New apartments, a road and a roundabout are coming to this Chapel Hill neighborhood

The Park at Chapel Hill Apartments will be redeveloped in 2019

The Park at Chapel Hill Apartments on Ephesus Church Road is in Chapel Hill's Blue Hill District. Renovation plans are forcing hundreds of residents to move from The Park, home to some of town's few remaining affordable units.
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The Park at Chapel Hill Apartments on Ephesus Church Road is in Chapel Hill's Blue Hill District. Renovation plans are forcing hundreds of residents to move from The Park, home to some of town's few remaining affordable units.

A couple of hundred affordable but aging apartments will be demolished this summer to make way for over 420 luxury apartments and new roads near Eastgate Crossing shopping center in the town’s Blue Hill District.

The Park at Chapel Hill Apartments project and the Elliott Road Extension that will bisect the property — from Fordham Boulevard to a new Ephesus Church Road roundabout — will be built simultaneously.

The developer is donating $3 million in land for the new road. A consultant has estimated about 7,800 cars could use the road each day.

The town’s Community Design Commission gave Bluerock Real Estate the first of two required approvals April 23. Town Manager Maurice Jones will make the final decision to grant the project a form-based code permit.

The Town Council does not review or vote on projects in the Blue Hill District, where the form-based code regulates how buildings and other amenities should be built. The district rules only apply to the land between East Franklin Street and Fordham Boulevard, and South Elliott Road and Legion and Ephesus Church roads.

However, in this case the council did negotiate an agreement for the new road and a $1.5 million payment to the town’s affordable housing fund. The Park project will not provide affordable housing at its 1250 Ephesus Church Road site, eliminating one of the town’s most affordable apartment complexes.

Families already are moving out of the brick, two-story Park Apartments, and the last leases will run out in June. Just over half of the 190 households have found new apartments in or around Chapel Hill, said Sarah Vinas, the town’s assistant director of housing and community.

Park Apts entrance.jpg
An artist’s close-up view of one of the planned building entrances at the new Park at Chapel Hill Apartments planned for Ephesus Church Road. Bluerock Real Estate/Housing Studio Contributed

Many of those who remain earn lower incomes, making it difficult for them to afford housing, she said. The Park apartments, built in 1966, start at $650 a month — a few hundred dollars less than the town’s average rent for a one-bedroom apartment.

Although Bluerock is giving each household $500 toward moving expenses and returning all security deposits, Vinas said the residents are getting the money a few weeks after they move out. That doesn’t help those who are just getting by and don’t have extra money for security deposits and utility connection fees, she said.

The town hopes a new Housing Displacement Assistance Program can help, Vinas said. It’s modeled on the town’s existing rental deposit and utility assistance program and funded with $64,000 from the affordable housing fund.

The program offers one-time security deposit and utility connection fee assistance, ranging from $1,480 to $2,050, depending on the number of bedrooms, for housing in Chapel Hill’s town limits. Eligible residents can earn up to 80% of the area median income — $47,500 for an individual or $67,850 for a family of four.

The nonprofit Community Empowerment Fund is providing one-on-one relocation help, Vinas said.

“We hope that other residents in the future will not be in the same position that The Park residents are, but we’re putting the program in place so that if this happens again future residents would be eligible, [whether] it’s mobile home park residents or other low-income residents that may be facing displacement,” Vinas said.

Park Apts art wall on Ephesus Church.jpg
Developer Bluerock Real Estate plans to use with art and landscaping to soften and enliven retaining walls along more steep portions of The Park site, such as this wall along Ephesus Church Road. The town’s Public Arts office and advisory board will weigh in on some of the art. Bluerock Real Estate/Housing Studio Contributed

Similar programs have been done in other parts of the country, Vinas said, particularly in larger cities. County-based social services programs also offer some type of rental and utility assistance, but not necessarily for residents displaced by development, she said.

Vinas was not aware of any programs in surrounding counties similar to what Chapel Hill is launching.

The Park plan

Bluerock bought the 13-acre Park complex in 2011 but delayed redevelopment plans until the town created the Blue Hill District in 2014.

The first phase of the project — north of Elliott Road Extension — will wrap a five- to six-story, 312-unit building around a 464-space parking deck.

The second phase — south of the road — will add three three-story buildings, with 106 apartments and 188 parking spaces. A road connection to nearby Frances Street is possible.

Other amenities include a car wash building, pool, cabana, clubhouse, outdoor spaces and a greenway connection. Art and decorative planters will soften retaining walls in steeper areas and add visual interest.

The Park project, because the land is zoned residential, is exempted from a change to the Blue Hill District code last year that requires every project to include at least 10 percent commercial space. The council made the change to try to get more shops and offices in the district, which has largely attracted luxury apartment buildings.

Housing help

The town of Chapel Hill is working with Community Empowerment Fund to help residents of The Park apartments find other housing. The town also has financial assistance available to help families pay rental security deposits and utility connection fees.

To get housing help or let someone know about available rental housing, contact the Community Empowerment Fund at 919-200-0233 (English), 919-213-0233 (Spanish), or email ch@communityef.org, or contact Sarah Vinas, assistant director of Chapel Hill’s Housing and Community office at 919-969-5079 or svinas@townofchapelhill.org.

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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.