A multistory apartment building that could replace a downtown parking lot faced questions this week about its size, parking and offer of affordable rental housing.
The Graduate – at 115,000 square feet and 90 feet tall – would cover roughly three-quarters of an acre between Mallette and Kenan streets. The 85 to 105 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments would be marketed as luxury living, development officials said.
While not required to provide lower-priced rental units, the developer has offered to make 15 percent affordable for 30 years. Half would be rented to tenants earning 60 percent of the area median income, or roughly $39,430 for two people. The other half would be rented at 75 percent of the median income, or $49,275 for two people.
“Our project is going to be focused specifically on graduate students and working professionals, and we don’t think that there’s anything like that available in the immediate downtown on a rental basis,” said Jay Patel, co-owner of Wintergreen Hospitality.
The $20 million project could pay up to $200,000 a year in property taxes, he said. Wintergreen also operates The Franklin Hotel on Franklin Street.
The site is a challenge for construction, said John McAdams, chairman of the John R. McAdams Co. The project also looks bigger, because the lot is narrow and the plans put parking under the building, he said.
The developer has asked for a 20-foot increase in the building’s shortest section, to 55 feet, and plans show more massive construction on three sides with up to 138 parking spaces, more than allowed.
“This is urban infill, and indeed, the proposed building is large, but it has to be large. Financially feasibility drives all development projects,” McAdams said. “This land is expensive. It’s in the center of everything, and it’s where everybody wants to be.”
Supporters and critics alike said they support more people, denser buildings and a higher commercial tax base downtown. Mediterranean Deli owner Jamil Kadoura, who owns the adjacent Dead Mule Club property, said the project is great, even if it pushes a required buffer farther onto his land. The wider buffer would limit the ability to redevelop his land in the future.
“What I like in particular ... is the architectural side of this building is going to be tied up to the Franklin Hotel, and it’s going to be run by the Patel family, which are very successful in the hospitality industry,” Kadoura said.
Neighbors in the Cameron-McCauley Historic District also supported the project’s ideals but asked the council Monday night to deny the permit. The building is too large, and the parking deck needs a second entrance on Kenan Street to handle the traffic, they said.
The marketing plans don’t add up either, Mallette Street resident Donna Bryant said. The projected rent is $1,600 a month for one bedroom and $2,400 a month for two bedrooms – too expensive for UNC graduate and post-doctoral students with whom she works, she said.
“Although all seven of the grad students who responded would like to live downtown, none of them could afford these rents. Their monthly stipend is $1,500 (a month) for nine months a year,” she said.
Council members agreed those are valid concerns, including the building’s larger size along Mallette Street and the need for a second parking deck access. They also asked for more information about the possibility of a green roof, more bicycle spaces and unbundled parking, which involves charging residents who need parking an extra fee.
The council will discuss the project again Oct. 27.