Residents and elected officials share concerns over proposed plans for booming downtown

ByShannon J. Cortes

Jun 23, 2022


By James Kiefer


The local journalist

Members of Chapel Hill City Council and town residents provided feedback on a number of developments in the municipal review process at the body’s regular meeting on June 15. One hopes to make a mark downtown, while two others try to find their footing in residential neighborhoods

“An essential project”

The council voted to extend the legislative hearing for a mixed-use development project located at 101 E. Rosemary St. A draft of the plans calls for a 7-story building with 150 units spread over a half-acre., there also has discussions to integrate commercial spaces on the first floor.

The height of the building alone would make it one of the tallest structures in the downtown corridor.

A version of the building was presented to council in May.

Joe Dye, an executive at developer Grubb Properties, described the recent revisions:

  • set back the sidewalks three feet, so that the total width along Rosemary Street is now 14 feet;
  • Exchanged locations of commercial areas and rental offices;
  • Relocation of a cycle center inside the building rather than along the facades facing the street.

Matt Gladdek, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said that even if the organization he leads does not approve of the projects, Grubb Properties’ proposal could attract 200 or more residents living downtown for 12 months per year. year.

Gladdek called the proposed project “really important to our businesses and the culture of the city.”

“This is a project that addresses a significant number of our downtown priorities for increased housing,” he said.

Council member Paris Miller-Foushee agreed that this could be a transformative project for Chapel Hill.

“It’s a much-needed project,” she said. “We really want this project to work. We really want this turn to be this good. »

Miller-Foushee cited the lack of affordable housing in the current proposal, which other council members said they would like to see more of.

“It’s important that as we build our downtown, it’s inclusive for affordable housing,” she said. “That way our downtown doesn’t become an inaccessible space and place for everyone in our community.”

Another hearing regarding the property is due before council on September 14.

Following the hearing, council reviewed a concept plan for a residential development along Old Chapel Hill Road and Pope Road called “Huse Street Residential”.

Architect Dan Jewell of Coulter Jewell Thames, PA, explained that candidate Ernest Brown hopes to build more than 260 residential units on the 10-plus acre parcel. Jewell’s initial concept includes multi-family units, three- and four-story townhouses, and cottages. The project also includes large amenities like a playground, swimming pool, pop-up retail space and green space designed for recreation.

“We’re really trying to create a mixed residential and small, business incubator community,” Jewell remarked.

He added that the targeted residents are young professionals, couples, empty nesters and seniors.

During community feedback, resident Ed Harrison raised issues with the location of the plot. His specific concern is the nature of Pope Road, which he says has special requirements for any work carried out as it falls outside the jurisdiction of Chapel Hill and Durham.

Harrison added that the area has already seen an influx of traffic over the years, which new residential development would make worse.

“Pope Road is outside your city limits, it’s outside Durham city limits, and there’s very little you can do for it,” Harrison said.

Chapel Hill resident JoAnna Pomerantz said she was proud to be part of a community that fought to preserve its “small town charm” and green spaces.

“Unfortunately that feeling is slowly fading away with each new big multiple development in every free corner we have left,” Pomerantz said. “The traffic and appearance is that of a big city like Raleigh and we’re creating developments for residents who don’t end up living here, but just stay a bit before moving.”

Pomerantz further said the council should not rezone the outskirts of town to more closely resemble downtown development.

Council member Jess Anderson said she liked the inclusion of various types of housing, although they could still be created in the workshop, but should be able to be connected to the city’s transit system. . She insisted on how it would become a “complete neighborhood”.

“If we don’t build more housing, I don’t think that’s going to be the future we want either,” she said. “I think we have to think about trade-offs. Change is hard, but not changing is even harder. We don’t want to be an unaffordable dorm community.

“A sea of ​​parking lots among tall buildings”

In another blow to Chapel Hill’s missing middle-class residents, council has considered another development along Barbee Chapel Road. Micheal Skena, regional director of acquisitions and development for Toll Brothers, said his company also targets early career professionals on what he called a “very buildable site”.

The 10.5-acre parcel has Toll Brothers vying to build over 300 multi-family housing units; 10% of the units will be affordable housing distributed between 65% and 80% of the regional median income (AMI).

Skena explained that the developer’s hope for the project is to be a “multi-modal experience”, due to proximity to bus routes and proximity to downtown. The project is also located adjacent to the proposed Hillmont development.

Along with hammering a large amount of impervious surface onto the property and calling for more units to fall below 60% AMI, reduced parking was a recurring criticism.

“We would like to see something different than a sea of ​​parking lots among tall buildings,” Mayor Pam Hemminger said.

Other matters handled by the council included:

  • End of evidentiary hearing and approval of an amendment to the special use license for Fifth Third Bank at 1800 Fordham Blvd. ;
  • Legislative hearing closed and conditional rezoning approved for Gimghoul Castle at 742 Gimghoul Road.