Mayor Pam Hemminger has been asking residents for their concerns and suggestions, and she got them, on a multitude of issues, during Thursday’s Friends of the Downtown monthly meeting at Mediterranean Deli.
The new mayor first took a moment to talk about the Ephesus-Fordham district between East Franklin Street, Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road. She also talked about changes taking place now in the town’s struggling inspections and planning departments.
Revising the Ephesus-Fordham district’s form-based code will help achieve community goals, she said, such as bringing in more tax dollars to pay for long-needed road and stormwater improvements. It could take a while, she said.
“What we’re getting is a couple of one-story buildings coming in now, which was not the goal because that won’t help pay for those road improvements,” she said. “The other thing we’re getting is the big apartment complex (on Elliott Road), and that’s going to look out of balance there.”
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The town’s Community Design Commission proposed 18 changes to the district earlier this month, such as requiring developers to build at least two stories and create more pedestrian connections and green spaces. The Planning Commission and town staff also suggested changes, Hemminger said.
The form-based code regulates construction projects in the district, and gives the commission – and the town manager – the power to approve those that meet the requirements. Proposed changes could come to the council for a discussion in March, Hemminger has said.
The town’s inspections and planning staff, meanwhile, is clearing a backlog of projects, implementing new procedures and learning to communicate better, she said.
The crowd jumped in when Hemminger asked for more questions and suggestions:
▪ Business: The town is talking with partners about how to keep startups and entrepreneurs in Chapel Hill, Hemminger said. The plan is to create a short-term space – for three years – while working on a longer-term solution, she said. UNC’s plan is focused on the Friday Center, which could be served by the future light-rail line and station, she said.
“I don’t know what the answer is yet, but we all are on the same path, and we’ve got to find that space now,” she said. “We need those companies to stay here.”
▪ Downtown: The town’s ongoing conversation about parking will continue Monday, Hemminger said, when asked how the town could better direct drivers to available spaces and fix parking meters that now accept credit cards but rarely work as promised.
She’s also talking with Parks and Recreation staff and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership about adding planting beds and baskets, banners and other special touches, Hemminger said. The town is buying a sprayer to help water the plants, she said.
“We need to celebrate. We have Nobel Prize winners; we have great things going on in our town,” she said. “We have a lot of tourist business here because of our connection with the university and because of our great restaurants, and just because of our great attitude.”
▪ Panhandling: Chapel Hill police, while enforcing local laws against sleeping on the sidewalk, can’t do much about the panhandlers who sit in front of businesses on Franklin Street, Hemminger said. Chapel Hill had an ordinance banning loitering until 2009, when the N.C. Court of Appeals found similar laws could violate the constitutional right to free assembly and speech.
▪ American Legion: No plans have been submitted, but a developer could pay $10 million for the property if the Town Council approves 400 to 600 apartments and a two-story office building for Legion Road.
The town wants to hear from residents and is talking with developer Woodfield Investments about the need for more commercial space and affordable housing, Hemminger said. They encouraged Woodfield to talk with the school district about a road off Ephesus Church Road at the elementary school.
The land would have made a great park, council member Ed Harrison said, but the town didn’t have $10 million in hand.