Category Archives: Americal Legion property

What’s Next for American Legion Property?

CHALT campaigned tirelessly along with many community members for ensuring that at least a portion of this beautiful 36 acre tract of land would be a park.  See CHALT petition from Sept 2016. The Council approved the purchase of the land in a December 5th, 2016 resolution.

Members of the Chapel Hill community are invited to a charrette – a public design and planning activity — on Saturday, April 8, to share their ideas about the future use of the American Legion Post 6 property. The charrette will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Legion Hut at 1714 Legion Road. A report-out will be held at 3:30 p.m. to provide a recap of the day. The April 8 charrette is a first step in community dialogue about future land use for the property.

AMERICAN LEGION PROPERTY

The charrette is the first step in a public engagement process initiated by the Chapel Hill Town Council, following its December 2016 decision to purchase the 36-acre American Legion property. Coulter Jewell Thames has been engaged as a consultant to gather public input, identify common themes, and create conceptual options for programming the site. These options will be further explored by a task force made up of Town Council, advisory board, and community representatives. A community report is expected in May, followed by a report to the Town Council later that month. Read more here.

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A New Plan for American Legion or an Old One?

Woodfield Llc has submitted to the Town of Chapel Hill a new concept plan for the American Legion property. Many members of the public attended a Community Design Commission meeting and spoke objecting to the new plan.

Background. Woodfield, a developer,  signed a contract to purchase the 36-acre American Legion property if the Town grants approval for construction on the site of at least 400 apartments. As part of these negotiations, Town officials decided, in closed session, to forfeit the opportunity to purchase the land, thus denying the public any opportunity to have a say in this important decision.

In January the developer presented a development concept to a full house at the American Legion for 600 apartments.  The concept was opposed by neighbors and many living throughout town.  Read the Indy for a comprehensive report of the meeting and our background report here.

Mayor Hemminger asked her colleagues earlier this spring to supply their ideas about how to plan for the future of this important piece of property.  The council approved principles for the goals they would like future development to meet.

Woodfield site planWhat’s new?  This week Woodfield proposed a modified concept to build a development with a mix of uses to potentially include 400 apartments, a 50,000 sf office building and a second 50,000 sf office, civic or flex space building. In order to redevelop the site, the two existing buildings would be demolished and the pond removed and replaced with a stormwater facility that would be built to current standards. Woodfield has also agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with the Town to build a road connection, alignment to be worked out with the Town, to Ephesus Church Road along with a trail system to enhance the current park facilities adjacent to this site. See the Town webpage.

CHALT finds that Woodfield’s slightly altered proposal to build 200 fewer apartments on the American Legion property is still not a good fit for the town’s needs nor does it meet the principles outlined by the Council.  Specifically it does not meet the principle of serving a variety of housing needs nor protecting the quality of life of surrounding neighborhoods.  Roads in the area are already over capacity and Chapel Hill transit is financially unable to increase service routes.

Most important, Chapel Hill has a more than adequate supply of new market rate housing units—over 6,000 at last count—already approved or in the development pipeline.

Conversely, Chapel Hill has a shortage of public park land and recreational facilities, particularly in the part of town where the American Legion property is located.  We feel confident that the Town government, the land owners and third party developers together will be able to craft a plan for the property that better meets both the financial needs of the American Legion membership and the Town’s need for expanded parkland and recreation opportunities.

Before that can happen, however, the Town Council needs to communicate clearly to Woodfield during the concept plan review process that proposals to build apartments on the American Legion property are not likely to be approved.

The town’s Parks, Greenways and Recreation Commission has unanimously recommended that the town acquire some or all of the American Legion property to expand Ephesus Park. The action taken by the previous Council in closed session removed the opportunity to include a town park in the recent bond issue. But a future plan could provide for a much needed park.

