More Apartments for Ephesus-Fordham District

Hillstone. On April 25th, the Community Design Commission (CDC) approved a Certificate of Appropriateness for two new apartment buildings on a 6.5 acre site located at 1736 Fordham Blvd (the former Volvo dealership).

Hillstone is a new development subject to the Ephesus Fordham Form Based Code, a zone which calls for the Town Manager to issue the permit rather than the Town Council. Form based code is a new form of zoning to Chapel Hill and bars opportunities for public input.  Former Mayor Kleinschmidt and the former Council passed the new zoning code in 2014 to “spur economic activity” to an area that was referred to by the Chamber as a blighted area. More later on whether this has yielded a net positive revenue for the town.

Because this project lies in the Ephesus-Fordham (E-F) district, it will be reviewed only by the CDC and by town staff. There is no other opportunity for public input or for review by elected officials. Following review by town staff, Manager Stancil must issue a permit for the project before June 6, 2017. See Town webpage.  

Also troublesome is the fact that modifications to the already generous form based code are also dealt with by the Manager.  It would make sense for Council and the community to weigh in on parameters that go beyond the limits of the code.

Town Manager Stancil reported to the Council in a recent memo that the staff is discussing the number of travel lanes needed for the connector street – a new street between the service road and Legion Road.

Unfortunate consequences

While we think it’s appropriate for technical staff to review the project, it’s a darn shame the public is cut out of this sort of review.  Neighbors living near-by, as well as commuters passing through, are more apt to make sensible suggestions because they will suffer if these plans are not well implemented.

Many of us loved our vintage shopping centers in Eastgate and Village Plaza that housed our favorite retailers.  Higher rents have forced many of them to leave. No one thought Rams Plaza did not need to be improved.

The great irony of this application is that the Volvo site is where the E-F redevelopment district started.  Former Mayor Kleinschmidt was upset that the dealership where he purchased his car had gone out of business and voiced his concern to the Council. An interest in encouraging redevelopment through a new fast track form of zoning was born.  If the area had stayed small it might have succeeded.  Instead the concept grew by leaps and bounds into a 200 acre district that no one loves.

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