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Chapel Hill’s latest Blue Hill District plan replaces apartments, includes new roads

The Park apartments, built in 1966 on Ephesus Church Road, are slated for redevelopment next year. A preliminary plan calls for replacing 16 affordable apartment buildings with market-rate apartments in four three- and five-story buildings. One building would wrap around a six-story parking deck.
The Park apartments, built in 1966 on Ephesus Church Road, are slated for redevelopment next year. A preliminary plan calls for replacing 16 affordable apartment buildings with market-rate apartments in four three- and five-story buildings. One building would wrap around a six-story parking deck. tgrubb@heraldsun.com

A plan to replace the 52-year-old Park at Chapel Hill apartments on Ephesus Road could move forward next year with taller buildings and a six-story parking deck

Bluerock Real Estate, which bought and renovated the 13-acre complex in 2011, wants to replace 16 two-story, brick buildings with four taller buildings, the parking deck, and a new pool and cabana. The complex is on the edge of the town’s Blue Hill District.

Projects in the former Ephesus-Fordham district do not need Town Council approval if they meet a form-based development code.

The Community Design Commission reviewed a concept plan Dec. 19, suggesting how the buildings could be more attractive, and how landscaping and open spaces could better serve residents and neighbors. An official plan will come back to the commission for public hearings and approval by the commission and town manager.

The Park’s last leases expire June 30, Woodfield Development partner Scott Underwood said. Construction could begin soon after, at the same time as the town proceeds with a extension of South Elliott Road. The extension will cross Fordham Boulevard and link to a planned roundabout at Ephesus Church Road and a realigned driveway at Kings Arms Apartments.

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Two new roads and a second roundabout, part of the project’s first phase, will connect to surrounding land.

The developer is making a $3 million right-of-way donation to the new Elliott Road Extension. The road design is nearly 70 percent complete, staff said.

The Park would be bisected by the new road and be redeveloped in two phases. The first would add a five-story, 298-unit building and a 495-space parking deck west of Elliott Road Extension. The second phase would add three three-story buildings, with 102 apartments and 186-space parking lot, east of the road.

The upper-floor apartments could have balconies, Housing Studio architect Gray Stout said, with front porches on the ground floor. The plan also uses the natural slope from the street to Booker Creek to tuck a fitness club and other amenities under the five-story building.

A recent change requiring new district buildings to have at least 10 percent commercial space does not apply to The Park property, because it is zoned residential.

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The Park’s 198 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments now start at $650 a month, making them some of the most affordable in a town where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is nearing $1,000 a month.

The new complex won’t have affordable apartments, but the developer will pay $1.5 million into the town’s affordable housing fund.

The money could subsidize about 60 affordable-housing units, based on previous developer payments, said Loryn Clark, the town’s director of housing and community. A consultant’s 2016 affordable housing analysis had a different take, showing the town would need about $147,000 per housing unit to add lower-income rental housing in the district.

The town’s goal is 300 more affordable apartments for the Blue Hill District, but since 2014, only 149 affordable senior and family apartments have been added, and only because of a town partnership with Raleigh-based nonprofit DHIC Inc. No other projects have been proposed, and the district rules don’t require developers to provide affordable housing.

Bluerock officials are still considering whether to price 155 new apartments at a rate that is affordable to families earning 80 percent to 120 percent of the area median income, or between $64,480 and $96,720 a year for a family of four.

Town staff expects to bring more details about the affordable housing plan and ways to generate more inexpensive rentals, such as density bonuses, zoning and policy changes, subsidies and partnerships, to the council in early 2019.

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Underwood said Bluerock has not yet committed to providing an affordable housing mix.

“As we build these projects, they’re very costly, and as I’ve mentioned, over time the costs go up,” Underwood said. “We looked at it and looked at what we think our budget can withstand, and we came to the number of $1.5 million and felt that was a very generous offer and met the needs of what the town was trying to accomplish with housing affordability.”

A meeting with town staff in January could determine how the project advances, officials said. A town hall with residents also will be scheduled early next year, they said.

Elliott Road Extension

The town’s planned extension of South Elliott Road, from Fordham Boulevard to Ephesus Church Road, could cost about $4.23 million. The Park developer Bluerock has offered to pay a small part of the cost. The N.C. Department of Transportation will pay about $1.6 million, with the town financing the rest, officials said.

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The extension will be part of a larger transportation network aimed at making it easier for people to get around with or without cars. It also could reduce the number of cars using the Ephesus Church Road intersection with Fordham Boulevard.

The Ephesus-Fordham intersection was redesigned during the first phase of district road construction in 2016.

A Kimley-Horne consultant estimated earlier this year that about 7,800 cars could use the Elliott Road Extension each day.

Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.
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