Shoppers and store owners had more questions than answers this week when asked what they thought about the Village Plaza apartments project planned for 211 S. Elliott Road.
The town’s Community Design Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the project – a first for the Ephesus-Fordham form-based code planning district. The certificate of appropriateness requires the developer to provide awnings over additional exterior doors, more durable ground-floor materials and lower, wider canopies.
Town Manager Roger Stancil has until Nov. 12 to approve or deny a form-based code permit for the project, a joint venture between East West Partners and Trammell Crow Residential, a Texas-based multifamily real estate company.
About a dozen people interviewed at Village Plaza on Thursday said they know very little about the project; others said they knew about it but not the details. After seeing sketches, most said it was going to be a major change for the area. A few thought it might be too big.
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The project is planned for a long-vacant lot on Elliott Road. The 90-foot tall building would have 265 one- and two-bedroom, market-rate apartments, 15,600 square feet of commercial space and a 463-space attached parking deck.
The Booker Creek Greenway, which crosses the site, will be moved to within roughly 100 feet of the creek and six to 10 feet off a new street behind the building, said John Richardson, the town’s sustainability officer. A private road will tie Elliott Road to the new street.
If all goes as planned, East West Partners development director Lee Perry has said construction could start early next year.
The biggest issue for some Elliott Road store owners was how construction might affect existing businesses and available parking. Jeff Bailey and his wife Cathy, who own the Great Harvest Bread Co., said they were optimistic but waiting to see what happens.
“Even though there will be retail shops in there, it’s still going to help us,” Jeff Bailey said. “The foot traffic shouild be great.”
At least two people, including Thimble Pleasures owner Julie Holbrook, said the proposed building looks like East 54, another East West Partners development near Glen Lennox.
Holbrook said the proposed project appears to overwhelm the area. Three-story buildings would be better, she said.
“I think it woud be great to have buildings there, but just not so high,” Holbrook said. “It’s really an eyesore right now.”
The Town Council approved the form-based code in May to streamline the development process by specifying how buildings should look and fit their surroundings. The district’s goal is to encourage the redevelopment of aging strip malls and parking lots, while growing the commercial tax base.
The council will not vote on form-based code projects but can ask to review the first few submitted. The council, during a project report Monday, did not see the revised version presented to the commission on Tuesday.
The most striking difference between the plans is green panels running along the exterior walls instead of orange blocks. The upper floors were pushed back from the building’s edge and brick accents added to the ground-floor storefronts. The building sits roughly 10 feet from the ABC store to the east.
Some Town Council members and residents said they were disappointed Monday with the initial plan.
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 the form-based code will not create transportation connectivity, affordable housing and other things the community values.
While it may or may not be successful, council member George Cianciolo said, the project will be an improvement over the vacant lot.
Christina Austin, a Chapel Hill native and State Employees Credit Union employee, said she hopes it continues to bring new life to the area.
“I like it and think it will be a good idea,” Austin said. “One of my concerns would be with the parking lot, if it’s anything like the Whole Foods parking lot. We love this Whole Foods but hate coming to the parking lot. We park (by the vacant lot) and walk over.”
The project’s appearance and how people will get to it were among the Community Design Commission’s chief concerns Tuesday. The form-based code dictates building height, location and other planning details.
While the commissioners saw multiple views of the proposed building, none showed the side facing the ABC store. Even though the building faces Elliott Road, senior planner Kay Pearlstein said the developer does not have to submit that view because it’s not directly on the road.
That’s a flaw in the form-based code, commissioner Lucy Carol Davis said, because the curve near Burger King will make it very visible to passers-by.
Another concern was how the building relates to the greenway and Booker Creek behind it. The rear of the building is a tree-lined sidewalk with two pedestrian entrances on the Whole Foods shopping center side and a loading bay and garage entrance on the other.
“You have no control, we have no control, but I think it’s unfortunate the opportunity of the greenway was somewhat squandered in this,” said commissioner Polly van de Velde. “In this building, it could be an incredible public space that relates to the building.”
The commission is learning from the process and will take potential changes and ideas for using the greenway to the council, Chairman Jason Hart said.
Town staff has found a conflict in the bicycle parking requirement so far, said Richardson, the town’s sustainability officer. The code requires one bike space for every two apartments, he said, but it says developers don’t have to provide more than 20 spaces.
The council will get a full report on how the code is working in January, Richardson said. The code can be amended any time, but submitted and approved projects don’t have to meet the new requirements.