Chapel Hill wants Franklin Street project to do more for affordable housing

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 13, 2012 

  • Project Stats • Name: 123 West Franklin • Location: University Square, West Franklin Street • Developer: Cousins Properties LLC, of Atlanta • Property Owner: Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc. • Acres: 12.9 • Square footage: 580,000 in three buildings • Residential: 300 market-rate rental units • Commercial: 285,000 square feet for retail, restaurants, offices and clinics • Parking: 1,023 spaces • Open Space: 18,130-square-foot green space in north center of project • Tax Value: University Square lot – $17.5 million; three adjoining lots – $27.9 million • Projected Tax Value: $75 million to $100 million for redeveloped University Square lot; others would not change

— Town Council members want to see more done for affordable housing when the University Square redevelopment project returns plan returns Jan. 28.

At a hearing Monday night, Cousins Properties LLC Vice President Jason Frost touted 123 West Franklin as “a compromise that meets everybody’s goals for this 12-acre site.”

The developer wants to raze five buildings off Franklin Street and replace them with one 11-story and two five-story buildings. The property needs to be rezoned to Town Center-3, which allows up to 120-foot buildings, and modified to allow another 13 to 18 feet.

The redeveloped center would offer 300 one- and two-bedroom apartments, 210,000 square feet for offices and clinics, 75,000 square feet for retail and restaurants, and an 18,130-square-foot central green space – larger than Weaver Street Market’s lawn in Carrboro, Frost said.

They’re talking with grocers about a 14,000-square-foot space and are open to adding cultural arts and a business incubator, he added.

The developer would lease the land from Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc., a private foundation that bought it in 2009 for $45.75 million.

The redevelopment could create a tax value of $75 million to $100 million, Frost said.

“I’m always a little skeptical when a developer tells us that their project is going to transform a particular neighborhood, but I think in conjunction with other things that are happening on Franklin Street, I think this really does seems as though it will go a long way toward accomplishing that,” council member Matt Czajkowski said.

However, he and other members want the developers to do more for affordable housing – right now they’re offering a cash contribution that Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison called “microscopic” – as well as provide low-cost office and retail spaces.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt suggested the developer charge for public use of the project’s extra parking and use those revenues to pay for affordable housing.

The plan shows 1,023 above- and below-ground spaces, 400 of which could become public when the offices are closed. The property would have two driveways on West Franklin Street and, if approved, a third off Cameron Avenue that Frost said will take some of the traffic pressure off Mallette Street.

But Joyce Brown, a former Town Council member who lives in the Cameron-McCauley Historic District, said the plans are “only bad news for my neighborhood.”

“Sometimes, and frequently, the fun from downtown has a way of spreading into my neighborhood … and it isn’t fun for my neighborhood,” she said.

However, business officials praised the potential for a vibrant downtown environment where people could work, live and play. The plan complements the 140 West Franklin condominium and retail project across the street, they said.

“Together, these two developments become the key connectors for our very linear East and West Franklin Street,” said Meg McGurk, Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership executive director. It also will provide “an opportunity to actually recruit national, regional and local retailers that want to be on Franklin Street but currently there are no appropriate spaces for them.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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