Category Archives: Ephesus Fordham
People have often expressed criticism of the new style of development in Chapel Hill and the questions often asked are: “Why is Chapel Hill approving such huge monolithic buildings?”and “Why aren’t we building new projects that fit into the college character we love about Chapel Hill?”
At Festifall, we conducted an informal visual preference survey. We presented two images, the first a rendering of what the adopted form-based code is actually producing in Ephesus-Fordham, namely the 90-ft Alexan apartment building on Elliott Road. The second image is a streetscape rendering from the Ephesus-Fordham small area plan that shows what the district might look like after redevelopment.
We asked viewers to place a sticker next to the image that better matched their vision of the kind of new development they would like to see in Chapel Hill.
Image #2, featuring wide sidewalks with canopy trees and 2-3 story buildings that reveal a broad expanse of sky and abundant natural light, was overwhelmingly preferred to the much larger, fortress-like structure in image #1.
The Form Based Code District governs nearly 200 acres including Whole Foods, O2 Fitness, Eastgate and Rams Plaza.
CHALT will continue to advocate for making changes to the Code that will make our town livable.
The closure will be near the intersection with Tinkerbell Road, close to Ephesus Elementary School.
Town public works director Lance Norris said the plan is to “replace an existing undersized and dilapidated pipe” to address “the flooding issues that have been occurring on Ephesus Church Road”.
But the plan was announced on short notice, and that’s frustrated both residents and officials.
Mayor Pam Hemminger said the work has been delayed in an effort to establish an alternate traffic plan.
“It’s great that they want to do it, but they didn’t give us a heads up and just closed the road down,” Hemminger said. “That’s not really going to work until we know how to detour. So we’ve delayed it just for a few days while we can get some detours.”
Town officials said they did not receive any prior notice regarding the DOT’s decision. Council Member Ed Harrrison said when he raised the issue in a meeting, he was told the DOT “assumed their staff had told the town”.
Hemminger said despite the short notice and the inconvenience, the work will take place.
“We’re working with [the DOT], there will be some rerouting, but its going to be inconvenient for a lot of people until about the end of December.”
With the slight delay, construction is now expected to begin on November 1and will last until December 22, weather permitting.
In 2014, the previous Mayor and Council adopted a new zoning code that governs real estate development in the 200-acre Ephesus-Fordham district. Among the flaws in this code is the lack of any vision for creating a central community amenity that will attract people to the district and help spur commercial revitalization at the Franklin Street and 15 -501 gateway to Chapel Hill.
The new Mayor and Council are seeking ways to fix the Code. One aspect which has not yet been tackled is the concept of a community amenity. The city of Charlotte’s recent restoration of Little Sugar Creek inspires us to create these public spaces which draw people to our town.
Join us 5:30 pm, Wednesday October 26, to learn how Charlotte, North Carolina, turned an eyesore into a community treasure.
The hope was that this new approach would streamline what had long been an excruciating review process for new projects in Chapel Hill. Today, Chapel Hill is so chockablock with hulking new apartment developments (with somewhere in the neighborhood of six thousand new apartment units already on the way), it’s hard to believe that, not so long ago, it was an incredibly grueling place for developers to do business. Elected officials and townspeople routinely spiked new projects deemed not in keeping with the town’s character.
That changed in the mid-2000s, when Chapel Hill leaders began to covet the shiny urban projects being erected from scratch, or reinvigorated via adaptive reuse, in Durham and Raleigh. Soon, high-rise projects like 140 West Franklin, East 54, and Greenbridge began to shoot into the sky. With development-friendly Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, first elected in 2007, and a willing council, Chapel Hill was suddenly a hot market for developers…..
In other words, once the code is in place, developers are basically free to do as they please in the district, provided they check all the boxes set in the code. No more marathon public meetings. No more council votes. The town’s planning staff deals with everything, and it has seventy-five days to either give a project a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.The thinking, a few years ago, was that if form-based code worked well in Ephesus-Fordham, it might work well in other districts.
You don’t hear that so much these days, though. Mostly, the talk is of how to change the code to keep the wrong kinds of developments from invading Ephesus-Fordham.
“We want a better outcome,” says Mayor Pam Hemminger.
The problem with form-based code, as it exists in Ephesus-Fordham, is that the specifics of the code weren’t faithful to community input. The code has no real teeth, and, as such, has thus far failed to deliver the streetscape and walkable environment everybody, including the town council, sought at the outset.
Since assuming office last year, Hemminger has worked with the council to refine the code in Ephesus-Fordham. She has hired an urban designer from Durham, Tony Sease, to improve the plan for the district.
This approach—hire consultants with an eye on improving the code, seek incremental progress on updating the code based on those recommendations, and pray like hell that nobody submits another monster market-rate apartment complex in Ephesus-Fordham in the meantime—is pragmatic, but also risky. Chapel Hill has a very real need for new commercial developments.
