Category Archives: Ephesus Fordham

Grimball Jewelers

Yet another longstanding local small business has fallen victim to the ill-considered Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan. We learned this week that Grimball Jewelers, despite its profitability, is leaving its Elliot Rd. location and going out of businesses because its landlord, Regency Centers, declined to renew its lease. Read this article from the Durham Herald-Sun about the closing of Grimball’s Jewelers.

Residents are losing the businesses that serve their everyday needs.  The form-based code was intended to stimulate new interest in building and investing here. That has certainly happened as out of town investors have moved in to take advantage of the relaxed standards and the quick permitting the new code affords. Since the zoning change, three parcels in the district have changed hands at least once. The first project the Alexan sold for 72 million.

The new zoning, which reduces standards and increases the amount that can be built on a piece of land in the district, has spurred commercial gentrification and caused rents to rise dramatically.  The Regency Center landlord is seeking more rental income by trying to attract high end businesses.

The Durham Herald article contains a choice quote:  According to Regency Centers representative Jay Kanik, the Blue Hill District “is going to bring a lot more of this kind of entertainment lifestyle and activity. 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.”

Chapel Hill doesn’t lack for energy, and it certainly doesn’t lack for pricey restaurants and upscale entertainment venues. What we need instead are places to buy food staples and obtain the array of services that satisfy ordinary everyday living!  Now we will drive a few more miles to find them!

The Town Council’s announced purpose to rezone the Ephesus Fordham district was to: (1) improve the local revenues, (2) bring renewed vitality to an aging shopping center, and (3) create a transit friendly area.  The new council can evaluate whether those goals have been met and recalibrate.

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CDC Issues Certificate for More Apartments on 15-501

Another enormous, luxury apartment development is coming under the form based code; it is located along Fordham Boulevard (Highway 15-501) and the corner of  Elliott Road.

Who approves new projects in the Ephesus Fordham District?

In 2014 the Town Council gave away all public review of projects in the new Ephesus – Fordham District and gave sole final say to the Town Manager. However, one advisory board, the Community Design Commission (CDC) , makes design recommendations.

What are the details of the Fordham Apartments application?  Link to Town Webpage

The existing Days Inn hotel is proposed to be demolished and replaced by one building 521 foot long housing new 273-unit apartments at the corner of Fordham Boulevard and South Elliott Road.

The southern portion of building, closer to S. Elliott Road is proposed to be six stories. The northern portion of the building, near the existing Days Inn hotel is proposed to be five stories and wrap the parking deck on three sides.

The property is entirely within the 100-year regulatory floodplain and is partly within the regulatory floodway and Jordan Watershed Riparian Buffer.

Before the CDC met, Council member Jess Anderson asked the Town Manager why the town staff continued to negotiate details for 6 months on an application that fails to meet the Town’s newly adopted maximum block size of 450 feet within the Ephesus-Fordham (Blue Hill) District. The Manager replied that the Council allowed exceptions to be considered and granted if certain conditions were met. This issue became the central question at the CDC’s October 24th meeting; Did the proposed alternative (sent to the CDC a few days before the meeting) meet the standards for an exception?

Following is a summary of the October 24th meeting where the Community Design Commission decided to grant a certificate of appropriateness.

