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.

CHTC To Talk Housing And Design For Obey Creek

The Chapel Hill Town Council will sit down with representatives from East West Partners on Thursday to hash out the details of the Obey Creek development agreement.

This is the first formal discussion since the Council voted last week to enter into negotiations for a plan to govern the long-term build out of the project.

The developer is proposing a multi-use development that will include 400,000 square feet of retail, 250,000 square feet of office space and up to 700 residential units on 35 acres. Council members will discuss the mix of uses, affordable housing provisions and design principals at Thursday’s work session.

The meeting starts at 7 o’clock in Council Chambers at Chapel Hill Town Hall. You can find the full agenda here.

CHTC Votes To Proceed With Negotiations For Obey Creek

The Chapel Hill Town Council voted 8-1 on Monday to enter into negotiations for a development agreement for the Obey Creek project near Southern Village. At the same time, the council agreed to consider developing the town-owned park and ride lot across the street.

Though developer Roger Perry has been eager to move forward with the Obey Creek project, this gave his pause.

“I’m a little troubled that we’re going to do this,” said Perry. “And yet at the same time you’re going to begin looking at a process of developing your own property.”

Perry is president of East West Partners Management Company. This company will soon negotiate with Chapel Hill on the terms of building a multi-use development that will include 400,000 square feet of retail, a quarter million square feet of office space and up to 700 residential units on 35 acres.

Ben Perry, Finance Director of East West Partners, said company officials are “troubled” because the town is asking East West Partners to pay for road improvements costing “millions of dollars” which will increase the value of the town-owned park-and-ride lot across the street.

Roger Perry told Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt this situation introduces a conflict of interest into the negotiation.

“Well thank you, and I was wondering when you were going to notice that,” said Kleinschmidt. Perry  replied, “I’ve noticed it for some time. I didn’t realize you were going to go quite this far.”

In response to the concern, Kleinschmidt said cameras will record and broadcast each meeting, and East West Partners can continue to remind council members of this potential conflict. He also said this is one example of the council navigating multiple issues at the same time.

During the public comment period, resident Amy Ryan listed priorities for the proposed development. She said the development should be well-connected to other parts of Chapel Hill, and it should not negatively impact traffic on side roads near Obey Creek.

She also discussed affordable housing.

“Obey Creek will be worth it if it achieves some important town goals,” said Ryan. “For example this is a great spot for moderate priced housing. The area has plenty of high-priced single-family homes already. Let’s ask for units that cater to UNC employees who can then bike or take the bus to work.”

Affordable housing will be one of the discussion topics at the council’s next “special meeting” focused on Obey Creek  on November 13 at Chapel Hill Town Hall.

CH Town Council Talks Traffic, Transit Around Obey Creek

Thursday night, the Chapel Hill Town Council discussed the proposed Obey Creek development’s effect on traffic and transit. The council also discussed plans for walkways and bike paths in and around the development.

Craig Scheffler, transportation engineer for the HNTB Corporation, presented the effects of the increased ridership on each bus line in the area. He pointed out the buses that would be over capacity during peak hours.

During the public comment period, resident Jeanne Brown expressed concerns about the traffic and transit analysis. She said this about the transit report prepared for the meeting:

“It really missed the mark to a conversation that’s very important to this town and to that particular development.”

Brown said the report should look more into bus capacity, weekend and night bus service, and other factors.

Brian Litchfield, director of Chapel Hill Transit, acknowledged that the analysis assumed the full capacity of a bus to include sitting passengers plus standing passengers.

“The baseline that we were using as far as capacity of the vehicles was 60. That’s a fairly full 40 foot bus,” said Lichfield. “There’s 37 to 38 seats on that bus so that’s assuming there are people standing on that bus.”

Changing the definition of capacity to include only sitting passengers would change the projected results.

The council passed a resolution in June of this year authorizing the town to enter negotiations with the developer, subject to receipt and review of traffic impact, fiscal impact, and environmental impact analyses.

Thursday’s conversation will help prepare the town to negotiate with Obey Creek Ventures, LLC.

The Chapel Hill Town Council calendar is full of “special meetings” over the next five months to talk about the proposed development. The council will meet Monday at Town Hall for another session focused on Obey Creek.

Obey Creek Plans Raise Environmental Concerns

Some Chapel Hill residents are questioning whether the Town Council has adequate information about the environmental impact of the proposed Obey Creek development project.

“There are species that depend on these interior forest habitat patches for their survival, for their food, shelter, rearing and so forth,” said Kevin Nunnery. He is a senior ecologist for Biohabitats, a conservation planning company.

During Wednesday night’s Town Council work session at Chapel Hill Public Library, Nunnery presented an environmental report that compares the impact of building 79 single family homes to the impact of a mixed-use development at the site of the proposed Obey Creek development project.

East West Partners wants to build a 1.5 million square foot mixed-use development on 15-501, across from Southern Village.

The report finds that building single-family homes would disrupt the forest habitat more than a mixed use development.

Chapel Hill resident Betsy Smith, a research ecologist and program director at the EPA, said during public comments that the environmental report is flawed and inadequate.

She said the report does not consider water quality and air quality impacts, both of which are crucial issues for this type of development.

Councilwoman Maria Palmer said she read the report while she was in Peru.

“To be reading about preserving trees, it was balm for my spirit – so thank you for doing this,” said Palmer. “And to think of you going in there and looking at 65-year-old trees that my grandchildren are going to be able to look at . . . Reading this just made it more clear to me why we don’t want those big homes disturbing this forest.”

The Chapel Hill Town Council will hold a business meeting on October 15th at 7pm.

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.

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.

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.