Through hours of public comment, hundreds of e-mails to the Chapel Hill Town Council, and letters to the editor published in this newspaper and elsewhere, opponents of the proposed Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan have criticized the proposal with a familiar litany of complaints. The complaints are so familiar because they are the same arguments that the same group of residents raises against every development proposal the Town Council hears. Unfortunately, the discussion about Ephesus-Fordham has been no different.
Opponents’ arguments stem either from misunderstandings of the proposal and the economic challenges Chapel Hill faces or from deliberate misrepresentations of facts and data. The truth is that Chapel Hill needs the Ephesus-Fordham plan to increase our town’s commercial tax base, to address our towns serious housing affordability crisis, to fix one of the most poorly designed traffic patterns in town, and to bring the area up to modern stormwater management standards.
Opponents assert the plan will not generate new tax revenue for the town. However, using the most conservative estimates, the economic analysis shows that, in the worst-case scenario, the redevelopment will pay for itself. Using more realistic numbers, the analysis indicates the redevelopment will generate $2.25 million annually in much-needed new tax revenue to diversify our tax base and reduce our reliance on residential property taxes.
The Ephesus-Fordham proposal will do more for affordable housing in Chapel Hill than any proposal in years. Opponents assert that applying form-based code to the Park Apartments will harm affordable housing, but this statement simply is not true. The Park Apartments have already presented two redevelopment plans to the Town Council. These apartments will not remain affordable, regardless of whether the Ephesus-Fordham plan is implemented. That’s why it is so important for the Town Council to implement the Ephesus-Fordham proposal, which will add more units to our town’s woefully inadequate housing supply, including 144 affordable units managed by DHIC, Inc. The creation of these units will be a big win for affordable housing in Chapel Hill, a win that will not be realized unless the Ephesus-Fordham plan is adopted.
Another big win in the Ephesus-Fordham plan is the major roadway improvements proposed for the area. The addition of new roads will provide significantly improved connectivity for the area. The extension of Elliott Road to Ephesus Church Road across Fordham Boulevard, and of Legion Road to Fordham Boulevard, along with the realignment of Ephesus Church Road to Elliott Road Extension, will dramatically improve traffic flow and reduce congestion. In claiming that traffic will worsen under the proposal, the plans opponents ignore the facts and pretend that the proposed improvements are not included in the plan.
Opponents of the plan are also fond of saying that redevelopment at Ephesus-Fordham will not address the area’s stormwater problems and will increase flooding. Yet, redevelopment would require developers to bring the area up to the town’s modern and strong stormwater standards. In fact, the town’s stormwater master plan, currently pending before the Town Council, mandates higher standards for the Ephesus-Fordham area to address the water-quality issues the area faces.
On every metric, the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment proposal is a major step forward for a better Chapel Hill. Preserving an ugly, suburban-style strip mall will set our community back by pricing out more individuals who want to live in our town, as well as continuing the towns dangerous and unsustainable overreliance on residential property taxes for revenue. Chapel Hill needs the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan, and after years of public input, it’s time for the Town Council to adopt the plan and move our community forward.
This commentary was written by Travis Crayton, Molly De Marco and Erin Crouse, who live in Chapel Hill.