The proposed site plan shows that much of the site will be transformed into paved parking lots and stormwater retention ponds. Far from expanding the amount of public parkland in the vicinity, the plan envisions reducing the amount of parkland because a paved road would be built through the existing 10-acre Ephesus Park.

The concept plan put a new road on the town-owned park land for the convenience of the developer which would greatly inconvenience the neighborhoods adjacent to the school by cutting off walking routes to the school and dumping even more congestion onto Ephesus Church Rd. The plan changes
the location of the retention pond which would require cutting down large sections of forest.

Related articles, documents

August 14 Chapel Hill News article
American Legion Process, 
Michael Parker
Residents Pan Legion Road Apartments, Chapel Hill News, August 23 public hearing, CDC
Concept Plan Application
Developer’s Proposal
Closed nature of meeting draws concern, Durham Herald
Ken Larsen’s website, American Legion

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Estes Drive Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements

One of the most successful features of the Central West Small Area Plan was a plan to build a new off-road bike lane and sidewalks along Estes Drive from MLK to Caswell Road. While this is a short stretch of road, building this off-rad bike path and other pedestrian features is essential to improving safety and connectivity in the area because of the the path’s proximity to two schools, to many neighborhoods with kids who could walk or bike to school, and to the town library.

The Town commissioned a Bike Plan last year and is planning to hire a consultant to do a Pedestrian Plan, so there is some slow but forward motion toward implementing a priority to make biking and walking safer in Chapel Hill.  It’s encouraging to see that Town has hired an intern Brian Vaughn to focus on these issues.

To fund the Estes Drive design improvement, the town allocated $247,000 through the Federal funds, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) provided 80%, and the town 20% to the cost of building it.

On February 9, the town held an open house and information sessions to feature three alternatives. Read about the alternative bike designs here.

Of the choices in design, Alternative #1 puts the bike path right in the street and is just the old fashion unprotected bike lane, with the emphasis on unprotected — not kid friendly.  Alternative #2 places places the bike path behind a planting strip – this was our favorite. Alternative #3 puts the bike path in the road separated by a small curb.

The big difference between Alternative 2 vs. 3 is that alternative 3 has an off-road multi use path on both sides – this would be very expensive to build.  A problem with #3 is that where the utility easement starts then the off-road path has to transition back to a protected bike lane. This awkward transition, was a significant factor in the  the Transportation and Connectivity Board choosing  Alternative 2.

Alternative 2

Alternative 2

To really make this route valuable, more connections are needed.  People need a route from Estes Elementary and Caswell Road toward points east, e.g. the library and Whole Foods. Central West participants and local bikers have suggested a route along Clayton or Elliott Roads.  The daily school pick ups along Elliott Road near the school path on Curtis Rd, so Clayton would be a better route but this decision is slated to come up in 2017.   The map below drawn by a local biking group (Bicycle Alliance of Chapel Hill) shows the Michaux Road connection to the library,  but the better connector is available from Clayton Road at Audubon, that would not require traveling on Elliott. This trail takes you through the woods of Pritchard Park, an easy trail ride for kids.

One suggested route from Estes Elementary to points east.

One suggested route from Estes Elementary to points east.

See article from Tarheel.
http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2016/02/column-like-knope-caring-loudly

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A Way Forward for American Legion Property

Petition to the Town Council
Support this petition by sending clicking the button on the right

We petition the Mayor and Town Council to correct the missteps that have been made thus far in the Town’s consideration of the uses of the American Legion property and to start over with a transparent and participatory community discussion of how this unique property can be developed in a way that would benefit the landowners and also serve the interests of our whole community.

The Town’s November 2015 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Woodfield that appears to give Town approval to building 600 luxury apartments on this site and to the construction of a road through town park land, all without any public knowledge or discussion, was ill advised. The MOU should be rescinded to make clear that the Town has not given any commitment to the Woodfield proposal and that any development application submitted will be evaluated without any bias toward approval. Rescinding the MOU will not harm the Woodfield firm, which has to get the same special use permit for their project with or without the MOU.