“Our tax base is eighty-four percent residential, with six thousand more residential units on the way,” Hemminger says. “We need to be closer to sixty-forty residential. We need a better balance.”
Short of eliminating form-based code in Ephesus-Fordham, though, there’s no way to ensure Ephesus-Fordham won’t get more projects like the ninety-foot-high, soon-to-open luxury apartments of the Alexan, the first project approved in the district. Or the apartments that have been submitted for the former Volvo dealership between Legion Road and the Fordham Boulevard service road.
Adding to concern is the news that South Village Plaza was sold over the summer, for $18 million, to Ram Realty, developer of the luxury condos at 140 West Franklin. The News & Observer reported last week that “an application is possible early next year [on South Village Plaza] that would include a new retail building, parking lot and storefront improvements.”
“I think we’re good for now on market-rate apartments,” says council member Jessica Anderson. “One thing that we talked about in our last meeting is ways to encourage or incentivize business in that district. I think we need to beef up the code to be more explicit that what we want to see there is commercial and office, and not just more apartments.”
Council member Michael Parker, who says he’s “neither convinced nor unconvinced” that there are too many apartment units coming into Chapel Hill, says he’s more concerned about new changes creating a “more urban and walkable and bike-able and generally less auto-reliant environment” in Ephesus-Fordham….And I think that’s what you’re seeing now. And I’m hopeful that in six months we’ll have addressed some of these concerns and shortcomings and made Ephesus-Fordham into a better district.”
Hemminger says she doesn’t expect form-based code will be attempted anywhere else in Chapel Hill. But she also says the plan is to stick with it in Ephesus-Fordham.
“We’re making revisions, we’re building momentum there,” she says. “We’ve made huge changes to inspections and permitting to make the process more predictable for developers. It’s an area we want developed. We don’t want to scare off developers. We’re trying to move to being a place with a good reputation to come build—where if you have a good, creative idea, we’ll work with you.”
At a public hearing Monday night, September 19, the Town Council will consider a concept plan for the American Legion property. See council agenda. On behalf of C.H.A.L.T. , Joan Guilkey, will present this petition to the Town Council.
Petition to: Mayor and Chapel Hill Town Council
Date: September 1, 2016
Subject: Just Say No to Any Apartments on the American Legion Property
Woodfield’s plan—and any plan that includes apartment construction—is not appropriate for this particular tract of land. There are several reasons, including:
1—The Town’s Comprehensive Plan (CH 2020, adopted in 2012) and the Parks and Recreation Master Plan of 2013 specifically stated that this land, when available, should be considered for a community park. The Parks and Recreation Master Plan stated that Ephesus Park needed to be improved and expanded, and estimated that about $5 million would be needed to buy the land and make improvements.
2—The Woodfield plan does not expand Ephesus Park. In fact, it reduces the size of the Park in order to build a new road that intersects with Ephesus Church Rd. A second entrance/exit road is required for 400 apartments to be built (and a re-zoning of the property from R-2 is necessary). The road would have to be maintained by the Town, but is of little or no value to the Town and severs the walkable connection now in place between the Colony Woods neighborhood, Ephesus Park, and the elementary school, creating a danger to pedestrians.
3—The retention ponds proposed by Woodfield will require removal of many trees, some in the conservation district. Part of this woodland contains the last large stand of undisturbed hardwoods and shortleaf pine in Town. This pine is natural to uplands, and becoming scarce. Other uses of this land could preserve these trees.
4—Any traffic analysis limited to the immediate American Legion area that does not include the Ephesus Fordham District (E-F) or other parts of Chapel Hill which feed into Fordham Blvd. and 15-501/Franklin St. is virtually useless in terms of determining the true loads on Legion Rd. and Ephesus Church Rd. The standard traffic analysis manual used by traffic consultants would estimate that the proposed 400 American Legion apartments themselves could add 4000 more vehicle trips per day on Legion Road. Ephesus Church Rd. is already congested near E-F. While the Town is spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money to improve the Ephesus Road-Fordham intersection, we’ve seen no evidence that when the new approved Ephesus-Fordham densities are implemented, that congestion will be reduced or even stay at the current poor levels.
5—The Ephesus-Fordham (E-F) form-based code, as currently written, does not require developers to provide any publicly available green space. This makes a park even more necessary on the American Legion tract next to E-F.
6—The Council unanimously approved 6 principles related to development of the American Legion tract. The Woodfield proposal does not meet several of them. The most glaring deficiency is Woodfield’s inclusion of luxury apartments on the land, even though they have been advised that the Town is over-built in apartments. E-F already has the Alexan with 263 high-end apartments, and DHIC is building a new affordable housing development and a senior housing facility practically across the street from the American Legion property. Another developer has already proposed apartments nearby on the site of the former Honda/Volvo dealership, which, if built, will make it all the more important to provide open space on the AL tract.
