Chapel Hill council approves University Square project on Franklin Street

tgrubb@newsobserver.comFebruary 13, 2013 

— The Town Council unanimously approved a major Franklin Street redevelopment after getting a $250,000 pledge over five years toward affordable-housing efforts.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp said the $80 million to $100 million University Square redevelopment is critical for “a vibrant retail environment … and to create a downtown that works year-round.”

The project – being called 123 West Franklin – means more housing, parking and office space downtown, and the university is committed to affordable housing, Thorp told the council Monday night.

“I’m willing to take you at your word,” council member Jim Ward said. “This is a significantly better offer than we had coming into this meeting, and I’m hoping it’s not the end of the conversation about affordable housing.”

The developer initially had proposed a $2,000 payment for 10 percent of the residential units, or $60,000. At the start of Monday’s meeting, Cousins Properties LLC Vice President Jason Frost raised that contribution to $3,000 for 10 percent of the units, or $90,000.

Five existing buildings will be razed to make way for two five-story buildings fronting West Franklin Street and one 11-story building at the center of the property. The council also rezoned the property to allow taller buildings. The developer is leasing the land from Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc., a private foundation that bought the shopping center for $45.75 million in 2009.

Frost said the redevelopment could bring up to 1,000 jobs and 300 to 400 new residents downtown. The project includes 300 one- and two-bedroom apartments, 210,000 square feet of office space and 75,000 square feet of retail. Frost said a grocer could occupy 14,000 square feet.

A roughly 38,000-square-foot central green space – bigger than the Weaver Street Market lawn in Carrboro – and more than 1,000 above- and below-ground parking spaces are planned.

Although the green space and up to 400 after-hours parking spaces would be available to the public, the developer did not guarantee that access would continue if the property is sold.

The council also approved adding driveway access to Cameron Avenue from the Granville Towers student housing complex on the south side of the property. The project will reduce the number of driveways fronting Franklin Street from four to two.

Neighbors in the Cameron-McCauley Historic District worry that Cameron Avenue access could create safety and traffic problems. The developer has offered to pay $75,000 for a stoplight at Cameron Avenue and Wilson Street. Real Estate Holdings also will give the town 30 years to use an eastern right-of-way to build a new road connecting Franklin Street and Cameron Avenue. The town would need to obtain rights of way from other affected property owners to complete the connection.

The project could be completed by early 2017, Frost said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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