of Homestead Road.

Land across from Southern Village is earmarked as a potential school site, but that’s also where East West Partners is looking to build the 120 acre Obey Creek mixed-use project.

Currently, potential school sites are designated within the town’s comprehensive plan and any developer seeking a special use permit or SUP for one of those locations must ask the school board to release that site. But with the Town Council considering a variety of new development approval methods that sidestep the SUP process, administrators worry the school board might lose that power.

“I know that there are various development processes that are being considered, whether it is a negotiated agreement or a form-based code process,” said LoFrese. “The [school] board is going to be considering a resolution that requests the Town Council to honor the spirit of the potential school site process, regardless of the type of development process used.”

The school board also wants to make sure developers using form-based code or a development agreement are required to seek a Certificate of Adequate Public Schools from the district to ensure there’s room in the school system to accommodate residential growth.

There’s some controversy, however, about how the student generation rates are determined for new developments in the post-recession economy. Apartments and condos are projected to bring fewer students to the district, but lately, LoFrese said the results have been unpredictable.

“The East 54 project has 254 units. Generation rates expected 37 students out of that project. We actually only have two,” said LoFrese. “However, look at Chapel Watch Village. Chapel Watch Village, off of Eubanks, has a total of 120 units. We expected 21 students and in reality we got 46.”

LoFrese told the Council the school district is working on a two-pronged approach to address the question of future school capacity. In the short-term, the board has asked Orange County to commission a new study to update the data on student generation rates for new residential development.

A larger, more expensive plan is to renovate the district’s oldest schools to add capacity. While that would cost upwards of $100 million dollars, it would delay the need for $57 million worth of new school construction. Orange County leaders are discussing a possible bond package to cover the cost of some school renovations, but that might not make it to the ballot until 2016.

In the meantime, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board will consider a resolution on Thursday night asking the Town Council to keep school sites, and school capacity, on the table during upcoming development negotiations.

CHTC Moves Forward On Obey Creek Plan

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council voted Monday to move the Obey Creek development process forward, but with the addition of a new checkpoint along the way.

More than 100 people packed the Town Council’s first business meeting of 2014 to ask the  Council to adopt the recommendations of the Obey Creek Compass Committee. Southern Chapel Hill resident Chris Bergstrom was one of 20 speakers to address the Council.

“Please show the citizens of this town that when you form a compass committee in the way that you did, that you actually pay attention to what they are recommending,” said Bergstrom. “Show us it is not just a fig leaf. Show us that you’re really listening.”

Concern centered on a 1.6 million square foot development plan put forward by developers at East West Partners for 124 acres along 15-501 South across from Southern Village.

Developers, consultants and the 17-member compass committee have spent the last six months exploring the Obey Creek proposal, but in the end the committee decided the current plan is too big and too dense. The group asked the Council to pause the process until a smaller plan was offered for consideration.

In addition, committee members and area residents worried the town was not ready to move into the next phase of the process without more information on traffic and the economic impact of the plan.

“I would ask the Council to not go to the next stage yet,” said Lee Nackman. “Make sure that the work is done to get the right information, get that information into the committee, and not put the cart before the horse, so we can have a considered understanding of what the proposal is in the context of real data before you take the next phase.”

However, town staffers and council members countered that data collection and analysis would be better suited to Phase Two of the process. Although the second phase of the development agreement process had been labeled the negotiation phase, council members including Jim Ward stressed they had not yet made up their minds about the outcome.

“If the impact in terms of the traffic volume this would generate is more than we’re willing to put up with, we can walk away from the table. I’m willing to walk away from the table,” said Ward. “So by moving to Phase Two doesn’t mean that we’re going to end up approving anything.”

Council members agreed with residents asking for more checkpoints along the way, but stopped short of seconding the committee’s call for a new concept plan.