7—Parking lots to serve the Woodfield apartments will greatly increase impervious surface and result in more storm water problems in an area that already has flooding on a regular basis. Addressing flooding of the tributaries flowing into Little Creek is needed to inform the prevention measures for the AL tract.
8—The Woodfield Memorandum of Understanding was created and executed in closed meetings without ANY public knowledge or input and without consideration of the existing Master Plans. While the process used to rescind the Town’s “right of first refusal” and create the MOU may be legal, it is not in keeping with the transparent government Chapel Hill is known for and desires to retain.
Respectfully submitted by: Joan Guilkey for Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town and 110 signatories of the petition.
Alexan Apartments was the first project permitted under the new fast track approval process, i.e., form-based code, that the Town adopted in May, 2014. As the project nears completion, let’s assess how well the Ephesus-Fordham (E-F) redevelopment plan is measuring up to expectations. Originally billed as “mixed-use” the zone is fast becoming apartments (7 story) that crowd the 2 lane Elliott Road marketed to students.
New projects in E-F are not creating a walkable, pedestrian friendly experience. Since the Alexan provides no pedestrian pass-through, the route from businesses on the east side of the building to those on the west side—e.g., from Thimble Pleasures to Whole Foods—is a long, unpleasant experience, especially on a hot summer day. The block size of this structure is about 400 feet – too large for good pedestrian mobility. Curbs with narrow sidewalks along the street front of Elliott Road crowd pedestrian travel and the enjoyment of a pleasant walk.
Tree canopy replaced by concrete and glass. Beautiful mature willow oaks, such as these on the south side of Elliott Road, were cut down on t he north side of the road to make way for the more “urban” streetscape of the Alexan building. The form-based code (FBC) encourages loss of tree cover during redevelopment by permitting construction right up to the property line. How will redevelopment in E-F deliver the tree-lined pedestrian streetscape that residents want if the FBC does not require building setbacks to make that possible?
A missed opportunity to enhance the Booker Creek greenway. A replacement greenway pictured here skirts Booker Creek, located just to the left. On the right side of the greenway path will be a new connecting road and the garage and garbage bays of the 90-foot tall Alexan apartments. Those additions will turn what was once a pleasant walk through natural surroundings into an uninspired sidewalk route surrounded by pavement. Booker Creek and the adjacent wooded landscape would have provided a perfect backdrop for a park and an enjoyable public space.
Major problems yet to be tackled. These are just a few of the changes we’ve observed on the ground since the Town Council approved the FBC and applied it to the nearly 200 acre E-F district. The pictures illustrate only a few of the problems that need to be fixed in the FBC. Other problem that need to be addressed include the lack of affordable housing requirements, lack of incentives for energy efficient construction, and building densities and heights that threaten to overwhelm our infrastructure.
Summary August 22nd Public Meeting
The public session was billed as a chance to give input to improve “walkability and open space” in the Ephesus-Fordham district, which is regulated by the FBC. We came to this meeting thinking we would be asked to offer ideas about how to integrate green space, mini parks, sidewalks and connections in the FBC, but we didn’t get the chance.
Most discouraging, the meeting leaders did not acknowledge the fact that we are not at the beginning of a collaborative process, but are instead trying to improve a poor, hastily-adopted code that is already in place. New projects could be submitted any day and the Town Manager would need to approve them if they satisfy the minimal criteria of the deficient existing FBC.
We learned that the Town intends to attack the problems in the FBC by hiring four consultants:
TOPIC CONTRACTOR SCHEDULE
Urban Design Tony Sease fall
Mobility Study Stewart Consulting fall
Design Guidelines Winter Consulting fall
Affordable housing David Paul Rosen Assoc ???
Here is the schedule the town will use to bring the final text recommendations to public hearing.
We see at least three barriers to success for improving the FBC.
- The fragmentation of property ownership in the district restricts opportunities for green space and large scale storm water planning
- Need for parking coordination across parcels: If every property owner provides exclusive on-site parking, this will cause additional auto congestion and undermine “walkability”
- Increased heioght and density, currently allowed “by right,” must be made contingent on provision of affordable housing, energy efficiency and other community benefits.
Will the Council adopt any of the significant changes suggested by the participants, e.g. lower building height (50 ft vs 90 ft), reasonable setbacks, adequate publicly accessible green space in every development, pedestrian/bicycle connectivity (other than street-based sidewalks) between developments, energy efficient construction, stormwater controls, and incentives for affordable housing units?
