Five ways to help the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment fulfill its promise:
The Town Council intended the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment to achieve several goals, including:
- Alleviate traffic congestion in the area of the Fordham-Ephesus intersection;
- Reduce flooding in the Lower Booker Creek watershed;
- Increase housing for middle- and lower-income residents;
- Broaden the tax base by increasing the amount of commercial—i.e. non-residential—property;
- Generate new tax revenue to help finance town government services;
1. The redevelopment plan, in its current form, seems unlikely to achieve any of these goals. For example, adding more than a 1000 new car-owning households to the area, as the plan calls for, without installing supportive public transit infrastructure will likely increase congestion, despite the planned road improvements. The engineering of the first phase of these road changes are almost complete. The first phase includes widening the intersection of Fordham Blvd. and Ephesus Road by one lane and moving the road 30 feet to the north. Also included will be widening Elliott Rd in only one section in front of the Village Plaza Apartment project.
2. The goal of reducing flooding has been changed to the goal of simply not making flooding worse. At the urging of the Chapel Hill Stormwater Advisory Board and others, the Town inserted strong water quality standards into the new land use code for the district. The Town Council has made the Booker Creek Watershed a priority for a detailed study to identify existing conditions and possible flood control projects; however, these are long-term initiatives that remain unfunded.
3. The land use regulations for the new district do not require developers to provide any affordable housing in the projects they build. Everywhere else in town, we require that 15% of new units be affordable to households earning less than the median area income. Instead, the Mayor and his Council allies have proposed to subsidize at public expense affordable housing construction, by selling town-owned land for $1 to DHIC, an affordable housing contractor. The redevelopment plan will displace several hundred low income households who currently reside in affordable rental housing at The Park Apts.
4. Instead of broadening the tax base, the redevelopment will add mostly new residential property, which will place further strains on the Town and school district finances. For example, more than 90% of the new 6-7 story building under construction on Elliot Rd. will be apartment units. Two other much smaller projects that have been approved include the expansion of an existing CVS pharmacy and construction of a restaurant. The redevelopment of The Park apartments, by adding several hundred more housing units, will further exacerbate the town’s imbalance between residential and commercial property.
5. Finally, because the redevelopment will produce too much new residential property (which lose money for the town) and too little new commercial property (which make money for the town), the redevelopment will likely be a money-losing venture for at least the next 20 years. The town has asked the County to help pay off the loan for infrastructure improvements, but the County has declined to take action for now. The County Manager said they would keep the door open and see whether the actual projects, once built, meet Town revenue and cost projections.