The Council voted 8-1 to move into the second phase of the process, in which the technical team will work with developers and town staffers to revise the plan and study how it will impact the surrounding area. At the end of that phase, the council will review the plan and vote whether to enter into direct negotiations with developers at East West Partners.

The development agreement process is markedly different from the Council’s usual special use permit approval process. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt told the crowd the Council adopted the development agreement process in hopes of fostering greater dialog and more transparency.

“This is a significant change in process for a reason and it is because the Council wants continued community feedback on this project,” said Kleinschmidt. “If we desired a black-box decision, we would have done it the old-fashioned way.”

Town staffers estimate it could take up to a year to move through the development agreement process.

Gun Control And Obey Creek Top CHTC Agenda

CHAPEL HILL- After six months of debate, the 17-member committee charged with evaluating the Obey Creek development plan for the 124 acres across from Southern Village says the project needs more study.

Monday, the Chapel Hill Town Council will review the Obey Creek Compass Committee’s report, along with recommendations from developers at East West Partners and the technical consulting team hired by the town.

All this is preparation for a vote to determine if the town should negotiate a development agreement with East West Partners to govern the long-term build-out of a mixed-use project that’s estimated to be the same size as Southpoint Mall.

Committee members argue the plans are too big and will draw traffic to an already congested thoroughfare. Although they did not suggest stopping the negotiation process altogether, they say the town should request an all-new plan that is smaller in scope and impact.

The town planning board agrees with the Compass Committee, but East West Partners and the team of consultants want the current plan to move forward instead. They say many of the concerns raised by the committee can be resolved in phase two, in which developers negotiate directly with the Council and town staff.

If the Council decides to proceed into the second phase of the negotiation process, staffers estimate it could take up to one year to draft a development agreement.

On Monday the Council will also consider amending the town’s gun laws to match new state regulations approved last July.

Under the new rules, municipalities cannot prohibit gun owners with concealed carry permits from bringing firearms to parks, playgrounds, recreational facilities or on town buses.

The proposed changes have spurred a slew of emails from concerned residents who want the current bans to stay in place, but legal advisers warn that Chapel Hill could be targeted for lawsuits if town leaders don’t comply with the new regulations.

In addition, the Council will take public comment on a proposal to extend the town’s extra-territorial jurisdiction to include the Rogers Road neighborhood. If approved, this would enable the town to contribute funding for sewer service extension as part of the Rogers Road Remediation plan.

The Town Council meets at 7 o’clock at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road. Click here for the full agenda.

Obey Creek Committee Asks Town Council For More Time

CHAPEL HILL- The 17-member Obey Creek Compass Committee unanimously petitioned the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday to postpone its final report to the council until after the start of next year.

Council member Donna Bell, who serves as liaison to the committee, said the group also wants more guidance from the council on what that final report should include.

“One of the biggest concerns was to make sure that whatever product that was produced was specific enough to give direction to the council,” said Bell.

The Obey Creek Compass Committee is in the first phase of the negotiation process for a development agreement. The committee’s report, which was originally due to go to the town council on November 25, will help the council decide whether to enter into the second phase of the process, in which town leaders would negotiate directly with the developer to hash out a long-term building plan for the 124 acres site along 15-501 across from Southern Village.

The current plan calls for approximately 1.5 million square feet of retail, office and housing ranging from three to six stories with underground parking.

Developer Roger Perry told the council he supports the committee’s stance, but he asked that town staff spends the interim months considering how to proceed, should the council vote to enter into the second phase of negotiation.

“We’d like to ask that we try to adhere somewhat to the schedule by asking the staff to go ahead and do the planning and the logistics of how phase two would work,” said Perry. “At the risk of being alarmist, I would say to you that we’ve been talking about this for three and a half years, and if we wait long enough, many of the choices that you may have for what should be done to this property may be made for you by the actions of others, and so we do believe there is some sense of urgency.”

Council member Sally Greene said she’d agree to Perry’s request as long as it was clear that the move not a sign that the council endorses the second phase of the development agreement process.

