Green light for green condos

Chapel Hill approves project

Staff WriterFebruary 27, 2007 

— It was near midnight Monday when the Town Council unanimously approved Greenbridge, a pair of eco-friendly condominium towers planned for downtown's West End.

Greenbridge Developments is now cleared to apply for its final permits and begin construction on two towers -- one seven-story and one 10-story -- just off Franklin Street. The project is being designed by green-building architect William McDonough. It would be the first mixed-use development in North Carolina certified at the "gold" level through the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

"It will set a new standard in this state," said Larry Shirley, director of the N.C. State Energy Office. "Our dream is that ... there is not one but 1,000 projects like this across the state.

"We've looked at Chapel Hill to lead us forward when it comes to environmental sustainability," said Shirley, who lives in Carrboro.

As part of the Greenbridge approval, the council also raised the town's maximum building height from 90 feet to 120 feet, a change that also will make way for the town's own plans to redevelop a downtown parking lot in partnership with Ram Development Co.

Greenbridge's taller tower actually would reach 135 feet, so the council had to make an exception to its brand-new zoning district on the first piece land it covered.

Only council member Bill Thorpe, who opposes the height increase, voted against the zoning change. "I'm for the project; I'm just not for the zoning," Thorpe said.

The council also approved East 54, a 580,000-square-foot residential, office and retail complex that developer Roger Perry plans for N.C. 54 near U.S. 15-501. Construction on both projects is likely to begin later this year.

As a condition of approval, Greenbridge Developments agreed to achieve the LEED gold level certification.

The developers also agreed to subsidize 15 of 99 condominium units to make them affordable for households earning $30,000 to $50,000 a year. They had previously planned to provide smaller artist studios and a cash payment in lieu to meet the town's affordable housing requirements, but the council asked them to build the affordable units into the complex.

The one- and two-bedroom units would range in size from 700 to 1,000 square feet and would be priced somewhere in the low $100,000s.

The market-rate condominiums at Greenbridge would cost $350,000 to $1 million.

For East 54, Perry promised a 30 percent affordable housing subsidy, meaning 61 out of 203 condos could be affordable for buyers earning less than 80 percent of the median income for Durham and Chapel Hill.

The council left open the option that Perry could construct only 40 affordable units and make more two-bedroom units than required, or pay $75,000 in cash for every unit of the remaining 21 that doesn't get built.

The Greenbridge developers followed Perry's lead in requiring buyers of market-rate units to pay a 1 percent fee on the purchase to subsidize the monthly condo association fees for the residents of the affordable units.

That will help ensure that the units remain affordable over time, a goal that has challenged the council in other projects.

Staff writer Jesse James DeConto can be reached at 932-8760 or jdeconto@newsobserver.com.

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