It will be months before the Town Council is ready to vote on 54 acres of apartments, stores and offices at Eubanks Road and Interstate 40, members said this week.
“There are all sorts of issues that I need a greater comfort level with for me to consider being supportive,” council member Jim Ward said after four hours of discussion Monday night. “Because of the complexity of this project, it needs a dialogue between the applicant and the Town Council ... to get at the scores of details that we’re having to buy into.”
Northwood Ravin’s project would be next to the town’s Eubanks Road park-and-ride lot and across the street from the Northwood neighborhood and Chapel Watch Village. The Town Council will continue the public hearing Dec. 3.
The council and residents raised many questions Monday about parking, green space, how big the signs would have to be for visibility from I-40 and the cost to the town of a heavily residential development. Other questions focused on how cars, pedestrians and bikes would navigate the busy road and the already failing intersection at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Eubanks Road.
Northwood residents said they also worry about drivers using Northwood Drive to avoid the busy Eubanks-MLK intersection.
Resident Bob Reinheimer said he was thrilled about the project until the developer made it more residential than retail.
“I’m in favor of the Edge … but unless we have a better pedestrian solution, unless we have a better traffic solution, we are going to pay a price,” he said.
This fourth version of the Edge proposes 600,000 to 935,290 square feet of floor space (two to three times the size of University Mall) and buildings up to 90 feet tall. The project is estimated at 43 percent to 75 percent residential, 15 percent to 44 percent retail and hotel space and 6 percent to 29 percent offices. It would cover most of the largely wooded site with streets, parking and 18 to 35 buildings.
The proposed retail is not a trivial amount, said John McAdams, with The John R. McAdams Co., but the site has access and visibility challenges.
“The applicant’s greatest desire is to have retail there, but if the retail cannot be got, then the applicant needs to have the flexibility to provide something else there, considering the huge amount of investment required to get this development started in the first place,” he said.
The plan sets aside 50 apartments – 7 percent to 13 percent of the proposed housing – to be affordable to those earning 80 percent or less of the area median income. The area median income for Chapel Hill is $65,700 a year for a family of four.
The developer, town staff and N.C. Department of Transportation officials also are planning road changes, including two new stoplights; travel lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks on Eubanks Road; and additional turn lanes at the Eubanks-MLK Boulevard intersection. Northwood Ravin officials have asked the town to help pay for those improvements.
The town could annex the site if the project is approved. The developer is seeking exceptions to existing land-use rules, such as reducing the required tree cover from 40 percent to 20 percent and allowing taller buildings, smaller landscape buffers and more signs.
Council member George Cianciolo said he’s not sure visibility will be a big issue for the development.
“I buy more into the fact that, to some degree, we missed the boat,” he said. “The question is are you going to cannibalize what’s going on downtown, at University Mall and other places.”
The town’s Planning Commission and Housing Advisory Board have recommended support for the project if, for example, it offers more public space, traffic-calming devices on nearby Northwood Drive and extra time to get the affordable housing financed.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt suggested adding apartments above the one-story retail buildings to leave more green space.