The American Legion property adjoins Town park land. The Town’s 2020 Plan and the 2013 Comprehensive Parks Plan identify a need for additional park land and facilities in this part of town. According to the minutes of closed Council sessions, the Council instructed the Manager to negotiate for an expanded park at the American Legion site. However, the MOU makes no mention of an expanded park, and in fact envisions allowing the developer to infringe on the existing town park with a new storm water pond and a road.

Nearly 200 town residents attended the public information meeting Woodfield held to promote their development proposal. The residents who attended the meeting overwhelmingly expressed the opinion that Chapel Hill does not need more luxury apartments at this time and in this location. Residents spoke up for considering productive uses for this land that would benefit the American Legion and also be good for adjacent neighborhoods and the entire community, such as park land, commercial development that would provide employment and tax revenue, a farmer’s market, and work force housing.

We ask the Council to begin an expeditious effort to envision how the American Legion site can serve high priority community needs as well as providing a fair outcome for the American Legion. This discussion should be open to public participation and conducted in public. The Town and concerned citizens should work together on an initiative to find funding sources and innovative partnerships that can support the best use for this property.

We applaud Mayor Hemminger’s call for ideas for developing the American Legion property. We are already sending emails, and urge everyone to do the same.

Share this petition on your Facebook page.  Support it by sending a request to info@chalt.org

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American Legion Community Meeting

“Chapel Hill passes on potential parkland to let developer do his thing.”     This story by David Hudnall appeared in the Independent Weekly.

IMG_1941

Luxury apartment developers are not, generally speaking, deserving of the public’s pity. Still, it was tough not to feel just a tiny bit bad for Scott Underwood last Wednesday evening.

Underwood’s firm, Woodfield Investments, is under contract to purchase, for $10 million, 36 acres of land just east of Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road in Chapel Hill. Currently owned by the American Legion Post 6, it’s one of the last large chunks of undeveloped property left in the town. Woodfield intends to build somewhere between 400 and 600 high-end apartment units, plus ritzy add-ons like a resort-style swimming pool and a private dog park. The result will be, as the brochure puts it, an “amenity-rich, self-contained environment” with “market-defining interior design.”

IMG_1942In an old, amenity-poor building on the Legion’s property, Underwood stressed his Tar Heel bona fides to a skeptical crowd of more than 100 Orange County baby boomers. He’s lived in the Triangle for 24 years. He earned his MBA from UNC. His parents went to UNC. His grandfather was a professor at UNC.

“There’s Carolina blue running through my blood,” Underwood said.

The baby boomers weren’t moved. When Underwood noted that millennials were moving to Chapel Hill because of its “authentic” feel, loud scoffs rang out inside the wood-paneled room. Reaching for common ground, Underwood asked, “But would you at least agree that Chapel Hill is a great place to live?”

“Not if you build this thing,” a woman snickered, to nods and cheers. Tough crowd.

Underwood may have roots in Chapel Hill’s past, but he was pitching a version of its future that an increasing number of its residents abhor. Last November, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and two* town council incumbents were ousted by challengers backed by the newly formed political action committee Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town. CHALT’s basic premise is that development in Chapel Hill is out of control, and the decisions of the previous mayor and council were enriching elites and developers while squeezing out ordinary, long-time residents.

“Several of us who were voted in during the last election believe that a healthy town has room for development, but also room for the people who work here and keep the town going,” says council member Nancy Oates. “And to make it affordable for them, you need a different approach than just building a bunch of luxury apartments.”

Whether demand exists for 400–600 new luxury apartments in Chapel Hill is debatable. Underwood trotted out a study indicating that Chapel HIll needs to build 2,000 additional residential units by 2020. But an analysis by Del Snow, former chair of the town planning commission, suggests that there are already some 5,500 new residential units in the pipeline—meaning Chapel Hill is doing fine without the Woodfield development.

