CHAPEL HILL — The Town Council approved tripling the number of students at a residential project within walking distance of downtown and the university campus Wednesday night despite some reservations.
Council member Ed Harrison cast the lone vote against a special-use permit for The Bicycle Apartments at Central Park, 602 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The scale and density of the nine-acre project – a four- to six-story apartment building with 608 beds that would replace three existing two-story buildings – is still a concern, he said.
The council voted unanimously to rezone the property to allow greater density, taller buildings and reduced parking. Council members Laurin Easthom and Matt Czajkowski were absent due to the health issues, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said.
Council members Gene Pease and Sally Greene also expressed some concerns with the project. Pease said student housing is an appropriate use, especially since the complex is near downtown, campus and bus lines, but the size may be too much. The decision would be easier and more predictable if the community already had its 2020 small area planning discussion, he said.
Greene thought the density is appropriate, but said questions need to be answered about how to ensure proper management, how the property will be used in the long term, and how many students would use an established path through the Cobb Terrace neighborhood to downtown.
Developer Travis Vencel, with Trinitas Properties LLC of Indiana, offered additional concessions before the council vote, including a $120,000 payment to the town’s affordable housing fund and $50,000 for Chapel Hill Transit and transportation improvements. A revised plan removes balconies from the side of the building closest to the downtown historic district and also shifts the building to the west, leaving about a half-acre between it and the property line.
Public sentiment at the hearing was roughly split.
Many neighbors oppose the project’s size and sought workforce housing instead. Some asked the council to delay a decision to give them time to finish the 2020 planning process for that part of the community first.
Other residents and downtown business owners, employees and boosters said the project would put more students and residents within walking distance of downtown shops and restaurants, help the town meet goals for transit-oriented housing and free up apartments elsewhere that could become workforce housing.