Traffic will get worse
One primary advantage cited by proponents of the proposed Ephesus-Fordham (EF) redevelopment is that the associated road improvements planned by the Town will reduce the current traffic congestion on the Fordham/U.S.15-501 strategic corridor.
On the contrary, I would argue, EF will make traffic notably worse.
By town estimates, when EF is 68 percent built out in 2030, it would add 1,300 additional residential condos/apartments beyond what exists now, and roughly 500,000 square feet of additional office, retail, and hotel space. A conservative estimate is that this increase would add several thousand additional cars on the U.S. 15-501 artery, probably half of which would be driving at rush hour.
All of the road improvements currently being considered by the town are east-west routes, designed to get people in and out of the development: for example, extension of Elliott Road from Fordham to Ephesus (possibly creating a thoroughfare in front of Ephesus School) and extension of Legion Road from Ephesus to Fordham. But nothing is being planned to improve north-south flow on Fordham, unless state and federal monies possibly become available at some unspecified future time to widen U.S. 15-501.
A traffic analysis was conducted for the town tree years ago that did not address the 68 percent EF build-out currently envisioned (and certainly not 100 percent build-out in out-years), and did not address the significant additional traffic that will appear on U.S. 15-501 after the massive Glen Lennox and Obey Creek developments now being planned along this artery are completed. Nor did it address U.S. 15-501 intersections south of Elliott or north of Rams Plaza, where the worst back-ups seem to occur. Even this circumscribed traffic analysis showed some intersections failing to meet the desired level of service. Adding another couple thousand cars during rush hour will make traffic worse than it is now.
Let’s not proceed with the EF redevelopment until the proposed 7-story urban center is reduced in size, and a U.S. 15-501 corridor-wide traffic study is completed so that taxpayers understand the costs of the road and public transit improvements they would be committing to.
Unwise at any speed
Our Town Council has emphasized how much time and money has been spent getting a form-based code specifically designed for the people who move and have their being in the Chapel Hill area.
I am old enough to remember how much time and money the Ford Motor Company spent producing a car specifically designed for American drivers. That car was called the Edsel, a name now synonymous with failures of allegedly excellent products, failures to understand the needs of people for whom something was contrived. Ironically, the Edsel’s advertising campaign promoted the car as having “more YOU ideas.” Top-down research said the car would be an ideal fit. Bottoms-up input could have rectified it.
Let's not adopt a Form Based Edsel.
Walking weekly for years in the Ephesus-Fordham area, I rarely see the alarmists who suddenly cherish the local businesses, seemingly Staples and Trader Joe’s, the PTA Store.
A Matt Bailey mentioned reality to Town Council: Residents are voting with their feet and wallets going out of Chapel Hill. He uttered what some candidates know supporters agree: Once children out of our schools, they will leave Chapel Hill. I never see those vocal against change at university or public events, even movies.
Their level of hostility to business apparently precludes much that is available in The Triangle.
A Jeff Prather reiterated my call to town over 10 years ago: Remove trees and debris from creeks, clean out storm drains. I add: Encourage homes and businesses to regularly remove debris from gutters, before they clog drains.
Ridgefield and Briarcliff residents should add topsoil over our clay, put in sump pumps and French drains, and place water heaters on cement several inches high, as many do where I live.
Longtime residents with current know-how show the town gaining easements/right of way with new building placements. Biggest added impervious surface will be with DHIC workforce and elder residences on Legion Road. I live nearby, and I welcome uses we lack.
Chris Derby, Chapel Hill 2020 leader, owner of several local UPS stores, one in Ephesus-Fordham, urged us to have courage and reinvest in this commercial zone. Numbers alone cannot foretell human interest. Projections over 20 years are educated guesses.
Ken Pennoyer’s conservative projection of increased revenue is based on current values, averaging three similar recent property sales. Certainly taxes will rise before revenues for a while, because construction does not spring like Hera from the forehead of Zeus. Chapel Hill will get the traffic from revitalization in Chatham, Carrboro, Durham. How can we not benefit from improved roads and new stormwater strategies adding residential density and more goods and services here?
Let’s be careful
In all the discussion and debate about the Ephesus Church/Fordham Boulevard project and form-based zoning, two fundamental questions stand out.
One, who will decide the future direction of Chapel Hill? On the surface, it seems that the Town Council has the responsibility, but there is input from committees, commissions, town staff, town planners, promoters, developers, and resident citizens, who will be impacted the most and the longest.
Two, how will the decision be made, meaning not simply by a majority vote of the Town Council, but on the basis of what vision, understanding, and assumptions the council members have concerning Chapel Hill.
What type of town environment are we creating? Are we looking more and more like Durham? Are we an Amherst, Mass., Chicago, Ill., or a Charlottesville, Va.? What models are we considering? We have a solid history here to build upon, so let Chapel Hill be Chapel Hill, with its unique character. Chapel Hill is a Southern, university town, friendly and open, with many trees and flowers, and walkers and bikers. It is not opposed to growth and change.
Look what has happened here in the past 50 years. Some of the change has been beneficial; some has not worked out well. With growth has come an increase in traffic, and more demands on infrastructure. Water control, with both draughts and floods, has been a real problem, especially flooding in the Ephesus-Fordham area. Growth has to be managed or it may lead to worse problems. Rezoning and development have to be very carefully deliberated for they have serious and long-term effects on the future of a town. Mistakes have been made in the past; let us not repeat them. Density and scale are crucial in the form-based code and small area plan. This definitely applies to the E-F project. We also want to share our town with all persons, not just those who can afford to live here.
Chapel Hill has been changing over the last 50 years, and the rate of change seems to have increased recently. Long-time residents see this change of course better than recent residents. Naturally, older residents have more of a sense of the earlier town, and have developed an appreciation of its history, beauty, scale, and culture. None of us want to lose the better qualities of Chapel Hill. We all want to make Chapel Hill a better place to live, learn, and work, and to promote human values. Let us be careful that our decisions are beneficial for all our residents, and not just to the advantage of the promoters, and developers. Chapel Hill and the university started and grew up together. They are here for the people who love them. Let us nurture, cherish, and protect them for the present and future generations.
Thank you to the kind soul who returned my wallet and to Southern hospitality in general.
Saturday morning I set off from Carrboro at a slow jog to the start of the TarHeel 10 miler. I got to the Bell Tower only to realize that I had dropped my wallet. I retraced my steps at a full sprint but could not locate it. I returned to the race minutes before the start and ran what was a wonderful event.
I was in the process of stopping my credit cards when I discovered that some kind soul had placed the wallet inside my screen door with everything in place. He/she must have found the address on my driver's license and resisted the temptation to take cash. Thank you! I have lived here for only a month and coming from Baltimore, the discovery was a complete shock.
The kindness I experienced that day and from so many others since my arrival has been extraordinary. Southern hospitality North Carolina style truly is fantastic! Thank you’all so very much.