Residents and some Town Council members were disappointed Monday to see the first project to emerge from the town’s new Ephesus-Fordham “form-based code” planning tool.
Chapel Hill can do a lot better, said Jane Kirsch, one of two residents who spoke during public comment.
“I personally don’t want to live in a concrete and glass jungle without a blade of grass to sit in a bench on or walk my dog on,” she said. “I frankly cannot believe that a progressive, smart town like Chapel Hill would approve a development of a central piece of property like this piece on Elliott Road with no apparent consideration of walkability, traffic congestion, parking needs and, more importantly, green spaces.”
Village Plaza apartments proposes 265 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 15,600 square feet of retail and restaurant space to replace a vacant lot on South Elliott Road. The project includes a 463-space parking deck and 168 bike spaces.
It will require moving the Booker Creek Greenway, which crosses the site, to within roughly 100 feet of the creek, said John Richardson, the town’s sustainability officer. The greenway will be about six to 10 feet off a new street between the building and the creek, he said.
Developer East West Partners will pay for moving and maintaining the greenway until the town takes over, Richardson said. The developer also is paying to build a new street from Elliott Road to the street behind the building.
First under new rules
The project is the first submitted for the town’s new form-based code, a checklist guiding redevelopment projects in the 190-acre district.
The council may review the first few projects, particularly to see if the code needs to be changed, but it will not vote on them. Developers instead seek a certificate of appropriateness from the Community Design Commission and a form-based code permit from Town Manager Roger Stancil.
The commission will review the project at 6:30 tonight (Oct. 28) in the Town Hall Council Chamber, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Members could vote to approve the project, reject it or approve it with conditions.
The deadline for a final decision is Nov. 12. Construction could start early next year, East West Partners development director Lee Perry said.
Council member Jim Ward said the project, which doesn’t provide any affordable housing, was a missed opportunity, especially since East West Partners could provide more. Council member Matt Czajkowski said it shows “all the glaring weaknesses of the form-based code.”
“The only thing that Chapel Hill has to trade for the things that we claim are most important to our values – affordable housing, environmental consideration, even walkability and certainly connectivity – we’re getting none of in this project,” Czajkowski said.
It may or may not be successful, council member George Cianciolo said, but it will bring more benefit to the town.
“I can’t help but think that the town has not benefitted one bit in the last 10 years or so from the vacant overgrown lot surrounded by a chain-link fence that’s been there,” he said.
The plan shown to the council Monday has since been revised. The most striking changes are replacing the bold orange squares that initially dotted exterior walls with muted blue panels and using brick on the retail storefronts.
Richardson said town staff found at least one problem with the code while reviewing the project. The code requires projects to have one bike space for every two apartments, he said, but also sets a maximum requirement of 20 spaces.
The council will get a full report on how the code is working in January, Richardson said. The council can amend the code at any time, but only new projects have to meet the new requirements.