UNC and town officials could intensify discussions next month about working together to build new police, fire and public facilities near the airport on Estes Drive Extension.
The council authorized Town Manager Roger Stancil on Monday to continue the roughly year-long conversation. The University Board of Trustees will discuss whether to move ahead Wednesday, Jan. 25.
A rough sketch shows up to four buildings, a parking deck and surface parking lot are possible on the 20.4-acre site, located south of Estes Drive Extension, between Airport Drive and Seawell School Road, said Mary Jane Nirdlinger, the town’s executive director of planning and sustainability.
The site is adjacent to other UNC facilities and across the street from the future Carolina North campus.
The town has “some pretty significant facility needs,” Police Chief Chris Blue said. “We’ve outgrown our police department, there’s some site challenges there, our fire department administrative staff is in desperate need of space, as is our parks and recreation administrative staff, and other departments, as well.”
The town could pair multiple facilities on the site with a new headquarters for UNC Public Safety and other university facilities, he said. The site fits a list of criteria, including adequate building and parking space, growth opportunities, easy public access, and accessible public transportation, he said.
“The police department has a particular interest in being centrally located, if at all possible, and near some of our more major corridors, and the location we want to talk about tonight meets all of those interests as well as any site I can imagine,” Blue said.
The town might lease the site for $1 a year, Mayor Pam Hemminger said, and there is bond money available for construction. At least $8 million was approved in November 2015 for parks and recreation facilities. The town also has $1.4 million set aside from selling the old Chapel Hill Library at 523 E. Franklin St.
“I’m really pleased that we reached out and worked with UNC to come up with a better solution,” Hemminger said. “We desperately need a new police station and some other office spaces, and I’m really pleased that we could find something close to the center of town and on a major corridor. It’s been a long time trying to figure out how to make that all work.”
Elkin Hills neighbors, who live along the site’s southern border, listened closely Monday. It was the first time they had heard about the plan, Hemminger said.
Neighbor Carmen Elliott noted several projects proposed for the site haven’t worked out. She asked the council to keep in mind how more development, lights and noise could affect neighbors, and also how it could affect small streams and Bolin Creek, which cross the area.
The town and UNC will meet with neighbors and refine the plan if the partnership advances, Nirdlinger said. The council could see a detailed plan by summer, she said.
“I just want to reiterate that this is not a well-developed site. These are not construction plans,” Nirdlinger said. “It really is a test fit to make sure that there’s room to meet what we think the existing needs are, with some expansion, and it’s this unique opportunity to work with university, because not only do we have needs, but they have needs.”