CHAPEL HILL- Thirty meetings, ten months, seven community outreach sessions and $230,000 worth of consultant fees- that’s what it took for a 17-member committee to craft the Central West small area plan, which outlines future development near the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Susana Dancy was one of more than a dozen speakers on Tuesday who asked the Chapel Hill Town Council to support the committee’s plan.
“I believe the steering committee has produced a small area plan that is both forward-looking and realistic,” Dancy told the council. “It reveals significant compromises that defer to neighborhood concerns.”
The Central West plan calls for three- to five-story buildings with retail, office and a mix of uses along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard tapering to smaller residential development along Estes Drive.
Committee co-chair Amy Ryan said the group scaled down the plan following a community feedback session in September.
“We heard back loud and clear that this is too big and too dense,” said Ryan. “So when we came back and worked up the final Central West plan, you’ll see that our numbers have gone down considerably. We did hear that it was time to pull back.”
Still, some area residents were displeased with the committee’s final result, saying it will bring too much traffic to the already congested roads and threaten ecologically sensitive regions. David Tuttle served on the committee, but he said he said he could not support the committee’s plan.
“We strongly disagree with this picture that high density is needed to save our neighborhoods,” said Tuttle.
He and other neighbors offered what they dubbed a lower-density “alternate plan“, along with a 260-signature petition asking the council to study development impacts on traffic, stormwater control and the cost of town services.
Instead, the Council voted unanimously to adopt the committee’s plan, though they asked that the alternate plan be acknowledged in the official documents.
Although Council members said the Central West small area plan offered a balance between growth potential and neighborhood preservation, some worried it was too narrow in scope.
Early next year the Council will consider shifting the focus from planning small sections of town to wider studies of traffic and the economic impact of growth.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/council-unanimously-approves-central-west-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt made it clear at a work session on Wednesday that he wants to see big changes to the area around the Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard intersection.
“We have an under-performing strip mall there. We have intersections that are impossible to navigate,” said Kleinschmidt. “We have these dysfunctions there and that distinguishes it from about everywhere else. You know, other parts of town have their problems, but this has got all of them at once.”
Lee Einsweiler is a consultant hired to update the town’s land use management ordinance. He says if applied correctly, form-based code has the power to transform parts of town that are currently underutilized.
“We’re talking about going from an auto-dominated portion of the community to a mixed-use walkable portion of the community with a much more intense development pattern than is there today,” said Einsweiler.
The Ephesus-Fordham area is under consideration for Chapel Hill’s first experiment with form-based coding.
Using a community-generated small area plan as its base, the council would designate certain development parameters like building height, setback from the road and parking, but beyond that, Einsweiler says approving new development in the 150 acre area would be an administrative function.
“In an ideal world, a form-based code is the result of great small area planning, great, tight coding to that small area plan, and therefore, with very proscriptive standards you can simply have a checklist for approving development,” Einsweiler told the council.
This would be markedly different from the current rezoning and Special Use Permit approval process, in which the council often bargains with developers to add affordable housing, transit infrastructure and a host of other concessions. Einswieler called this the “Mother-May-I” approach.
But some on the council worry the new method would come at a cost, as the form-based code does not allow the council to specify density within a development.
There is also no mechanism for requiring a developer to provide affordable housing, traffic impact analysis or energy efficient technologies. Council member Jim Ward said that would be a loss for the community.
“To me this seems like a loss from what we have now, the exactions that we have now,”said Ward. “This process doesn’t allow us to get an exaction on energy efficiency and public art and those are important to this community. They’re important to me.”
But Einswieler suggested that the code could provide the predictability developers are looking for. He said it might be enough to change Chapel Hill’s reputation for being a tough place to do business.
He stressed that the code would not be town-wide, as it would be tailored to only apply to certain areas designated by the council for redevelopment. Further, he said the council could allow the public to give input on design, landscaping and building materials by participating in project reviews by the Community Design Commission.
Though Kleinschmidt said there are some specifics to be ironed out, he welcomed the concept as a way to revitalize a major entrance-way to Chapel Hill.
“There is regulation here, this is not, you know, Wild West,” said Kleinschmidt. “That’s not what’s going on with this form-based code idea. There’s a lot of code, read rules, that have to be followed if you want to build in this district. We’re going to be writing them into it; we’re not going to be having three-year conversations about what the abandoned Volvo dealership should be. What we know it shouldn’t be is an abandoned Volvo dealership. I mean it’s ridiculous.”
