Form Based Code is Hurting Our Town

Form Based Code (FBC) is the zoning code that covers the Ephesus Fordham District, just renamed “Blue Hill” which targets 180 acres for high density redevelopment, from South Elliott Road and East Franklin Street, to Legion Road and Ephesus Church Road.

Tammy Grubb writes here in the Durham Herald about the Town and property owners re-branding the district to “Blue Hill”.  To us, this business marketing effort by the property owners to improve the rental rates of the high priced apartments draws attention away from the need to fix the many flaws in the underlying code. 

We wish the Town’s Economic Director had sponsored a competition to name the district and consulted retail owners and affected residents.  The only “Blue Hill” we know of is a well-known small seaside town in Maine that many here in the Triangle frequent in the summer for its quaintness, theater, music, cool weather, and antiques.

We want the Town to redirect its resources toward clarifying an overall vision and addressing the height and massing standards, as well as the lack of shared parking, reasonably priced housing and pleasant places to hang out or stroll.

Why is so much of the community unhappy with how the district is developing?

  • The community plan was not followed.  In 2010, the Town invited residents to participate in the renewal strategy  and asked them to vision a redevelopment plan for the area.  The Council approved this community consensus plan in 2011.  But what happened next is that the Manager hired a consultant who recommended  a zoning code that was approved quickly by the Town Council.  This code is a land speculator’s dream: few standards, no public hearings and a quick approval process. It does not resemble the citizens’ plan.
  • Benefits all accrue to the developer, not the community. The final code threw out all the things that Chapel Hill considers valuable: public hearings, in scale attractive buildings, trees and wide sidewalks, storm water volume control, and development that would serve the community such as modestly priced housing, improved bus service, and pocket parks.
  • The retail we want and need is disappearing fast due to escalating rents replaced by high end apartments, chain stores, and expensive restaurants. Gone or going soon are the dry cleaners, the yarn store, the copy shop, the barber shop, the men’s clothing store – the kind of services we depend on for everyday living.  
  • We will need to drive to Durham to find what we need. Replacing needed office and retail with the new glitzy stuff will mean even more traffic on a congested 15-501.
  • The Town is spending tax money to market a bad product instead of fixing the underlying problems.  We want the FBC improved or replaced with code that allows the kind of development we want and need. We are not excited about spending $24,000 of Town funds to help the property owners market their rental units.
  • Lower standards has led to more real estate speculation and the rapid flipping of properties.  The Alexan recently sold for $72 million.
  • The FBC is not promoting transit friendly development. Each apartment owner is building a parking deck which will keep people in their cars. The town is short on funds to expand our bus service.   A consultant has just been hired to design sidewalks and bikelanes for the district well after the approval of the zone.
  • Flooding will continue.  The Town has several watershed studies underway to recommend expensive remedies, but it it far less expensive to reverse the trend by not building pavement and buildings on natural surfaces.
  • The area is not walkable.  The  first project approved under the new zone is the “beached cruise ship” sitting awkwardly on Elliott Road. The building and attached parking deck make it more difficult to reach other businesses in the same shopping center. Each large apartment building will supply their own parking and walking to other locations is discouraged.
  • We are losing our town’s character.  The tree lined streets are being replaced with pavement and concrete that take up every square inch of property, just like large cities everywhere.  After all the Town investment of taxpayer funds, the Form Based Code has caused the ordinary things people need to live to disappear, along with the look and feel of our college town.

We invite our readers to respond to the article.  These newspaper quotes particularly stand out:

 “The desire was to become a thriving, walkable district with an urban character attractive to younger generations that work and live in the Chapel Hill area,”
Regency Centers also plans to remodel part of Village Plaza’s Whole Foods-anchored shopping center, which has lost several smaller tenants in recent years, Kanik said. Those losses can cause “a lot of heartache and grief,” he said, but the company also has a duty to its investors and to help other tenants thrive.

The district “is going to bring a lot more of this kind of entertainment lifestyle and activity,” Kanik said. “The PTA Thrift Shop, the Print Shop and the old dry cleaner that was there for generations, it’s all legacy stuff and there’s a time and place for that, but with this evolution there’s going to be a lot more energy.

Write your opinion in the comment section just below.

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3 responses to “Form Based Code is Hurting Our Town

  1. Kanik said in Tammy Grubb’s article that there is a time and place for legacy businesses such as the print shop, PTA Thrift Shop, and the laundry and cleaners that have been forced out of Eastgate. So where, exactly, is the place and when is the time for these essential businesses?

    The only business I know of that found a new location in Chapel Hill is the ABC store that SHOULD have been offered a spot in the Berkshire.

  2. As a newer member to the Chapel Hill community who lives near the Ephesus-Fordham area, I have to disagree. This area has seen great revitalization over the past 2 years. May be not perfect and some development certainly could have better aesthetics. However, many times development is replacing “blighted” areas.

    For example, the Alexan replaced a run down building that was overgrown with weeds and looked terrible. Eastgate has been redeveloped to add numerous new restaurants and improved walkability. And as more apartments and housing options are built, there will be more development of restaurants, retail etc. Just look at ninth street in Durham or DT durham. housing development encouraged retail development and has made that area a destination and increased property values.

    Again, I am in my 30s and am relatively (6 years) new to Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill needs to open itself to all types of development and stop suffering from “indecision paralysis”. For example, I am now worried the legion land will sit for 15-20 years without anything done. I think a park or public area would be great there, but does chapel hill have the money to make it happen? Wouldn’t a public-private partnership have been better to get something done?

    Happy to continue this discussion, but from my point of view, CHALT is not helping this area of town, it is actually hindering it becoming a destination to live and visit.

    • This is a blog and we are glad to hear different views. See new post that gives more of the background on why flooding remains a serious concern in this district.

      A couple of corrections. The Alexan replaced a vacant lot that had an approved permit. The developer and town council made a miscalculation on access – that is the reason it sat vacant for years.

      We are not opposed to redevelopment and made 40 recommendations in 2014 that would have made the district more affordable and more walkable.

      NO question that redevelopment ups property values but is does not reduce taxes — services go up too. Redevelopment has pushed out a number of services and retail business we depend on. They can no longer afford the rent. That is not progress if people have to drive much further to find services. Some have enjoyed the new restaurant in Alexan but how long can they stay in business at $50/sq ft.? I like personally some of the new retail in Eastgate.

      Re Legion Rd Property: There is a Town Task Force making recommendations to the council so the Town is very active on this issue. A park is part of the package and the task force and council will discuss other complimentary uses as well.