Morrisville moved a step closer toward a town center Tuesday, March 8, as the Town Council considered two proposed concepts for the project’s design.
Representatives from the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative, including Director Michael Lemanski, introduced the plans, which differed considerably in scale. Council members provided feedback at the work session, which will be incorporated into further discussions next month.
The smaller plan would encompass about 10 acres along the east side of Town Hall Drive, bound to the north by Jeremiah Street, almost all of which the town already owns. It anticipates a new library, a single, tree-lined main street, a community center and two new parking facilities.
The larger plan covers about three times as much land, with development to the north and east that would require the town to gain site control of some residential properties. That would allow for a more extensive gridded downtown, twice as many residential units, two-and-a-half times more retail space and several new roads.
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Council members were unanimous in their support of the larger town center, but generally agreed that the smaller proposal might be more realistic in the short term.
“I’m tired of talking about this, and the public is tired of us talking about this,” Councilwoman Liz Johnson said. “We need to do something, and we need to do it soon.”
The town has been talking for about a decade about creating a main street campus with commerical, retail and residential development. Officials have bought about 12 acres near Town Hall Drive and Jeremiah Street, but the land hasn’t been developed. Leaders have said the town center also could include public facilities, such as a library, fitness center, park, farmers market or a mix of those venues.
The town hired DFI in August to study how the town center can become a reality. DFI’s market analysis, the first step of the process, was released in October and revealed that Morrisville residents spend $93 million elsewhere in the Triangle on shopping and dining each year. The council hopes a town center will encourage residents to spend more of that money in Morrisville.
Mayor Mark Stohlman initially suggested sending out two bid requests to see which plan garnered more interest from developers, but the consultants advised him that the town should have site control of land it wants to develop before taking that step.
“You can’t commit to building a road until you know you control that land,” Lemanski said. “I’m not saying it’s not possible, but you’ll generate a lot less interest because there’s more risk from the private sector’s perspective.”
Many of the council’s questions dealt with assessing and ensuring that interest. Lemanski told the council members they would have to make some fairly specific decisions about density and size – the height of mixed-use buildings in the town center, for instance – before moving forward so planners could use anticipated demand to come up with a budget for the project.
Assuming the demand indicated in DFI’s October report, a larger and denser development strategy from the town would yield greater returns relative to the town’s investment, Lemanski said.
“If you guys want to limit the density, the value of the land will be less,” he said. “If you say you only want two-story buildings, we’ll be able to say what infrastructure can be paid for by private development.”
The council eventually asked the consultants if they could tweak the 10-acre proposal to allow the larger downtown to grow outward from it in phases.
Both plans have the town center bookended by a new community library to the southwest and a new community center to the northeast, although the council is still debating whether to build a new facility given existing plans to renovate and expand the Morrisville Aquatic and Fitness Center.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan