The following article is from the Chapel Hill News, April 22, 2015
There’s still time to chart a better course for the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment area, residents told the Town Council during Monday’s review of the year-old form-based code zoning district.
Form-based code (nando.com/th) gives developers a checklist of construction requirements and focuses on how buildings relate to their surroundings. The Ephesus-Fordham district, from Elliott Road to Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road, allows up to 90-foot buildings in some places.
The code has not delivered on town promises to fix congested roads and gaps in pedestrian, bike and bus amenities, about a dozen residents said. It has not addressed stormwater and flooding, or provided affordable housing, green spaces or neighborhood vibrancy, they said.
“The traffic is insane, and it is going to get more insane,” Esther Miller said. “There is a place for common sense. If you do not have a foundation, and if you do not do what you tell people you are going to do, then the whole thing falls apart.”
Residents also don’t agree with some council members that the district is “blighted,” Diane Willis added.
“What we would agree with is that some improvements could definitely help create fewer flooding problems, improve public transportation and reduce traffic congestion, increase walkability, and add some people-friendly green spaces and pleasant shopping and living opportunities,” she said.
The town has approved one form-based code project since last May – the 266-unit Village Plaza apartments – which is under construction on Elliott Road. Two smaller, one-story projects have been submitted for the Ram’s Plaza shopping center on Ephesus Church Road.
Town staff recommended making 87 changes to the form-based code that John Richardson, the town’s sustainability planning manager, said would make it more clear and predictable. More than two-thirds of the changes relate to how individual elements, such as street frontages, are described. Others include allowing the commission to consider all sides of a building, instead of just those that face a street, and extending the town’s timeline for permitting decisions.
Residents also provided the council again Monday with nine pages of suggested improvements to the code.
Minor changes won’t fix the flaws, Briarcliff resident Bruce Henschel said.
“The first major EF project Village Plaza apartments shows what you’re likely to get with the current approach: a 90-foot tower, not human scale, in the middle of a parking lot with zero publicly accessible green space and absolutely no improvement of connectivity between the four superblocks,” Henschel said.
The council did hear what residents were saying, Councilwoman Donna Bell said, but some things, such as human scale and walkability, mean different things to different people.
“It’s not that we don’t think about or hear about our citizens who are living in the floodplain that were sold houses that are going to flood and will continue to flood until something else happens,” Bell said.
“We have committed to looking at the development at the upper end, we have committed to having some control over the end quantity and quality of water in the Ephesus-Fordham development district,” she said. “So it’s not that folks weren’t listened to. I think that the outcome, what it looked like, wasn’t exactly what folks were expecting.”
Village Plaza apartments did miss one opportunity, Councilwoman Sally Greene said, by not doing more with the side of the building that faces the Booker Creek Greenway.
“I think that’s a phenomenal missed opportunity,” she said. “I think it would be great to see a revision for those sides that face a public amenity, such as that linear park, that the side that faces the park be required on the bottom floor to have retail space or something that’s going to give us the ability to activate that space.”
Council member Jim Ward, who opposed rezoning the district, said he also remains concerned by flooding and the lack of public green space and affordable housing.
“We’re going through this process now because we wanted to take a look at it shortly after we had some experience,” he said. “So other than that, should I take it then that the town manager thinks everything is fine, except for these areas of clarification and the smaller number (of changes)?”
The proposed changes are only the highlights of what town staff saw from the first projects, Town Manager Roger Stancil said.
“My belief is that we intended that we would constantly learn from the ordinance and make recommendations to you,” he said. “This is not the only recommendation you would ever receive.”
The council will receive more information and continue the public hearing in September.