CHAPEL HILL The Town Council approved a development Monday that will bring a mix of retail, offices and apartments to 55 acres north of town on Eubanks Road.
The 8-0 decision gives Edge developer Northwood Ravin flexibility in building the project near the intersection of Eubanks Road, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Interstate 40. The council approved up to 35, 25- to 90-foot-tall buildings with 600,000 to 935,000 square feet of floor space.
The permit gives them something concrete to show retailers interested in opening Chapel Hill stores, said Adam Golden, Northwood Ravin’s vice president of development. Without some guarantee the project will be built, those talks won’t advance, he said.
The Edge ( nando.com/z3), at minimum, could provide 400,000 square feet for residential space, 140,000 square feet for commercial uses and 60,000 square feet for offices. The plan also includes 10,000 square feet of public green space, in addition to residential recreation spaces.
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The decision also included a few dozen exceptions to town rules, including bigger “gateway”-style signs, above-ground utilities, and thinner landscaping buffers along MLK Boulevard and I-40.
But the council’s vote also left several key issues unresolved. The council, in a second vote, asked the town manager and town attorney to develop a draft supplemental agreement to address, among other things, whether the town could help pay for $3.5 million in transportation improvements.
Northwood residents, who live south of the site, asked the council again Monday to require Northwood Ravin to pay for speed tables and other traffic-calming measures in their neighborhood. The residents fear increased traffic will spill over as frustrated drivers seek a shortcut to MLK Boulevard.
The neighborhood is outside the town limits, however, and town officials urged neighbors Monday to ask the N.C. Department of Transportation about possible road improvements. Neighbors also could ask to be annexed into the town, officials said, which would give the council more ways to help.
A third vote Monday asked Town Manager Roger Stancil to research a future amendment allowing construction in a conservation area on the eastern side of the property. Building in the conservation area could make the site more visible and attractive to retailers, Northwood Ravin officials said.
Developers have wrestled for years with the site – one of Chapel Hill’s few large, undeveloped parcels – because it also has limited access. The council expressed frustration Monday with a multi-stage approval process but agreed to take a chance if it means more local retail and commercial tax dollars.
There are downsides, Councilman Matt Czajkowski said, but this may be the town’s best chance to get high-density retail.
“I think this applicant has been quite creative, and I think tried to find as many ways as possible to put together something that can work for the town,” he said.
The deal also could add 50 affordable apartments to the town’s rental housing stock. Northwood Ravin will spend at least five years in pursuit of tax credit financing and is planning apartments for people earning up to 80 percent of the area median income, or $67,500 for a family of four.
The search for funding won’t start until 2017, Golden said, to avoid competing with Raleigh-based housing nonprofit DHIC, which already is seeking two years of tax credits for a Legion Road affordable housing project on town-owned land.
Northwood Ravin will update the council on its housing efforts every six months. After five years, the developer can ask for more time, suggest another housing plan that meets council approval or sell the housing site to the town for its 2015 tax value.
Even if the affordable housing doesn’t pan out, it is time to act, Councilman George Cianciolo said. A tour of Durham and Orange County’s proposed 17-mile light-rail transit line Monday made it clear that Durham has many more sites available for development, he said.
“There’s an opportunity to say, yes, Chapel Hill is interested in creating a future, is interested in creating a place that people can live and work and shop without getting in a car,” Cianciolo said. “I have concerns, but I also think if we don’t do it here, it’s going to happen just eight miles down the road.”
Construction at the Edge would not start right away. Northwood Ravin, besides working out the details of a supplemental agreement, will spend many months getting approval of its final site and building plans, stormwater management features, lighting, landscaping and signs.
The town’s Community Design Commission will weigh in on those plans and also could review major changes, if any, to the approved permit.