An advisory board review this week will give the public its first look and say about how the town’s character might change in the Ephesus-Fordham commercial district.
The Community Design Commission will consider the 90-foot-tall Village Plaza Apartments and parking deck proposed for a long-vacant movie theater lot at 211 S. Elliott Road. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Town Hall Council Chamber, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
The project is the first under a form-based code (For details, see bit.ly/1BQwVZJ) launched July 1 to streamline and guide redevelopment in the district. It’s expected to generate roughly 1,495 new apartments, 460,000 square feet of retail, 300,000 square feet of hotel space and 150,000 square feet of offices over the next 20 years.
The first projects could set the tone for decades of new buildings, officials said. They will require two permits:
• A form district permit, approved by the town manager if the project meets the code’s requirements
• A certificate of appropriateness from the Community Design Commission
Either decision can be appealed to the town’s Board of Adjustment. The council won’t hold public hearings or decide what gets built in the district, however, its members will consider on Sept. 29 whether to review the first plan.
The 90 percent residential “Village Plaza Apartments” would be 90 feet tall with 266 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 15,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space. An attached parking deck would be accessible from Elliott Road via a new street between the project and Village Plaza shopping center. The developer-built street would run from the former barbecue restaurant to a road behind the Elliott Road shopping centers.
The project doesn’t include any affordable housing, and stormwater requirements will be limited, because the lot is mostly paved.
Developers East West Partners and Trammell Crow Residential submitted an application for the project Sept. 2. Town Manager Roger Stancil has until Oct. 23 to approve or deny the application; the commission has until Nov. 7. For details, see bit.ly/1pJ7uX7.
The Community Design Commission can review this project and others because the state legislature gave the town authority in 1965 to establish special appearance districts, Code Studio consultant Lee Einsweiler said at an August commission workshop.
Einsweiler, who helped write the town’s code, said the first few Ephesus-Fordham projects will be “quite different” from previous developments.
“From my perspective as the outsider, for this area, they’re completely appropriate buildings,” he told commission members. “I think you’re going to have a lot of fun with it, because I think it’ll give you some things to talk about, but it won’t make you feel like your job is misery.”
The first projects will be the most difficult, Einsweiler said, because they will look out of context for several years. The key is considering how those projects complement the streets and community around them, having a helpful attitude and giving clear, concise feedback, he said.
“This is a by-right approval. The best you can do is to recommend to the applicant something more sensible than what they have proposed – more elegant, a better design solution – and hope they take you up on it,” Einsweiler said. “You can only help improve the project.”
The board won’t have any say about how buildings are used, the height or interior design, the amount of recreation and open space, or where parking, structures and other features are located on the property.
If the code doesn’t adequately address an issue, Einsweiler said, the commission should take those concerns to the Town Council. The commission also could help develop a set of design guidelines for gauging future projects.
The board’s public discussion of those proposed buildings and ability to suggest changes to the code could make them better, Einsweiler said.
“You guys are the gatekeepers of the Chapel Hill look and feel of Ephesus-Fordham,” he said. “There is no reason not to think this is a living, breathing thing. Every time, we will be testing it a little bit more.”