Consultants will lead a series of community workshops next week to gather ideas for how the areas around the Durham-Orange Light-Rail Transit rail stations should grow.
While the Orange County Board of Commissioners has the final say about the light-rail transit project, Chapel Hill’s Town Council regulates what could be built around six stations that lie within the town’s borders. A dozen other stations are located in the city of Durham.
Consultants with Gateway Planning and GoTriangle officials will kick off the conversation at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22, in Meeting Room B at the Chapel Hill Public Library. Other community meetings are planned, and consultants also are talking with municipal, university and health care officials in Chapel Hill and in Durham.
The results will be presented at a Feb. 27 open house in Chapel Hill’s Town Hall and at the following council meeting.
The workshop is funded by a Federal Transportation Administration grant. More information and station development ideas will be presented in the spring.
The goal is to define the community vision for transit-oriented neighborhoods that encourage people to walk, bike or use the bus or train, Gateway Planning founder Scott Polikov said.
“After we’re done with the station area planning process, which is just – I want to stress – just creating input and ideas for you all, for UNC, for the UNC Health Care system, what we’ve come up with is an exploration of ideas and input for potential development and land use,” Polikov said. “What we come up with is not blocked in stone at all.”
Transit-oriented development is about creating compact, walkable communities, said GB Arrington, founder of GB Place Making. Housing and commercial uses are clustered and dense, parking is limited, and a walk around the block takes less than five minutes, he said; putting office and retail uses closer to the stations encourages more transit use.
Studies show transit-oriented development also generates half the auto trips of typical apartments and homes, he added.
“The challenge today is to design (communities) around walkability and help to create the kinds of places that we want,” Arrington said. “Doing that means doing it with intention, and part of the intention is what makes sense independent of the transit, because there’s no guarantee (light-rail transit) will be successful, but the town will still be here.”
Arrington shared examples of what’s possible at different Chapel Hill stations:
▪ University villages at UNC Hospital and Mason Farm Road could offer multiple residential options and clustered educational facilities. Residents have questioned how much development is possible on state-owned UNC property
▪ Neighborhood destinations at Hamilton Road, Friday Center Drive and Woodmont could blend retail, restaurant, service and job options. The Woodmont station is small, at about 33 acres, while the Hamilton station area lies between the 54 East complex and Finley Golf Course, also prompting concern about how much development is possible.
▪ A suburban retrofit at the Gateway station could rely on civic spaces to knit together residential options and commercial and employment centers. The Gateway station appears to offer the most development opportunity, but requires working with larger property owners, including UNC and the State Employees Credit Union.
Durham is looking at similar scenarios, as well as new development at Leigh Village, adjacent to Interstate 40, and urban hubs from Ninth Street to downtown and Alston Avenue. The corridor can be viewed as a “string of pearls,” Palikov said, adding that Leigh Village will be critical for the entire region.
“It’s not just about the system of the corridor and the stations themselves. It’s the transit connectedness to other neighborhoods,” he said. “A station can be small, but as long as there is a bike, walking and convenient bus that connects them to the small station, it still may have a very significant impact.”
Several meetings will be held from Feb. 22-26 to gather ideas for future development around 18 light-rail transit stations stretching from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to N.C. Central University in Durham.
▪ Opening presentation, 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22, Meeting Room B, Chapel Hill Public Library
▪ Community check-in, 6 p.m. Feb. 23, The Franklin Hotel ballroom, 311 W. Franklin St.
▪ Community check-in, noon Feb. 25, The Franklin Hotel ballroom, 311 W. Franklin St.
▪ Community open house to review results, 6 p.m. Feb. 27, Chapel Hill Town Hall lobby; followed by a Town Council report
▪ City Council presentation, 1 p.m. Feb. 23, Durham City Hall Committee Room