“This is a procedural step that seems to make sense under the circumstances and it is not telling the staff or the community that we are going to phase two,” said Greene.

The council concurred, voting unanimously to extend the deadline while also investigating how the next phase could proceed.

The Obey Creek Compass Committee’s report will return to the council in January. In the meantime, the group will hold two meetings in the next month to allow for greater public comment and to finalize the report.

Obey Creek Developer Says Project Plan Incorporated Residents’ Concerns

CHAPEL HILL - Ben Perry, project manager for the proposed Obey Creek development, said Tuesday that the revised plan for the project has addressed many of the issues over which neighbors have voiced concern.

Perry said that the plan, which calls for mixed-use development to be located across 15-501 from Southern Village, had not been updated since it was presented at the Oct. 10 meeting of the Obey Creek Steering Committee, despite many residents; opposition to the project.

A public forum was held the following week, where some people also voiced frustration to the proposed plans.

“This is only phase one. Yes, there are a lot of questions that are unanswered,” Perry said. “All of those will be answered in phase two. Most of the concerns were, ‘Well, I haven’t seen this yet.’ Well, you will. It is coming, and we’re certainly not getting anything approved before it does.”

A team of consultants reviewed the plan before the Oct. 10 meeting and made recommendations to the development team. The changes include breaking streets and buildings into smaller blocks, buffering 15-501 South with trees, and adding slow-speed circulator roads around the perimeter of the development.

“It didn’t reduce the square footage, but it went a long way to taking away some of the imposing visual elements of that. It softened the edges,” Perry said. “It hid parking garages.”

The Obey Creek Compass Committee met Tuesday, as Perry listened in on the various discussions.

Members broke into three working tables. Each table had a theme: on-site principles and criteria related to design; mobility and connectivity; and uses and impacts.

Members brainstormed and formulated guiding principles they envisioned for each theme, meant to be realized in the overall plan at a later time.

After the workshop session, team leaders at each table made a presentation based on what was said, with the understanding that a report would be proposed as well.

Committee members said that pursuing LEED Certification was not a priority, though they did want to adhere to environmentally friendly standards. To this, Council member Jim Ward cautioned that achieving LEED Certification could prove to be beneficial for the project in more ways than just practicing green building standards.

“I think it is not always seen by a developer as a financial burden. In fact, it can be an asset for promoting a project,” Ward said.

During the public comment session, Terri Buckner asked the committee to consider all residents living near the development, not just those in Southern Village.

“There are people living on Zapata Ln.; there are people living on the other side of Mt. Carmel Church Rd.; there are people living in Dogwood Acres; and Culbreth Rd. I would assume you would want connectivity with them,” Buckner said. “It would be really nice for this plan to acknowledge their existence.”

The Obey Creek Compass Committee is in the first phase of the negotiation process for a development agreement. The committee’s report, due to go to the Town Council in November, will help the Council decide whether to enter into the second phase of the process, in which town leaders would negotiate directly with the developer to hash out a long-term building plan for the 124-acres site.

The committee next meets on Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. in the Chapel Hill Public Library.

So. Village Residents Skeptical Of New Obey Creek Plan

CHAPEL HILL- Residents living near Obey Creek got a look at a new development plan on Wednesday, but many still think it’s too much.

When developer Roger Perry presented a revised site plan to the Obey Creek Compass Committee, he told them that review by the town’s technical team had done much to improve it:

“It is a much better plan than the one you saw on Monday night,” said Perry. “We’re especially excited about figuring out a solution as to how to not turn our back on 15-501, but to integrate this project into the fabric of Southern Village and into town, instead of being an isolated place on its own.”

The revised plan is based on one presented to the committee earlier this week. It features a mixed-use complex with building heights ranging from three to six stories, with underground parking.