The plan to create a form based code is still in its early stages, with no action from the council planned until next spring. Town officials are seeking public comment on the proposal by September 17.
In addition, town planners are preparing to launch a process to update the land use management ordinance. Staffers will be accepting public comment and answering questions at a series of events later this month.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/chtc-eyes-new-zoning-tool-for-ephesus-fordham-area/
CHAPEL HILL- Residents involved in planning the future of the Estes Drive/ Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard area unanimously endorsed a plan on Tuesday to create an off-street bike path to help children get safely to school.
The proposed path could run parallel to Estes from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Caswell Road, allowing students at Phillips Middle and Estes Hills Elementary to bike or walk to school while avoiding vehicle traffic on one of Chapel Hill’s busiest roads.
Members of the Central West Steering Committee agreed the multi-use path would be the top priority for bike and pedestrian improvements to the area. They also called for bike lanes in the street, along with a sidewalk that runs the full length of Estes Drive.
Although committee members agreed turn lanes might be necessary in some places to ease congestion, the group rejected a plan to add a third lane all along Estes, saying that would widen the road too much.
Transportation Planning Manager David Bonk said the town has about $2.5 million in federal grant money available to bring bike and pedestrian facilities in the area in the next few years.
The group also discussed land use plans for the undeveloped parcels on Estes closest to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Currently, the Horace Williams Airport Hazard Zone prohibits those parcels from being developed, but committee members said once the airport closes, they’d like to see mixed use development with a focus on retail that serves the nearby residential communities.
Committee members stressed that whatever is built on the corner should complement the Carolina North campus eventually slated for the other side of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The group is still in the early stages of land use planning discussions, with a goal of crafting a small area plan for the town council to review by December.
The committee will continue its work next Wednesday, meeting at 6 o’clock at the Chapel Hill Public Library.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/central-west-group-pushes-for-off-road-bike-path-for-estes/
CHAPEL HILL – The future of the Central West Community needs your input during a workshop Saturday morning.
Two options have been laid out for the area west of Martin Luther King Blvd between the area just north of Estes Drive and extending south to Mt. Bolus Rd known as the Central West Community.
The workshop is open to the public. It begins Saturday at 9:00 a.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library. It’s scheduled to last until 12:30 p.m.
“Its not that this project is, in itself, some sort of horrible, evil project, or that somehow the town code is just totally, horribly wrong for this block, it’s just that they’re not compatible,” said planning board vice-chair Damon Seils. “This particular proposal is just not compatible with what’s available to be done on this block.”
The project would fill almost the entire block bounded by North Greensboro, Weaver, Center and Short Streets. Plans call for a two story mixed use building on the site currently occupied by a vacant building. The rest of the site would be dominated by parking lots, with a “mini-park” at the northwestern edge of the property facing Center Street.
This is the second time the planning board has voted against approval of the project. Last year the board rejected the plan due to concerns about zoning, lighting and neighborhood protection. Developers put the project on hold for nearly a year while they revised the proposal.
This time, planning board members said the applicant had responded well to community concerns about aesthetics, lighting and building design, but that ultimately the project failed to provide a smooth transition from commercial to residential areas.
And while board members embraced the high-volume 24-hour retail center proposed for the corner of North Greensboro and Weaver Street, several argued that converting two nearby mill houses into a parking lot is not a creative use of valuable downtown real estate.
“If this plan had proposed to put in two brand new mill houses there, to be used for commercial purposes that ended at midnight or even earlier, I’d be leaping up to say ‘yeah, that’s a great plan,’” said Matthew Barton. “But that’s not the plan we have.”
Should the aldermen choose to approve the rezoning, the planning board suggested that they push for reduced parking on the site. But that proposal didn’t sit well with Nathan Milian, who manages Carr Mill Mall across the road where CVS is currently located.
“Whatever you do, don’t ask them to reduce the parking they have,” Milian told the board. “This is the number two CVS in the state of North Carolina, so there’s a big difference between the volume that this store does and the volume of the local drugstore down the street, which means tremendous parking issues. Carr Mill Mall has tremendous parking issues.”
The CVS project has sparked debate and even protest over the past two years about how and where Carrboro should grow. That debate will continue next Tuesday, when the Board of Aldermen holds a public hearing on the revised plan.http://chapelboro.com/news/carrboro-planning-board-votes-against-cvs-rezoning/