Category Archives: Central West

Proposal for apartments, parking deck and retail for busy Estes Drive/MLK intersection

The Community Design Commission will discuss a proposed concept plan for a development on the north east corner of MLK and Estes in the Town Hall Council Chamber this Tues evening (May 23) at 6:30 pm.  The link to the concept plan is here.

The plan calls to construct 327,380 sq ft which is essentially the same size as University Place (previously University Mall) including a 65,000 sq ft hotel, 40,000 sq ft of office, 20,000 sq ft of retail, 20,000 sq ft of commercial space and 175 apartments for a total of 670 parking spots.

The site is presently wooded and is rather narrow, the longest portion along Estes Drive.  Access roads into the project so near a busy intersection will certainly not do anything good for Estes Drive traffic. The developer is proposing an entrance on MLK nearer the intersection with Piney Mountain Rd which looks like it would add to congestion in the area and reduce safety for folks crossing Shadowwood to catch the bus to UNC.

The public is invited to attend the meeting, listen to the developer’s presentation and to offer comment. The project may or may not be compatible with the Central West Small Area Plan — but it must be noted that a large number of area residents were not at all pleased with the CWSAP that the committee approved. The project is also on the Horace Williams  flight path and it’s not clear how it would be safe to put buildings in the flight path with the airport open. This project is likely to add to the storm runoff into Booker Creek.

Listen to the audio of the Community Design meeting here.

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John Quinterno Debunks Myth that Chapel Hill is Slow Growth

In a fascinating free talk sponsored by C.H.A.L.T. on October 12, John Quinterno of South by North Strategies Ltd., a local consulting firm specializing in economic and social policy, debunked the popular myth that Chapel Hill is a town that doesn’t grow. Both the town’s population and its housing stock grew by almost 50 percent from 1990 to 2010, and both are projected to keep growing. By any objective measure, Chapel Hill has grown tremendously, but the town’s growth has occurred in a more deliberate manner than in many other parts of the Triangle.

Understanding the reality of past growth in Chapel Hill is essential for understanding the context of the upcoming municipal elections. Many incumbent council members believe that Chapel Hill needs to grow at a much faster rate to make up for lost time and to keep pace with neighboring communities. To that end, the council has championed a trajectory of faster growth led by high-end, high-rise residential construction. While this new trajectory may be more financially lucrative for certain vested interests, it can impose significant costs on current residents and businesses in such forms as higher future taxes, congestion, environmental degradation, household and business displacement, and neighborhood destabilization.

“By any objective standard, Chapel Hill has grown rapidly, if more deliberately than other parts of the Triangle,” said Quinterno. “The decision to change course, then, is a political one that has little to do with growth and everything to do with power: the power to govern, the power to decide whose interests matter, the power to spend public dollars, and the power to require the public to subsidize the profits of favored private interests.”

The Daily Tarheel live tweeted the event, and the Storify collection is here.

Attached are John Quinterno’s slides from the event.

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New Poll Highlights Concerns with Incumbents

A poll released Wednesday by Public Policy Polling found that more Chapel Hill voters disapprove of the job the Town Council has been doing than approve of the board’s actions.

And the poll had some very bad news for incumbents seeking re-election in the town’s Nov. 3 municipal elections – only one in four poll respondents said they intend to vote for the incumbents, a further indication that Chapel Hill residents are unhappy with the current council.

“It’s interesting but not surprising that the council’s approval rating is as low as 35%” said CHALT spokesperson Tom Henkel. “There are so many people who engaged in the big development proposals who left feeling frustrated and unheard after none of their suggestions were adopted by the current Council.”

The survey was conducted by telephone Sept. 17-20 and tallied the opinions of 245 registered voters.

PPP, based in Raleigh, found that 40 percent of respondents disapprove of the council’s job performance.

The poll also found that less than half of respondents felt that Chapel Hill was on the right track. Topping the list of reasons to fault the council was the current Town Council’s decision to approve Obey Creek, a 1.6 million square foot retail housing project planned for a site across Us 15-501 from Southern Village. Only ¼ of those surveyed felt that Obey Creek was the right choice for Chapel Hill.

“It’s no wonder that 40% say they’re more inclined to vote for the challengers than the council incumbents. If we can get our message that the nature and pace of development needs a course correction, then I think the voters will elect Pam Hemminger for Mayor, and Oates, Schwartz and Anderson for Council”, concluded Henkel.

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Citizens Rate Central West Process

The Town of Chapel Hill has just released the results of a survey on the Central West Small Area Planning Process. You can read all the survey results here.

It is to the credit of the Town Management that participants are asked to rate their experiences after participating in Town planning projects. Key follow questions to a survey are:  has the Town staff evaluated the survey results to draw conclusion to apply to future efforts? What conclusions can citizens draw from this data?