What happens between now and when the FBC is “fixed?“ We worry every second of every day that yet another “Alexan” will be approved, or that The Park Apts. will submit their redevelopment application. In fact, some of us have heard that the new owner of the property adjacent to the Alexan wants to construct another building just like it!
Will the minor fixes the Town intends make enough difference for community members feel it worthwhile to engage in this process? Will the Town Manager and the Project Managers allow the hired experts to make an honest assessment about what needs to be done to really fix the code, so the town staff can begin to rebuild that trust with community members?
Walkability and Open Space Standards in Ephesus/Fordham Area
TODAY Date: 08/22/2016 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Location: Chapel Hill Public Library, Meeting Room B
100 Library Drive
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514
As many have heard, more properties are changing hands in the Ephesus Fordham District. If the Code is not fixed, the Town will be required to approve the sort of project we see now on Elliott Road in nearby areas in the district in our Town.
Please try to attend this meeting tonight at some point. Note that you can go early at 6 pm or later at 7 and still hear a presentation.
The Town Council is asking for ideas on who to improve the Ephesus/Fordham
development rules to create open space opportunities and new and improved streets and pedestrian-bicycle path connections.
Click here for a full list of the Town’s plans for this area. See a full list of the scheduled hearings for these improvements here. Staff contact is John Richardson, project manager. firstname.lastname@example.org or call 919 969-5075
This article appears in the Chapel Hill News April 20
by Tammy Grubb
The idea of using American Legion land to build a bigger neighborhood park has been around for years, unofficially and in the town’s 2013 Comprehensive Parks Plan.
The plan suggested leasing or buying part of the land from American Legion Post 6 to expand Ephesus Park, a 10-acre town-owned tract on Ephesus Church Road that backs up to the post, into a community park.
Neighbors have long viewed the 36 acres at 1714 Legion Road as a local resource, walking its trails, exploring the creek and letting their children use it as a safe route to Ephesus Elementary School.
Woodfield Investment’s $10 million bid for the land and plans for an office building and up to 600 apartments has some residents asking the Town Council to step in. The previous council had first crack at buying the land, but passed on it in November, saying there wasn’t money.
But the new council, at a March meeting, explored the possibilities. Only 20 acres can be developed, a consultant said, because a stream and floodplains cross the property.
The town could use $8 million in parks and recreation bonds approved last fall, council members said. Planning for how to use that money is in the very early stages, Parks and Recreation director Jim Orr said.
The parks plan calls Ephesus one of two parks with “the greatest need for major renovation and expansion.” It calls for creating a master study of the needs and lists more than $900,000 in critical improvements, including new tennis courts, restrooms, a park shelter and baseball field. There’s no money available yet for that work.
The Parks, Greenways and Recreation Commission also gave the town a “wish list” recently for future negotiations with Woodfield, Orr said. Among the suggestions, more parking for Ephesus Park and a dog park.
“It’s all just conjecture at this point,” he said.
Town Manager Roger Stancil said the council may have considered the parks plan in negotiating trails to Ephesus Park last year as part of Woodfield’s potential redevelopment.
“The idea was if the developer built trails and if they connected (to) Ephesus Park, it’s kind of like extending the town’s recreation area without the town spending any money to do that,” he said.
He wants to talk with the council again before June, Stancil said, but is waiting for the developer’s concept plan.
“The message was clear from the council, I think pretty unanimously, that anything that was 600 residential units was not going to get much favorable response,” he said. “If I were a developer, I’d rather try to put something together that might fly.”
Woodfield developer Scott Underwood said in an email last week they are continuing work “to find an equitable path to move forward.”
“We will not be submitting a formal application in April as we continue to work through our plan,” he said. “Woodfield is committed to working with the town and the community to develop a fantastic project.”
Any project submitted would require rezoning the land and face multiple hearings.
A vote against rezoning would stop the plan, but the town must give it fair hearing or it could appear as an illegal attempt to thwart the deal.
Legion officials won’t say if the town could get another shot at the land. It’s not an option they will address while under contract with Woodfield, Post Commander Bill Munsee has said.
Money, in any case, is the issue, Stancil said. The town has leveraged Town Hall to finance road construction and stormwater measures in the Ephesus-Fordham district and other projects and is taking on $40.3 million in bond debt over the next decade for parks, greenways, streets, sidewalks, solid waste and stormwater improvements.
There’s also a pressing need to replace aging fire departments and the Chapel Hill Police Department.
Using bond money to buy the land won’t leave enough to build facilities, Stancil said. No one has asked the town about a public-private partnership, meanwhile, and they need more details before asking the county for help.
Using bond money also delays priorities that residents and the town’s advisory boards spent years debating.
“It’s kind of similar to what you hear from the schools,” Stancil said. “We really need to invest our money in fixing up what we have rather than expanding that.”
Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb