Chapel Hill leaders took an unusual approach Wednesday night to reviewing projects planned for a portion of eastern Chapel Hill that lies in Durham County.
Instead of reviewing one plan at a time, the council took a high-level look at two of four concept plans in the newly named “Parkline East Village.” The site covers 41 acres west of Interstate 40, from U.S. 15-501 to Old Chapel Hill and Pope roads.
All four projects in the site area will require the council to rezone land for more dense development.
Town staff worked over the summer with the developers and residents and drafted a preliminary plan for Parkline East Village that includes more road, greenway and sidewalk connections, including with the nearby Parkline office building (formerly SECU), UNC’s Eastowne campus and the Wegmans grocery store.
As the neighborhood grows, Planning Director Colleen Willger said, it “will be important that we partner with (the town’s) economic development (officer), we partner with folks to do business incubation, we partner with folks to do job readiness in areas where there’s office here, and then again, you can tie that into the neighborhood retail.”
Housing, size, more public spaces
The two projects reviewed Wednesday were:
▪ White Oak: Davis Development now recommends 338 apartments — down from 381 — and two parking garages with a rooftop pool on nine acres. One building could be five stories, while another on Old Chapel Hill Road was reduced to four stories. The developer plans to negotiate with the town on affordable housing.
▪ Gateway: Bryan Properties is proposing 380 apartments, with 72 affordable senior units and surface parking lots on 16 acres. Land could be set aside for a future pedestrian and bike connection to the east side of Interstate 40, and a linear park could run along Old Chapel Hill Road to the neighboring properties and to the Parkline building.
The plan also includes green spaces throughout the site, a clubhouse with second-story coworking space, a pool, and stormwater ponds that “don’t have to be mosquito nests,” Bryan Properties Vice President Jim Earnhardt said.
Council member Michael Parker wanted assurances that Gateway could deliver on the affordable senior housing. He noted that Carraway Village still has an acre for affordable housing, but no plans to build it.
Council members also asked about including some for-sale housing. The town needs to add roughly 485 housing units each year for the next 20 years to meet demand. Only about 10% of those are needed for students, and the town desperately needs rental and for-sale workforce housing.
“We have very little vacancy in the apartment buildings that are already built; they’re filled up. They’ve got waitlists in the ones that aren’t built yet,” Mayor Pam Hemminger said.
Several residents also told the council Wednesday they want to see affordable housing, traffic and stormwater controls, and a less-dense White Oak project in particular.
Charles Berlin, one of two neighbors in the summer meetings, called the White Oak project “extreme” and “massively out of scale” with its surroundings. He has 500 signatures on a petition opposing the project, he said.
“While the locally based developers of the other three proposals came across in our meetings as somewhat thoughtful about community needs, that does not seem to be the case in our meetings with this developer,” Berlin said, noting that very little of the initial plan has changed.
“The issue for council is whether this is the sort of uncompromising, imposed and inappropriate development that benefits the town,” he said.
Council members also didn’t like the White Oak project.
“The size comes off as monstrous, and I think we’re hearing that from neighbors, we’re hearing that from my colleagues up here,” Council member Camille Berry said. “I know that you attempted to reduce (the size), but I think you could break it up even more and see how that works.”
The vast amount of parking, especially in Gateway’s surface lots, is another concern and could be reduced to make room for more public amenities, Parker said.
Complete Communities, ‘wow feature’
The two other projects in the Parkline East Village proposal were reviewed during previous council hearings. EB Capital Partners is developing both projects:
▪ 5500 Old Durham Road: An “urban style” building with 90 apartments on 6.5 acres. The council had several suggestions last year, including condos instead of apartments, more affordable housing, and to move the parking under the building.
▪ Huse Street Residential: 264 apartments, townhomes and cottages, with 415 parking spaces on 9.7 acres at the corner of Old Chapel Hill and Pope roads. The council review in June was mixed, with members encouraging the developer to look closely at traffic, stormwater, affordable housing, and the sense of place that’s being created.
Willger said that’s the goal of the town’s new “Complete Communities” initiative, a planning system that focuses on creating places where people can work and play that are within a short walk or bus ride from where they live.
Those types of neighborhoods include housing for everyone, green spaces, sustainable design, greenways and other public spaces, and try to incorporate the natural environment, she said.
The four projects planned for Parkline East Village would be dense enough to support a bus-rapid transit route, which could replace the failed light-rail project as an east-west connection between Durham and Chapel Hill, Willger said.
However, a lot of work remains to be done in planning for a sense of place, she and council members said, particularly in terms of housing diversity, commercial attractions and public spaces. Only Huse Street has proposed retail — a food court with space for a “ghost kitchen.”
Council members thanked staff, residents and the developers for taking the unusual step of working together for a better community.
Council members Karen Stegman and Jessica Anderson asked to see all four plans together at the next hearing, so they better understand the potential changes and opportunities.
“This is a significant change to this area, there’s no question,” Stegman said. “I think it’s really important we’ve been talking about this (as part of) the Complete Communities effort, making it clear what the benefits are for the folks who already live there. … I think we’re moving in that direction, and this joint planning is going to get us there.”
Willger noted that some vacant land between Gateway and the Parkline office building could be used for a “wow feature” to serve the larger neighborhood and provide a connection across the highway to Eastowne.
Hemminger suggested the developers visit Coco Espresso, Bistro & Bar, which recently opened at Glen Lennox, for ideas.
Gateway got a positive review, with Council member Amy Ryan praising its walkability. However, there’s not much to get excited about with White Oak, she said, suggesting the developers ditch the suburban clubhouse model for more public spaces.
“Instead of having that clubhouse, have somewhere where folks can go buy some milk and some fresh vegetables, and get a cup of coffee and sit outside and get a pastry,” she said. “You’re going to get so much more use and community out of that kind of space.”
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