Chapel Hill News

March 27, 2014

Prposed Ephesus-Fordham plan gets revised

Town staff offered revised stormwater and building height plans Monday while answering continued questions about a new form-based development code for the Ephesus-Fordham focus area.

Town staff offered revised building heights and stormwater plans for the Ephesus Road-Fordham Boulevard area.

The 190-acre district is slated for taller buildings, 1,000 apartments, 600,000 square feet of new retail and office space and $10 million in road and stormwater improvements.

Developers would follow a set of new zoning rules – called a form-based code – that outline how buildings can look, where they can be built and how they should relate to what’s around them.

The Town Council is scheduled to vote April 17 on the rules.

Plans for handling two major issues – stormwater and building heights – have changed since the council’s March 6 discussion.

Instead of 90-foot buildings in some spots, staff members now recommend up to 60 feet, with another 30 feet for developers who also build a parking deck.

Town Council member Ed Harrison, who has argued for a softer transition between existing homes and tall, new buildings, pointed out that five stories are allowed now but no one is building them.

Engineer Chris Jensen said a preliminary, $1.2 million district stormwater plan also is being amended to include code-based standards for how developers should handle private property runoff.

The previous plan was for two stormwater ponds along Booker Creek to filter out pollutants.

Redevelopment could increase the district’s 57 percent impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, to 68 percent. Jensen said requiring developers to meet regional water quality rules could encourage more sustainable features, such as cisterns and water-efficient plumbing.

The town could use money from a proposed, four-cent stormwater district tax to pay for routine system maintenance, he said.

The council also plodded through other concerns, including the district’s potential costs and benefits.

About a quarter of the 100 people at Monday’s council meeting spoke. Many urged the council to get all the facts before voting.

The town is responsible for making sure development doesn’t create more runoff and flooding for neighbors, Briarcliff resident Martha Dill said. Her neighbor Bruce Henschel urged a reasoned approach.

“You might assume developers won’t build 190 acres of seven-story buildings and parking lots cheek by jowl with almost no green space, but the code would allow them to do it,” Henschel said. “We could wind up with a high-density, high-rise urban mini city appended to the northeast end of a basically low-rise town. That is out of character for Chapel Hill.”

Others, including members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said the time is right for a change.

Former state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird said the town should be emphasizing more commercial growth.

Mixed-use development combining residential and commercial spaces “was a dazzling concept when it came up on the scene, but it’s no longer usable or of value,” Kinnaird said. “I think it is time to concentrate on building commercial property for revenue and to lower the service costs to the town to help our modest homeowners.”

Kinnaird is right, council member Matt Czajkowski said. The district plan now reflects largely residential growth with a smattering of retail, when it should be the other way around, he said.

There are two estimates of what the district could bring in costs and benefits to the community, town business management director Ken Pennoyer said. A conservative estimate is roughly $26.5 million for the town to provide new projects with services. The town could break even after 20 years, he said.

If the county agrees to kick in its part of the district’s increased tax revenues, the plan could bring the town $46.9 million over 20 years, Pennoyer said.


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