  1.  Charles Humble asked the Community Design Commission to adhere to the FBC block standards. Specifically he asked the Commission to deny RAM’s request to exempt the project from the FBC’s maximum block size standard on the grounds that it does not meet any of the conditions enumerated in the code under which an exemption can be granted. See his letter here.
  2. Council very deliberately adjusted the block size to address massing and connectivity concerns. The outcome of the CDC deliberations Tuesday night was at odds with those council policies and the code.
  3. Only five commissioners attended the meeting. Four were absent. The chair pushed the Commission to a final vote despite unanswered legal and technical questions, missing members, and a motion to table the vote until questions could be answered and the other members were present.
  4. The developer argued that the plan warranted an exemption to the 450 foot. maximum block length due to site constraints;  however two commissioners argued that the problem lay with the design of the building as opposed to the site itself.
  5. In addition, one commissioner said the applicant’s plan is not consistent with the Town’s goal of redeveloping the Ephesus Fordham district as  a connected mixed-use area that supports all modes of transportation.
  6. Commissioners posed legal questions that staff could not answer. Commissioner Dancy asked whether a pedestrian easement qualifies as a “thoroughfare.” (If a pedestrian easement does not qualify, then we assume the staff can deny the compliance certificate.) Other questions included:  (1) the legal definition of a “block,” and (2) the implications on connectivity within the Ephesus Fordham/Blue Hill District of not requiring RAM to provide a bona fide street within the site.
  7. The motion to table failed by a 2-3 vote. The motion to grant a design alternative passed 3 – 2. The motion approving a Certificate of Appropriateness passed 4 – 1.

At some point the Town staff and the Town Council must acknowledge that the form based zoning code in its current form is not delivering what the citizens wanted. The proof lies in the discontinuity between the zoning code and the Ephesus Fordham Small Area Plan. It is scandalous to us that the new development occurring under the code does not resemble the Town’s own adopted plan that was endorsed by both the Council and the community.



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Blue Hill District and Flooding

If you think that development in the Ephesus – Fordham, a.k.a. Blue Hill District, is not increasing the risk of flooding, think again.

The tragic events in Houston are a worrisome wake up call to Chapel Hill – especially in the Blue Hill district which is already prone to flooding. Already approved upstream projects and changing weather conditions will increase flooding in this low lying area.

Our editorial on the Lessons of Houston elicited a response from Molly DeMarco and Sue Hunter which lauded Chapel Hill’s land use planning but incorrectly referenced the district’s “superior flood control requirements.” (Read their opinion editorial posted in the Durham Herald here).

CHALT readers know that the Council did apply water quality treatment standards in 2014 to the District, but flooding mitigation actions have yet to be taken.

Read more here…


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Let’s Avoid the Mistakes of Houston

By Julie McClintock

In the wake of the calamity in Houston, we are learning – yet again – how dangerous and harmful flooding can be. What happened in Houston can happen here. We, too, are overbuilding and allowing construction in low-lying areas just as Houston did.

With seeming indifference to the constraints posed by Chapel Hill’s geography, the Chapel Hill Town Council in 2014 endorsed and encouraged an intensification of development in the Booker Creek flood plain, an area already prone to flooding. Because “paved-over swamp” doesn’t quite convey the image of hip urbanity necessary to entice affluent twenty-somethings to the district’s shopping centers, the town spent $24,000 in public funds to hire a branding consultant, who, with no trace of irony, recently rechristened the low-lying area “Blue Hill.”

Branding exercises and other efforts to shape public perception cannot obscure the substantive, ongoing problems with the redevelopment that is occurring in the district formerly known as Ephesus-Fordham. To produce a better outcome than we are currently getting, the town needs to rewrite the underlying zoning code or start over.

The town would be well served to first affirm the overall vision for the district that the community supported years ago. That means reducing maximum building size to more human-scale dimensions and providing shared parking, reasonably priced housing and pleasant places to hang out or stroll.

The main problems that need to be fixed include:

  • The current zoning disregards the community-endorsed plan. In 2010, the town invited residents to participate in a public planning process to devise a redevelopment plan for the area. The council approved this community consensus plan in 2011. However, the code adopted in 2014 deviates markedly from the residents’ vision. It is instead a land speculator’s dream: few standards, no public hearings and a quick approval process.
  • Benefits all accrue to the developer, not the community. The adopted code threw out all the things that Chapel Hill residents value: public input in development review, attractive, human-scale buildings, trees and wide sidewalks, storm water volume control, modestly priced housing, improved bus service, and public parks.

To produce a better outcome than we are currently getting, the town needs to rewrite the underlying zoning code or start over.

