Amity Station Update

Amity Station3-Option CThe Amity Station development team began holding a series of public focus meetings June 4th to discuss the latest iteration of their proposal to build apartments and commercial space on West Rosemary St. The site is currently occupied by Breadman’s restaurant, its adjacent parking lot and part of the privately held Andrews Lane.

The developers Larry Short and Roy Piscitello, MHAworks architects Jared Martinson and Andy King, and former mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, now employed by the development team, presented the current plan.

Three local NAACP representatives, an affordable housing representative, Northside landlord Bob Lincoln (who owns 4 properties directly adjacent to the project) and two local residents attended. Unfortunately, no Northside residents were present.

While the focus area of June 4th’s meeting was supposed to be about multi-generational housing, the conversation ranged widely and included discussions on how to discourage students from monopolizing housing in the district, typical floor plans, and the developers’ efforts to partner with an affordable housing NGO.

The current Amity proposal retains what some have termed a “citadel” design, roughly U-shaped, enclosing a 90’ wide plaza with the open end facing Northside neighborhood.

The proposed project comprises two distinct buildings: the first, a six-story L-shaped block with 143 market rate apartments on the south and west sides of the property; the second, a shorter block on the east side containing 32 affordable apartments adjacent to the Warehouse Apartments property. Affordability will be tiered to meet 30%, 50% and 80% median regional incomes.

The area between the existing neighborhood and the new buildings will have several public usages including a community garden.

Both components will be built to the same standards, share the same amenities and community open spaces but will exist as two separate legal entities with the lower rent housing deeded over to a housing organization in order to keep it perpetually affordable.

A major concern of those gathered was how the project might help meet the housing needs of local young families and the elderly as opposed to housing undergraduates.

In order to better understand the local demand for these demographics, the development team members committed to speaking to residents of UNC’s Married Student housing and of local retirement communities, such as Carol Woods and Carolina Meadows, to ascertain what kind of amenities, square footage allocations for different room types, number of bathrooms, etc. were needed to make the units attractive.

In terms of affordability, one of the NAACP representatives noted that the total cost of renting a unit is affected by the quality of appliances that are provided, such as whether they are electrical or gas, and the ease and cost of maintenance over time (he pointed out that the special Korean-manufactured air-conditioner units at Greenbridge cost $11,000 to replace). He asked that the developers consider these factors when calculating affordability.

The representative also proposed forming a residents’ council to help set the tone for living in Amity Station and to help resolve disputes. Finally, he called on the developers to find ways to minimize the light and noise impacts that Amity Station would impose on the adjacent Northside neighborhood.

Diane Robertson, also of the NAACP, said that the Amity Station project would not alleviate the continuing pressures on the Northside neighborhood but it could help alter the redevelopment trajectory of West Rosemary. It is important, she said, that Rosemary not become exclusively an enclave of high-end, high-density student housing.

Ms. Robertson and other members of the public exhorted the development team to come up with something other than simply another massive apartment block with a small mix of other uses but, instead, something that will help advance the community’s desire to create more employment, shopping opportunities and civic spaces in the district.

Other ideas that residents proposed during the discussion included:

  • Redesigning the project so that the new buildings will be more compatible with the existing adjoining neighborhood.
  • Converting the proposed parking area in front of the lower-priced units into greenspace and relocating the affordable units parking to under the building.
  • To secure a more stable tenant population, using longer-term leases that exclude sub-leasing under the assumption that undergraduate students would be less likely to sign a 3-4 year lease.

On June 16th, the developers held another public meeting, this time focusing on land use regulations, zoning requirements, existing Downtown small area plans and other controlling documents affecting their project.

Other than the developers and their representatives, only three residents participated: Theresa Watson (NAACP), Rebecca (UNC Roosevelt Scholar studying affordable housing) and Will Raymond.

Of all the issues discussed, the Town’s pressure to use a development agreement is of most concern. Development agreements (DA) eliminate all zoning, zoning overlay and other conditional restrictions controlling development of a piece of property. Like form-based codes, the use of a DA is fraught with peril if the ground rules are not laid out carefully and in detail.

The developers said they are receiving significant pressure from Town staff and from three sitting Council members to ask the Town for a small area development agreement instead of applying for a special use permit (SUP) and rezoning request.

The developers said they would prefer the traditional route, which would entail at least one public hearing for the SUP and rezoning, rather than a development agreement. However, they also said they didn’t want to upset the staff and Council members who were fighting hard to use Amity as a test-case for low-acreage development agreements and end up delaying their start date.

Currently, the property is split between TC-2 and R-3 zones. The Northside Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) overlay limits height and density in the R-3 zone.

The developers need to get a variance allowing the height of the building to exceed the NCD limit of 50’ by an additional 18’ (68’ total) and obtain a modest adjustment to the allowable floor area ratio (FAR).

Given the few variances required and the unusual split between market-rate units and the affordable component owned by a 2nd party, using the SUP process, which Chapel Hill elected officials have historically favored, would be the most prudent path.

Former mayor Kleinschmidt even said he was surprised by the suggestion to use a development agreement, and he pointed out that all the input the community had contributed was at risk.

Why, then, are Amity Station’s developers being pressured to use a small area development agreement? If the developers go this route, how might the precedent affect the pattern of future development in the district?

Until it becomes clear what is motivating a few Council members and staff to push the development agreement approach, residents need to be particularly wary.

A final meeting will be held June 25th to discuss integration into the surrounding neighborhoods.  The meeting will be held from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm at Rosemary Village, Suite 1002.

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