The town’s Community Design Commission asked a developer Tuesday to return in October with a more pedestrian-friendly project on South Elliott Road.
East West Partners, working with Trammell Crow Residential and Scott Murray Land Planning, is the first developer to submit a form-based code project in the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment district. The code is a planning tool meant to streamline and guide new development in the district.
The Village Plaza Apartments project would cover most of a long-vacant, three-acre lot at 211 S. Elliott Road with 266 apartments, 15,600 square feet of retail space and an attached parking deck. The project offers residents a pool and private courtyard; public space is limited to the sidewalks.
The project is expected to set the tone for future redevelopment projects in the district.
The commissioners, after initially stumbling over the code’s constraints, offered several suggestions for making the project better. The code sets the requirements for building height, uses, parking, landscaping, stormwater and other details that normally generate concerns.
The commission can ask questions and offer advice related to how the project looks from public streets and sidewalks; the developer doesn’t have to change the plan. The commission can ask the Town Council, however, for changes to the form-based code if unforeseen issues arise.
“We’re all kind of confused about what we can and can’t comment on,” commissioner John Gualtieri said. “Normally, we would just say it’s too big and then you guys would come back later. This is clearly not something we’re used to dealing with, being so limited.”
The developer was asked to return Oct. 28 with building material samples and more exterior design ideas, particularly for the project’s back side. The town’s form-based code gives the commission 60 days after an application is filed – until Nov. 7 – to decide the certificate of appropriateness.
East West development director Lee Perry said the parking deck, the current condition of a road between the site and Bolin Creek and the retail space were important considerations in the plan.
“It was important to us to incorporate as much retail as we could in the project; at the same time, make it functional and viable with the surroundings and what’s going on around there,” Perry said.
Town staff also is reviewing the project, and town manager Roger Stancil will approve or deny a separate permit for it based on whether the project meets a checklist of requirements outlined in the code. That decision must be made within 45 days of the application being accepted, or Oct. 23.
The Town Council could talk about whether to review the project Monday, Sept. 29, but won’t make any decisions.
The commission’s primary concerns were creating an appealing architectural style and a more direct pedestrian route to shopping centers on both sides of the project. Commissioners asked to see more functional awnings, green space and clearly defined entrances.
The building’s high walls and lack of pedestrian cover is not very friendly, commissioner Lucy Davis said.
“If I had to park in that deck and walk all the way around to one of those retail areas in the hot sun or the rain, I wouldn’t do it,” she said.
The project also downplays the potential for the Bolin Creek Greenway to become a future public amenity, said commissioner Chris Berndt, former chair of the town’s Greenways Commission. A leg of the greenway follows the creek, between the building and Eastgate shopping center.
Berndt advised breaking up the view with small courtyards, while commissioner Susana Dancy suggested stoops for the ground-floor apartments.