A town board heard nearly two hours of public comment Tuesday before suggesting how to improve a plan for apartments, office and civic space on 36 acres on Legion Road.
Most speakers at the Community Design Commission meeting opposed the plan. It calls for a 50,000 to 100,000 square foot office building fronting Legion Road, up to 400 apartments in two four-story buildings, and a second office or civic building near the town’s 10-acre Ephesus Park.
Woodfield Investments has not submitted a formal development application. Developer Scott Underwood said they have started “extremely preliminary” talks with the YMCA about the civic space.
The project would need a rezoning. Roughly 25 percent of the site, which includes environmentally sensitive land, could remain open space, stream buffers and trails.
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Many residents have opposed the plan since learning the Town Council passed up buying the land for $9 million last fall. That council arranged with Woodfield for more trails and a new street through the site and the town’s park if the project is approved.
The current council has been asked to reconsider buying the land if the Legion-Woodfield deal fails.
The American Legion, which plans to build a new home, has already lost $1 million of the contract price to design changes, Post 6 Commander Capt. Bill Munsee said. The $10 million purchase price sets a 500-apartment minimum and reduces Woodfield’s purchase price by $10,000 for every unit lost.
‘Lack of vision’
Any apartments are too many, residents said. They asked the design commission to keep in mind the need for a larger park in the eastern part of town, more retail and office space, and the potential effect on already heavy stormwater runoff and traffic.
It’s hard to see the American Legion go, said Pam Taren, who addressed the audience, her back to the CDC. She looked at Underwood, telling him to stand on Legion Road at rush hour to see the cars going by. She can’t imagine adding 400 more apartments, she said.
“There is common ground here, but yet somehow we’re not able to make it happen,” Taren said. “What I see is a lack of vision – long-term vision for Chapel Hill here – where dollars seem to speak more than what the community needs.”
Design commission members asked for more connections to nearby streets, detailed bike and pedestrian plans, clustered buildings, a parking deck and ways to make the park more active. The town may need more offices, not apartments, member Polly Van de Velde said. More than 6,000 apartment units throughout Chapel Hill are planned or being built now.
Member Christine Berndt noted town documents show the community wanted that land to be park and open space. It lies in a residential area and is part of a major stream corridor, with steep slopes, she said.
The plan also doesn’t reflect its increasingly urban surroundings, member Susana Dancy said.
“I’m bothered that we are looking at this in isolation. The area across the road is undergoing some fairly major revisions right now, and I think it’s better to consider this in that context,” she said.
The Community Design Commission, which provides feedback on the look, character and function of a development, does not vote on concept plans. The Town Council, which could review and offer its feedback on the concept plan Sept. 19, will vote on the project after a formal application is made. The project will need a rezoning and special-use permit.