These comments were typical of comments from citizens.

“I believe the outcome of the Central West area plan was pre-determined at the outset. The group process was a sham. Clearly town staff wanted high density development and most committee members where selected to promote that outcome. Land owners want the densest development so as to net highest land values, town staff “spun” information in a manner that kept denying dissenters and the perspectives of dissenters from having equal consideration. The whole consultant involvement was a joke – they were obviously given instructions to create 3 high density designs and those instructions came from town staff not from the Central West group. I have never been so obviously “managed” by the facilitators who were “allowing” me to have my say but were dismissive, patronizing and sometimes contemptuous.

Lack of a neutral facilitator meant that ideas that were agreeable to the facilitator were promoted and advanced, ideas that ran counter to the facilitator (and town) goals were ignored.”

“Taxpayers should not have to commit this amount of time and effort to keep the future of our community/neighborhoods safe and sustainable. We are not against growth, but Chapel Hill is a special community and we need to agree that urban high rise, street front buildings may work for other areas of the country like Boston and Atlanta but this is not Chapel Hill. Many neighbors felt the town was not listening to them and did not respect their thoughts and opinions and the importance of sustaining quality of life neighborhoods. A neighborhood is the first link to having an enriched town.”

And this from a Town Staff member:

“The amount of money that was spent on this project is hard to swallow.”

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Here is what happened with Central West

The Town of Chapel completed the year-long planning process for Central West — see area map . On November 26, the Town Council adopted the Steering Committee’s Proposed Small Area Plan  and incorporated into the plan important revisions and conditions proposed by the Planning Board.  Key conditions include committing to a town-wide modeling analysis of the cumulative traffic impacts from the proposed development in all of the Focus Areas, and conducting a watershed stormwater impact analysis of the potential cumulative stormwater volume impacts. According to the Council discussion, (click here for videotape) the Small Area Plan density recommendations would be adjusted upon completion of the traffic studies. Read this Commentary to see what was achieved or see the  Chapel Hill News storyThe final resolution language is here.

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Final Town Council Resolution

Today February 6th we received from the Town Clerk of Chapel Hill the language for the final resolutions adopted for Central West Small Area Plan on November 27, 2013.

Final Resolution

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The Alternate Citizens’ Plan

While the Alternate Citizens’ Plan received wide spread support from community members over the last five months, only four members of the Steering Committee endorsed it.  However, over the last few months the two plans grew closer together. Several notable differences remained which are summarized in a table here. See the support the Alternate Citizens’ Plan received in one short week. Click here.

The Alternate Plan map would bring half as many new auto trips as the Committee plan.  In comparison, the Council adopted plan will bring an additional 7000 auto trips to the already crowded Estes Drive/Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd intersection.  The Alternate Plan also provided 42% affordable and workforce housing (versus 15%), and a modest positive economic benefit for the Town (versus a net deficit).

Another topic of great interest to the Council has been the Town’s fiscal analysis of the Central West small area plan which turned out to show little positive net revenue for the Town when cost and revenues are compared.  Council Member Gene Pease was surprised by these results and said:  “if we are not making any money for the town, then why are we doing this?”.  See our Memorandum with attachments about the Town’s flawed fiscal analysis that were presented to the Council.

 

For historical information explore the Town’s Central West Steering Committee activity webpage here or the Town’s  community input page. 

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Town Council takes a broad look at Central West

This article was printed in the Chapel Hill News on December 17, 2013

Planning for growth has been a red hot topic in Chapel Hill this year. The 2020 plan, completed in June 2012, skipped over land-use planning, leaving that critical task to be completed over the next few years in six designated “focus areas” where growth and change are most expected.

In the planning world, land-use planning is the civilian equivalent of “boots on the ground,” the sort of planning that affects our community’s health and quality of life most directly. So it’s not surprising that citizen interest is running high. Planning is already underway for potentially large projects near Obey Creek across from Southern Village, and for redevelopment plans along a huge area on Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard, Glen Lennox, and downtown, where big projects are already going up on Franklin and Rosemary.

Following the adoption of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan, the first plan up for a council decision was Central West, a much smaller land area along Estes Drive, just east of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The council named a steering committee to develop a plan for this area, and the result of almost a year’s work was delivered to the council on Nov. 26.

The council’s action on this first focus area plan was heartening. The council held a thoughtful and far-ranging discussion that brought the most important issues into clear focus and set a good starting direction to deal with most of them.

Council Member Matt Czajkowski concisely framed the growth-management debate by observing that we have four priority public concerns: traffic, town finances, flooding and schools. He pointed out that many growth proposals make all or many of these problems worse! The council tackled these challenges directly. The general direction of their discussion pointed toward knowing where we are going before making commitments. We heard members cite the need for data, analysis and thoughtful review to make sure that development proposals are really beneficial to our community’s future before we make decisions.