Obey creek concept

Revised Obey Creek Development Proposal

A team of consultants lead by Victor Dover reviewed the plan and made recommendations to the developer. The changes include breaking streets and buildings into smaller blocks, buffering 15-501 South with trees, and adding slow-speed circulator roads around the perimeter of the development.

“I think that’s one of the major breakthroughs in the last two days,” said Perry. “Now what we’ve designed is a streetscape along the creek that is really very much of a human scale. Three story townhomes where you could really create quite a pedestrian experience.”

But some committee members, as well as many of the three dozen audience members, said the plan did not address one of their fundamental concerns, that of scale. Robert Strauss questioned why the plan calls for a development footprint the same size as Durham’s Southpoint mall.

“I don’t feel like I have a good understanding, I don’t feel like there’s been a thoughtful approach to why it is the size it is,” said Strauss.

In fact, the revised plan is slightly larger that those the committee critiqued on Monday, though Perry said he’d be willing to scale it back to approximately 1.5 million square feet.

Dover warned the committee not to aim too low, saying the project must reach a critical mass of residential and retail density to succeed.

“You usually think about density like it’s a toxic substance, and that the thing to do is to reduce the dosage so you don’t overdose on it,” said Dover. “I don’t think that’s the situation that you have right here. You actually want to achieve a livable density, which means one that supports transit, one that puts enough souls close together to support neighborhood retail, to support neighborhood congregation. Those are public benefits and you don’t get to those by just taking density out.

Perry agreed.

“You want us to be successful. The last thing you want is a failure here,” said Perry. “So you want us to be successful, we feel like this is a scale that is in the best interests for us being successful and the town.”

The Obey Creek Compass Committee is in the first phase of the negotiation process for a development agreement. The committee’s report, due to go to the town council in November, will help the council decide whether to enter into the second phase of the process, in which town leaders would negotiate directly with the developer to hash out a long-term building plan for the 124 acres site along 15-501 across from Southern Village.

The newly revised Obey Creek map will be presented for public comment at a forum on October 16, from 7- 9 p.m. at Extraordinary Ventures on Elliot Road.

Neighbors See Obey Creek Property Up Close

CHAPEL HILL – Town leaders and residents took a developer-led walking tour of the controversial Obey Creek development Wednesday morning.

Julie Richardson lives in Hundred Oaks near the site. She walked through the woods with about 15 other concerned Chapel Hillians.

“I’m not sure that we need any more retail and mixed-use spaces right now. We’ve had quite a bit of development already.” Richardson said. “I’m not sure if this end of town can handle anymore traffic. And I feel like the cost to mitigate any traffic implications for this type of development would be so expensive that the developer wouldn’t be able to cover that and certainly the town shouldn’t have to.”

Chapel Hill Town Council Member Jim Ward also took the tour to see the property, which is off 15-501 and across from Southern Village.

“I think it’s critical that you actually see the land. If you rely just on a flat, 2-D map you lose a lot of the information,” Ward said.

The original plan for the 124 acre lot called for a high density mixed-use retail and residential development.

But the developer has agreed to start from scratch in order to explore a development agreement process for the project, an alternative to the contentious Special Use Permit approval process.

Project manager Ben Perry led the tour, explaining details about the land along the way.

“There are a lot of opportunities and the development could take a lot of different paths,” Perry said. “There have been studies done in the area showing that the demand is there, not only in Chapel Hill but from Northern Chatham Counties. That will be beneficial to the Town’s tax base.”

Ward says after neighbors voiced their frustrations over a lack of public input in the process—the council gave the go ahead to compile a task force. The group will take input from the developer, residents, and town staff.

“The developer said it’s a blank slate,” Ward said. “I think that’s what’s gotten us to where we are because the developer said they were willing to start over.”

Ward says the initial concept plan is still in place. The town is currently in the exploratory stage of getting feedback—he says this process will take about half a year. Then, he says the Town and the developer will reassess how to proceed.

