Dogwood Acres Drive resident Rowena Heath and her daughter used to go hiking in the woods before construction started at Southern Village in 1994.
While she wasn’t an early fan of the 312-acre development, Heath said she’s been pleased with the results. She’s not as sure about Obey Creek, a more dense development proposed for 120-plus acres across U.S. 15-501.
Heath, like several others interviewed in southern Chapel Hill this week, said the 1.6 million square-foot development is “inevitable.” Obey Creek could bring the town more sales and property tax dollars, she said, but she also worries how the size and resulting traffic will affect existing residents’ lives.
“A lot (of people) do have this fear of the unknown,” she said.
The Town Council could approve the project Monday night.
Obey Creek, if approved, would reverse a vision the town approved in 1992 of high-density construction at Southern Village and low-density homes and neighborhood businesses around it.
Plans show 10 buildings, four to eight stories tall, on 35 acres. Another 85 undeveloped acres to the east would become a town-owned public preserve. (For more details, go to nando.com/1al) The project could add up in 20 years to 800 apartments and townhomes, 475,000 square feet of retail space, 600,000 square feet of offices and 400 hotel rooms.
Obey Creek would have nearly nine times more retail than Southern Village’s core, 4.5 times the office space and roughly two-thirds the housing units.
There are 1,148 single-family homes, apartments, townhomes and condos in Southern Village.
The project has become a hot-button issue in southern Chapel Hill, residents said. Most people interviewed for this story did not want to be named but said their biggest concern is the traffic. Many said the project was just too big.
David Sadeghi, co-owner of the Town Hall Grill, agreed to speak only about the potential effect on his business.
Growth is a part of life, he said, and more offices will bring more customers to his restaurant. But Obey Creek will be positive only if the town creates a synergy among the project, Southern Village and surrounding areas, he said.
The current fight over outdoor seating and drinking in downtown Raleigh shows the consequences of badly planned growth, he said.
“If (Chapel Hill) can figure out the traffic patterns, if they can keep this unique community as unique as it is today, growth is always good for business or anything else,” he said.
The town has not considered all the potential consequences, said Laila Moustafa, who lives in the Southbridge neighborhood off Culbreth Road.
Town officials recently said the Culbreth Road-U.S. 15-501 intersection could experience the worst traffic because of Obey Creek. Moustafa wants to know if the town is considering those and other community needs or only what would support the project.
“They need to keep an open mind, think outside the box and plan for 20 to 30 years from now,” she said.
Her neighbor Andrew Davidson is “entirely in favor” of Obey Creek. The traffic concerns are valid and the town doesn’t seem to have given enough thought to what will happen at the U.S. 15-501 interchanges north of Culbreth Road, he said.
But growth is needed to counter the rising pressure on jobs and home prices that is “really unfavorable to the tax base,” Davidson said.
“If all we keep doing is building a bedroom community, we’re going to have to pay … in order to appreciate the same services we have today,” he said.
Bowden Road resident Tom Horne agreed but said there also has to be give and take. Obey Creek should make people want to visit Chapel Hill and to live here, he said.
Steve Smith, a former Lystra Road resident who now lives in northern Chatham County, said he thinks Obey Creek’s size could ruin the attraction. He expects his commute to medical appointments and classes in Durham to grow.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s going to ruin not only this corner, but when you get over there on Lystra Road, over there, it’s going to ruin it, too.”
Smith and others worried about the project’s size noted that they’re not against development in general.
Obey Creek “kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Northside Drive resident Nicole Vetter said.
“People walk, people bike, people are out with their kids,” Vetter said. “I’m not against it, but I would like it to be on a smaller scale.”
She keeps up through her neighbors, who have pressed the town for traffic-calming devices on nearby Dogwood Acres Drive. Drivers often exceed the speed limit on the narrow road connecting Smith Level Road and U.S. 15-501, and neighbors fear that will increase if Obey Creek is built.
The town says there is money to help, but neighbors first must make plans with state transportation officials.
‘What’s Up’ website
Southern Village resident Patrick McGowan’s “What’s Up with Obey Creek” blog also helped her understand the project’s size and scope, Vetter said.
McGowan, a customer experience consultant, included his sources and made the blog interactive, so others could check out the numbers. He shared the blog with council members in March, saying he was open to suggestions and changes.
He made a few after talking with Roger Waldon, the former town plannng director who is now a member of the development team, but the council has not discussed the blog officially. An effort to reach McGowan for this story was unsuccessful.
Jill Hunter, a Hundred Oaks resident, shares Vetter’s concern about size. It’s not clear why Chapel Hill is putting so many high rises next to the roads, she said, or how families will safely walk and bike alongside so many cars.
“I’m not against development,” Hunter said. “I think we could use more retail and service options, so I don’t have to drive to Durham.”
The Town Council, if Obey Creek is approved Monday, could wrap up six years of talks and eight months of negotiations with developer East West Partners. The draft development agreement would set minimum requirements for residential, retail and office space but allow flexibility to meet market changes.
The current agreement requires at least 35 percent of the square footage to become retail, offices and a hotel as the project reaches 600,000 square feet; at least 40 percent at 1.4 million total square feet, and 45 percent by 1.5 million square feet.
The council meets at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall Council Chamber, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.