Developers had few answers for the skeptical crowd attending a community meeting to talk about the future of American Legion Post 6.
The post is under contract to sell its 36-acre home at 1714 Legion Road to Woodfield Investments, a high-end apartment developer and operator, for up to $10 million.
The developer is considering building 400 to 600 apartments, some retail and an office building if the deal goes through. The project could have denser, four- to five-story apartment buildings toward Legion Road, Woodfield developer Scott Underwood said, scaling down to garden-style and townhome units at the rear of the property.
While a development application has not been submitted, it would face town advisory boards, public meetings and Town Council hearings. A rezoning also would be necessary, since the land is zoned for residential use.
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Town officials talked with the developer late last year about building trails and a two-lane road across the town’s land behind the post – adjacent to Ephesus Elementary School – that could connect to Ephesus Church Road at Churchill Road.
The developers also wanted to hear the community’s vision for the property, Underwood said.
“As a developer, the last thing we want to do is to cram something down someone’s throat,” he said. “We’re serious about that. We really don’t want to make somebody swallow something. We want to work together to create a product that is needed at the end of the day.”
More high-end apartments are not needed, residents at Wednesday night’s meeting said. What the town does need is more commercial spaces, particularly for small start-ups and entrepreneurs.
There also were questions about how the project might affect already congested traffic in the area, along with school enrollment, affordable housing and stormwater and flooding issues.
Water rushes like a river through their neighborhood during storms, said Ingrid Moffie, who lives on Clover Drive beside the post. That’s why she and others are concerned the developer’s plan would remove the existing pond and a dam holding much of the water back.
“I think (the land) should be developed,” she said. “I just don’t think we need this much impervious surface, and this much lack of regard for where the water is going to go is not going to help the community as a whole.”
The development team is still doing its research, Underwood said, and does not have many answers yet.
Mayor Pam Hemminger, who was among other Town Council and Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board members in the audience, encouraged the crowd to focus less on the current plan and more on what they would like to see done with the land.
The community wants a large park; why isn’t that possible, an audience member asked.
“I wasn’t part of that decision process; I’ve been investigating it,” Hemminger said. “We do not have $10 million sitting around. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities to collaborate on something like this.”
The town, under a 2005 agreement with the post, had the first choice of buying the property but passed on it in November, after Town Manager Roger Stancil said the town didn’t have the money.
That Nov. 9 decision – in closed session, six days after the mayor and two council members lost the election – sparked community anger. Some residents have said the new council should look at the offer again.
That is not possible as long as the American Legion is under contract with Woodfield, post members said. The post expects to use the money from selling the land to find a new home and build another post that could serve veterans of all ages and their families.
Woodfield Investments and its development partners are still researching the hurdles to developing the American Legion Post 6 property. Here are four of the biggest concerns:
▪ Traffic: No information yet. A third-party traffic study will have to be completed as part of any application; transit is not typically part of that study, but will be something they consider, development officials said.
▪ Stormwater: The plan is in progress, but an existing trout pond might be replaced with a smaller water feature, while a larger pond could be added to the back of the property to hold and slowly release stormwater.
▪ Schools: Developers are required, once an application is filed, to work with local government and education officials to ensure there is space in local schools for children who might live at the complex.
▪ Affordable housing: The town cannot require developers, under state law, to provide affordable rental housing. The council can leverage its rezoning authority, however, to ask for community benefits. That typically includes a number of affordable housing units or a payment to the town’s affordable housing fund.