“We’ll have a conversation about what the challenges are and how we might— working with the developer— be able to meet those challenges,” Ward said.

But after touring the site and getting more information, Richardson was still worried.

“My assumptions have been confirmed—I think this is beautiful piece of property we should let sit for now. We don’t necessarily need to jam a lot of commercial retail here. There’s no proven fact it will improve our tax base,” Richardson said.

Another tour of the Obey Creek site is set for Saturday morning, June 1, at 10.

Obey Creek Walking Tour Set For Wednesday

CHAPEL HILL – The public is invited to a developer-led tour of the Obey Creek property Wednesday morning at 10. Another tour is set for Saturday morning, June 1,  at 10 .

The walking tours are an opportunity for people to see the property up-close.

The group is meeting at Ascension Hall in Christ Methodist Church— across the street from Harrington Bank.

Obey Creek is a 124-acre property under consideration for a mixed use development proposed for the area across South 15-501 from Southern Village. It is one of two potential developments using the new Development Agreement process approved by Council in March 2013. 

In the event of inclement weather, a rain date has been set for 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 29.

For more information about the Obey Creek project, click here.

Obey Creek Neighbors Fight For Representation

CHAPEL HILL- More than thirty concerned citizens showed up at Monday’s Chapel Hill Town Council work session, an unusual turn-out for the less formal meetings that take place beyond the TV cameras.

Even more unusually, the council broke protocol to give them a chance to speak their minds about Obey Creek.

“It is hard to understand why there is no formalized role for the community in the leadership of the decision-making process,” Jeanne Brown told the council.

Brown spoke on behalf of many in the audience who live in Southern Chapel Hill near the proposed Obey Creek development on 15-501 South across from Southern Village.

The original plan for the 124 acre lot called for a high density mixed-use retail and residential development, but the developer has agreed to start from scratch in order to explore a development agreement process for the project, an alternative to the contentious Special Use Permit approval process.

In March, town staffers put together a two part plan for exploring and negotiating the agreement, a plan that featured public input sessions and workshops throughout the summer and fall.

But neighbors said that’s not enough. They want formal representation in the process of crafting a development agreement and they asked the council to form a citizen task force.

Developer Ben Perry, of East West Partners, agreed.

“I think that will be tremendously helpful in disseminating information in every direction, keeping the neighbors up to date on what’s going on, as well as providing the ability to speak to the town in a clear fashion,” said Perry.

At Monday’s work session, several council members including Matt Czajkowski challenged town staffers’ assertion that the current planning model allows for adequate public participation.

“You tell us that this process is designed for ample community engagement. I thought I heard the community saying didn’t agree,” said Czajkowski. “That’s an issue right there.”

The council debated the merits of formal versus informal representation before settling on the idea of creating a task force similar to the Central West Focus Area Steering Committee.

That group is made up of 17 members from diverse backgrounds throughout Chapel Hill who are working together to craft a small area plan for the corner of Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and Estes Drive.

Although pausing to form a new task force could push back the October deadline to complete the first phase, Gene Pease urged staff to take the time to get the process right.

“Ultimately, if it gets a better project, I’d argue it is well worth it,” said Pease. “We’re going to be living with this development for twenty or thirty years, so another two, three, four months- who cares?”

The council will revisit the issue at a business meeting next Wednesday, with an eye to seating the task force before public information sessions kick off in May.

Obey Creek Planning Focus Of Monday’s Work Session

CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill Town Council will discuss the planning process for the proposed Obey Creek development at a work session Monday night.

The council voted in March to consider using a development agreement process to evaluate a plan to build a mixed-use village on 124 acres across from Southern Village.

Town officials negotiated a similar agreement with UNC for the build-out of the Carolina North campus, but this would be the first time the council has used the development agreement process to work with a private developer.

Tonight the council will consider how best to engage residents and make use of public input.

The council meets at 6:00 p.m. Monday in the new meeting room at the Chapel Hill Public Library.