  • Commercial gentrification is driving out valued local retail and services. The small businesses we want and need are disappearing fast due to escalating rents and are being replaced by chain stores, expensive restaurants and unneeded luxury apartments. Gone or going soon are the dry cleaners, the yarn store, the copy shop, the barber shop – the kind of services we depend on for everyday living.
  • Lowered building standards have encouraged real estate speculation and the rapid flipping of properties. The Alexan recently sold for $72 million but many units are still vacant.
  • 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 its attached parking deck make it more difficult to reach other businesses in the same shopping center. Each large new building will supply its own parking, thus discouraging people from walking to other locations within the district.
  • We are losing our town’s character. Tree-lined streets are being replaced with pavement and concrete that take up every square inch of property, just as in Houston and large cities everywhere. As a result of this poorly devised new building code, the town’s investment of taxpayer funds is sadly harming the very qualities that make our town livable and is changing the look and feel of our college town for the worse.

But the most severe adverse impact caused by fast-tracked development in the “Blue Hill” district will be more flooding, as more buildings are approved within an already overbuilt floodplain. The town has several watershed studies underway that will recommend expensive remedies, but as the devastation in Houston has shown us, it’s far more prudent to prevent problems by not constructing pavement and buildings on what little absorptive natural surface remains in the district.

This article printed on line in the Durham Herald Sun on September 1, 2017.

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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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More Apartments for Ephesus-Fordham District

Hillstone. On April 25th, the Community Design Commission (CDC) approved a Certificate of Appropriateness for two new apartment buildings on a 6.5 acre site located at 1736 Fordham Blvd (the former Volvo dealership).

Hillstone is a new development subject to the Ephesus Fordham Form Based Code, a zone which calls for the Town Manager to issue the permit rather than the Town Council. Form based code is a new form of zoning to Chapel Hill and bars opportunities for public input.  Former Mayor Kleinschmidt and the former Council passed the new zoning code in 2014 to “spur economic activity” to an area that was referred to by the Chamber as a blighted area. More later on whether this has yielded a net positive revenue for the town.

Because this project lies in the Ephesus-Fordham (E-F) district, it will be reviewed only by the CDC and by town staff. There is no other opportunity for public input or for review by elected officials. Following review by town staff, Manager Stancil must issue a permit for the project before June 6, 2017. See Town webpage.  

Also troublesome is the fact that modifications to the already generous form based code are also dealt with by the Manager.  It would make sense for Council and the community to weigh in on parameters that go beyond the limits of the code.

Town Manager Stancil reported to the Council in a recent memo that the staff is discussing the number of travel lanes needed for the connector street – a new street between the service road and Legion Road.

Unfortunate consequences

While we think it’s appropriate for technical staff to review the project, it’s a darn shame the public is cut out of this sort of review.  Neighbors living near-by, as well as commuters passing through, are more apt to make sensible suggestions because they will suffer if these plans are not well implemented.

Many of us loved our vintage shopping centers in Eastgate and Village Plaza that housed our favorite retailers.  Higher rents have forced many of them to leave. No one thought Rams Plaza did not need to be improved.

The great irony of this application is that the Volvo site is where the E-F redevelopment district started.  Former Mayor Kleinschmidt was upset that the dealership where he purchased his car had gone out of business and voiced his concern to the Council. An interest in encouraging redevelopment through a new fast track form of zoning was born.  If the area had stayed small it might have succeeded.  Instead the concept grew by leaps and bounds into a 200 acre district that no one loves.

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Chinese New Year!

A growing community in Chapel Hill!

The Jan. 28 festival will bring dragon dances, art, music and food to University Place in celebration of Chapel Hill’s diverse cultures.
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What’s Your Vision for Chapel Hill?


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.

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Ephesus Church Road Closure Leads to Significant Detour in Chapel Hill Starting Nov. 1

eph-church-detourNorth Carolina Department of Transportation officials will be closing part of Ephesus Church Road in November to address flooding issues – but the closure is frustrating nearby residents.

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.

Read the original article on Chapelboro here.

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The Story of Charlotte’s Little Sugar Creek

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.

Microsoft Word - LittleSugarCreekEventFlier.docx

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