Chapel Hill News

Obey Creek meetings generate many ideas, questions

The Town Council covered a lot of ground Friday in considering how southern Chapel Hill can benefit from the Obey Creek project and new uses for town land across U.S. 15-501.

The council broke from development agreement negotiations with East West Partners to spend two days with Victor Dover and consultants from Dover Kohl and Partners. The town is considering retail, offices, housing and other uses for the 8.4-acre Southern Village park-and-ride lot.

The consensus last week was a place where people can live, work and play – but still be connected other parts of Chapel Hill and the Triangle – without the responsibilities of owning a car. It should complement both Southern Village and the future Obey Creek, people said.

The town doesn’t need to be in a hurry to develop the site, Dover said. Maybe build the connections now and the buildings later, he said.

Residents have urged the council to take time, as well, to consider all the facts about the site and surrounding area and get the best possible deal. They question Obey Creek’s size and its potential effects on the community, including traffic, the environment, schools and town finances.

The 1.6 million-square-foot retail, office, hotel and residential project is proposed for 35 acres with two- to eight-story buildings. Roughly 85 acres east of Wilson Creek, behind the project, could become public conservation land.

The development agreement, if approved, would set the pace and expectations for two decades or more of construction. Town staff is planning a joint session in April for the town’s advisory boards to review the draft agreement. The council isn’t expected to vote before June.

The ideas that consultants collected last week will help revise concept plans for the parking lot, including small and anchor retail stores, offices and affordable apartments to indoor recreation facilities, a grocery store and public plazas. The consultant is expected to report back by March.

U.S. 15-501 South is not a rural highway anymore, Dover said, but it can be a “grand street.”

Concept drawings show a tree-lined avenue with a pedestrian bridge across the highway. A 12-foot-wide bike and pedestrian bridge seems appropriate and won’t cost much more than a narrower one, developer Roger Perry said.

The projects together could create a “lush and rich” landscape, Dover said. The town’s land is flatter and open, more suited for public greens and plazas, he said, while Obey Creek proposes a larger, green plaza and public conservation land.

Preliminary sketches show a four-way intersection at Sumac Road, just south of the parking lot. Dover urged the town and East West Partners to push the N.C. Department of Transportation for a stoplight there and also seek a multi-lane roundabout at Dogwood Acres Drive.

Chapel Hill Transit’s future north-south rapid-transit bus could use the roundabout to reverse direction without leaving the highway, he said.

The developer has worked with town and NCDOT staff to plan other road improvements, including pedestrian crossings and bike lanes.

Perry said he likes the concept plan Southern Village developer D.R. Bryan helped draft for the meetings. It arranges buildings to create a strong line of sight from the planned green at Obey Creek, past the church to the Southern Village green. The town should think about using its land for significant public and civic space, Perry said.

Affordable housing also is possible on both sites. A council subcommittee – members Jim Ward, Sally Greene and George Cianciolo – is weighing the options, from payments toward affordable housing programs to partnerships and building a mix of senior living and lower-priced options.

The council also expressed interest in “unbundled” parking, which charges tenants less rent who don’t need a parking space.

The Arc of the Triangle and CASA are interested in Obey Creek. Arc opened its first independent living apartment building in Meadowmont last year on land that Perry donated. Its clients, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, would benefit from being near jobs, transit, recreation and a diverse community just outside their apartments at Obey Creek, he said.

East West Partners and the council will return to the negotiating table Feb. 12.