Traffic: Jim Ward and Ed Harrison pointed out that we must not evaluate traffic for each development proposal or each focus area in isolation. What happens at Central West will affect traffic-clogged Estes Drive, but so will development at Ephesus-Fordham, near the other end of Estes. Ward pushed for a town-wide traffic model that can assess traffic interactions for the whole town. Town planner David Bonk said that this was feasible.

Town revenues vs. costs: Many are concerned about how to maintain good services without letting taxes get too high. Here the critical measure is how much new revenue will be brought in by a development proposal, compared to the additional town costs to service the new development. There was consternation when a last-minute town analysis showed that the Central West proposal would not bring in any significant excess revenue. Council member Gene Pease had often raised the fiscal issue and wondered why we would want to burden ourselves with so much more traffic at Central West with no gain for the taxpayers. Pease and Ward advocated for use of an economic model to evaluate development proposals before approval to encourage the approval of projects with a net benefit to the Town so we do not make the tax bills higher.

Flooding: Flooding is a more urgent topic now after last summer’s extremely damaging floods that even put part of Town Hall out of operation. Building on the committee’s recommendation to do a stormwater management plan for Central West, the council took broader action. When there is a big impact on a watershed, the council agreed to conduct a watershed-wide stormwater impact analysis of the potential cumulative stormwater impacts on Bolin and Booker Creeks.

Schools: Parents are concerned that Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools will have the needed space for their children and will retain their high quality. Just like traffic, we have tended to deal with school capacity on a project by project basis, asking the schools if a given development proposal can be accommodated. Czajkowski urged a comprehensive approach which may show school capacity is exceeded. The question is whether all the development projects (approved to be built, and all those planned for the focus areas) can be handled by the schools at the time they are anticipated to be built. Mayor Kleinschmidt urged the town to continue to work more closely with the schools as they plan for the sites and financing that will be needed to meet our projected growth.

Council Member Ed Harrison successfully urged his colleagues to adopt the Planning Board conditions into the Central West plan, which made official many of the positive directions discussed by the council. If the council continues the thoughtful direction set on Nov. 26, Chapel Hill’s future economy and quality of life will be on a sounder footing. We urge the new Town Council to build on this trend.

Submitted by David Tuttle, Mickey Jo Sorrell, Firoz Mistry and Julie McClintock.

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Community’s Alternate Vision of Central West


Click Image for Larger Version

Large Version [PDF]

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Advisory Boards review Central West plan

The Chapel Hill Planning Board met on November 19th and responded positively to concerns expressed by the public.  The Board adopted these recommendations to the Town Council which we support. We strongly recommed that the Town Council adopt these recommendations as a part of the proposed small area plan.

The Chapel Hill Transportation Advisory met October 24th.  Michael Parker wore two hats as chair of the Transportation Board and Steering Committee Co chair.  After he presented the plan, the Board heard public comment. Three steering committee members spoke in favor of the Citizens’ Plan. Steering Committee member Firoz Mistry asked that Whit Rummel, Central West property owner and member of the Transportation to recuse himself.

Mr Rummel voted on the motion with other Board members to adopt the Central West Committee’s higher density Small Area Plan with the caveat that “all means necessary be used to keep traffic moving on Estes.” This caveat was surprising as the Town has made it clear that it does not intend to widen Estes:  (1) there is no money to do so allocated at the MPO; (2) the 2009 Long Range Transit Plan does not list Estes as a transit corridor, and (3) CW steering committee itself has voted to keep Estes to two lanes. Transportation Advisory Board Resolution is here.

The Chapel Hill Planning Board met on October 29. The Board heard a presentation from the staff and co chairs.   A number of citizens spoke in favor of the Citizens’ Plan.  In addition these concerns about the committee plan were raised:  (1) committee plan densities will cause gridlock on Estes; (2) questioned the traffic consultant’s assumptions about how many people actually will use Estes versus MLK; (3) concern that no real plan for affordable housing exists; (4) uncertainty that a stormwater management plan will be effective at managing substantial increase in impervious surfaces; and (5) a call for respect for the old growth hickory forest on the Davis property.

Some of the most important Board member comments follow:

  • Add a principle not to widen Estes Drive
  • Move 2020 goals to front and link plan to them
  • More synergy with Carolina North needed
  • Use low impact design techniques
  • Add limits on parking
  • Add affordable housing recommendations
  • Need to link focus area plans and do a town-wide TIA

Two or three planning board members said they liked the densities, and one posited that Estes would eventually be widened. Board members said they were not ready to endorse a plan to the Council and wanted to see what the Committee would do with their comments.  The Board will meet to make a recommendation on November 19th. Here are the Planning Board Comments

The Greenways Commission met October 23 and made these  Recommendations.

The Bike and Pedestrian Board met October 22 and made these recommendations.

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