Residents say life in downtown’s high rises has been a resounding success, despite lingering issues with nightlife-related noise and bad behavior.
Businesses and the Chapel Hill Police Department will meet at 10 a.m. Monday with the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership to review noise rules and seek compromises, assistant director Bobby Funk said.
Greenbridge and 140 West Franklin residents are not the first to live downtown, but they are the vanguard of what town leaders hope will become a diverse community.
Greenbridge is mostly owner-occupied, with a large population of adults, graduate students and retirees. 140 West also has young couples and retirees, but also is home to student renters and people who keep an apartment there for visiting family members or as a second home during UNC’s football season.
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There are very few children in either building, residents said.
More high-rise apartments are on the horizon, including 246 apartments about to go up at the former University Square site on West Franklin Street and up to 100 more approved for Kenan Street. The nine-story Amity Station project, if approved, could bring hundreds more students to join those at Shortbread Lofts and Rosemary Village.
That, combined with a hotel proposed for West Rosemary Street, could determine whether the town’s goal to have more people living downtown will succeed or fail, residents and business owners said.
Loving life downtown
Louise Robinson moved to Greenbridge five years ago after many years in Brooklyn and Manhattan. It’s a lot easier to get around now, she said.
“I love the people. I love the camaraderie. I love the ease of living here,” she said. “Everything is simplified. ... This was the most positive change I ever made in my life. I can’t praise it enough.”
She expects more big buildings, because that’s how more people can live downtown, she said, but that doesn’t mean all of Chapel Hill has to grow up.
“I’m used to it, because I come from New York, but I don’t want them to take away the sky,” Robinson said. “I like having trees.”
Downtown residents said they also love living in the midst of everything. They might have a car, but now they walk more – or bike or catch the bus.
David Lindquist, who lives at 140 West Franklin, said they might have driven downtown once a month for dinner before moving there. They’re now less than 10 minutes from everything, he said.
“You never participated in the life of the town in that way and realized there are shops open in the evening that you can wander into,” he said. “All of those things are just so different.”
Grocery store needed
Former Mayor Ken Broun also lives at 140 West. He and his wife have one car now and are loving their new life, he said. They occasionally hop a bus or catch a ride with Uber, but mostly they walk, whether to dinner, Memorial Hall or the Carolina Inn for a Friday night band.
“We enjoy just the atmosphere of being downtown,” he said. “We love being around the students. We like the fact that it’s a very mixed age group in the building, and the area is very mixed.”
But a full-service grocery store is needed, he and others said. Downtown has drug stores, clothing stores and fresh food at the Mediterranean Deli market and now the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market on the 140 West Plaza, they said, but to buy most non-food items, they still need to get in a car.
While Harris Teeter is closer for Greenbridge residents, Robinson said she’d like to see another grocery at Carolina Square – the University Square redevelopment – or in the now-closed Fireplace Editions store across from 300 East Main in Carrboro.
“I think there’s now enough of a core population, that it would work,” Broun said.
Drinking, noise concerns
The only downside to downtown, residents said, is the noise. Police have reported 10 incidents since October but heard many more complaints.
Pantana Bob’s manager Corey LaPrade was fined for violating the town’s noise ordinance just after 9 p.m. April 24 when police said an Embers performance was too loud. Police reported stopping at He’s Not Here twice this spring.
He’s Not has hosted live music in the courtyard – sometimes going past midnight – for 43 years, general manager Fleming Fuller said. The bar brings people downtown, generating business for local restaurants, he said. They want to find a compromise but feel they’re getting little support, he said.
“There’s never been direct communication,” Fuller said. “We’re happy to have more people on the street, because the more traffic the better, especially with the way things have been going this summer.”
Pantana Bob’s still has outdoor music during the day, LaPrade said, but has curtailed nighttime events. Nearby restaurants – La Residence, Old Chicago and Lime Fresh Mexican Grill – also responded to complaints by turning speakers to direct the sound inside and cutting the music off at 10 or 11 p.m.
But LaPrade and others question whether the noise is from businesses or from more students living and walking on West Rosemary Street.
“It’s a college atmosphere,” LaPrade said. “People are going to stay up late and drink.”
Reaching a compromise
Business-related noise seems more muted now, Lindquist said, but town leaders are “oblivious” to how downtown is “a party place for students.” It’s irritating to call police, he said, but they shouldn’t have to live with people yelling in the street, urinating in public or other bad behavior.
“They don’t realize how poorly policed we are at night and how rambunctious we are at night,” Lindquist said.
“I think that is going to change, I see the Police Department has been very, very vigilant. We’re seeing cops on bikes and we’re seeing police cars parked around downtown in the evenings,” he said. “All of that helps to just reinforce the idea that there’s a level of behavior that should be maintained.”
Police usually warn people before citing them for noise violations, Lt. Josh Mecimore said. More visibility will help with bad behavior, he said, but there’s not much they can do about noisy people walking down the street.
“That is far more difficult to police than bars playing music outside,” he said.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the noise issues are “a foreseeable challenge” that many cities, including Raleigh, are wrestling with as they encourage people to move downtown. The key is finding a balance between enforcing the rules, he said, and making sure people understand living downtown is not going to be the same as living in the suburbs.
The town will learn from this experience and bring people together to find a compromise, he said.
“Ultimately, one of the most effective ways of handling this is having more people living here, because people then tend to self-police and (develop) an awareness of good-neighbor policies,” Kleinschmidt said.