Blaming a developer for building too many luxury condos, though, is like faulting a fox for lurking around the chicken coop. Ultimately, it’s up to local officials to step in.

In 2010 Chapel Hill passed an inclusionary-zoning ordinance that requires builders to make 15 percent of most new-home developments affordable. But because state law forbids any kind of rent control, this ordinance doesn’t apply to rental developments like Woodfield’s.

There are other—albeit duller—tools in the toolbox, however. And many argue that in the case of the Legion property, the town failed to make use of them.

To back up a bit: Chapel Hill and the American Legion reached an agreement in 2005 giving the town first crack at buying the Legion’s property if it ever decided to sell it. In the ensuing years, the Legion property was identified in at least two public plans as a potential site for future parkland, which is scarce in eastern Chapel Hill.

Last June, town manager Tom Stancil informed the council that a buyer, Woodfield, was interested in the Legion property. The council went into a closed-door session to discuss its options. According to the meeting minutes, Stancil “said Council could consider buying the property or negotiate with the proposed buyer to get the Town’s interest in a park site with a roadway.”

The council voted to authorize Stancil to negotiate with Woodfield on both options. On Sept. 30, Stancil received a letter from the Legion’s attorney indicating that an offer had been made and the town had 60 days to decide whether to buy the Legion property at the slightly discounted price of $9 million. Then, on Nov. 9—six days after the mayor and three council members were voted out of office—the council again went into closed session and voted to waive its right of first refusal.

“All we did was advise that the town didn’t have $9 million—which is half the town’s fund balance—to make an offer,” Stancil tells the INDY. “And we went back to [Woodfield] and said, basically, that the town would like to integrate our public space with any development going forward, and that there’s interest in a roadway that would potentially make land on Ephesus Church Road more accessible. And they said, ‘OK.'”

But a timeline of meetings regarding the Legion property, recently released by the town in response to concerns about the process, indicates that economic development officer Dwight Bassett met with Woodfield as far back as March. This has raised a variety of concerns among CHALT members: Did pro-development town officials such as Bassett play matchmaker between the Legion and Woodfield? If so, why would the town not steer the Legion toward a developer of commercial or office property, which few would dispute the town is in much greater need of? (Bassett did not respond to requests for comment.)

CHALT cofounder David Schwartz also notes that a $40 million bond referendum (approved in the November election) to finance things like parks and sidewalks was being shaped throughout last year—the same time frame in which the council was discussing options regarding the Legion’s land behind closed doors.

The Legion property is “exactly the kind of capital acquisition well suited to this type of bond,” Schwartz says. “By authorizing town staff to negotiate and execute agreements regarding the property in closed session and signing away the town’s right of first refusal, the council denied the public an opportunity to participate in a discussion about the best use of the site and how public acquisition might be financed.”

Parks and recreation director Jim Orr confirms that, despite the town’s interest in the property as parkland being a matter of public record, his department was not informed that the property was for sale or that the town was negotiating with a private developer for it.

Stancil notes that the current memorandum of understanding between the town and Woodfield doesn’t guarantee anything.

“It just says, ‘We sure would like a road to be a part of this development, and we’d like to connect to whatever green space that exists on the development,'” Stancil says. “But if the council doesn’t like that, then it won’t happen.”

The sale is conditional on a rezoning—something the new council would ultimately have to approve. Despite the presentation last Wednesday, Woodfield hasn’t even submitted its application for the project yet.

“I understand why citizens are concerned,” says Mayor Pam Hemminger. “We’re totally out of balance with residential spaces over commercial spaces in town. It’s the Legion’s right to sell to whoever they want to, but I think people wanted a park and were hoping it wouldn’t be a luxury development. We keep allowing luxury apartment after luxury apartment to go up in Chapel Hill. And I don’t think that’s what we should be building.”

This article appeared in print with the headline “Legion of boom.”

Correction: The story originally said that three town council incumbents had lost in last year’s election. In fact, two did.

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