Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill gives talks about revised Edge project more time

The Town Council considered several changes Monday to the 54-acre Edge retail, office and residential plan for Eubanks Road, including an unusual, two-step approval process.

The public hearing could continue Feb. 23.

The Edge, as proposed, could add 23-plus, one- to seven-story buildings to the largely wooded site, plus parking and streets. It could be annexed if the council approves a special-use permit. That would require coming to terms on the developer’s request for town help with $3.5 million in road improvements and allowing a few dozen exceptions to town rules.

What’s involved could require more give and take than is typical for a special-use permit, town development manager Gene Poveromo said. That’s why staff and the developer are recommending the council approve a permit now and negotiate major issues later as part of a development agreement.

It’s an interesting idea, council members said, but one that will take more thought. There are way too many loose ends, Councilman Ed Harrison said.

“I’m contemplating the 33 modifications to the regulations,” he said. “Some of them are minor, some are not at all, but what isn’t minor is all these big issues that get assigned to the vaguely described land-use development agreement.”

The project, as currently proposed, could bring 600,000 to 900,000 square feet to Eubanks Road, ranging from 43 percent to 75 percent residential, 15 percent to 44 percent retail and hotel, and 6 percent to 29 percent office.

The amount of residential vs. commercial uses remains a top concern. Town and development officials say the site’s limited access and visibility from Interstate 40 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is making it hard to attract large-scale retailers. Those who already built stores across the county line also aren’t interested, because the town doesn’t have enough people living nearby, they said.

There are no guarantees, said Adam Golden, Northwood Ravin’s vice president of development, but the project could be easier to market if they had a permit in hand and the option to put larger retailers on part of a resource conservation district near Eubanks Road, MLK Boulevard and I-40. An existing stream, which only holds water when it rains, could be piped underground, he said.

The change could increase the commercial space to roughly 270,000 square feet, or about 45 percent of a 600,000-square-foot development, Golden said. At that size, there also could be 78,000 square feet of office space and about 510 housing units.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state Environmental Management Commission also would have to approve that plan.

The developer also hopes to attract shoppers with a 30-foot-tall, landmark sign in the 50-foot MLK Boulevard buffer and more signs on I-40. The council would have to modify local rules to allow those signs.

An I-40 buffer opening might attract thousands of people to the site, Councilman Jim Ward said, but it also creates a need for “signature architecture.”

“If we’re going to open a window into Chapel Hill, it’s got to be a beautiful window,” he said. “It’s got to have a beautiful scene that people can see when they drive by. It cannot be something that’s ordinary.”

Other changes in response to earlier concerns included doubling the public space to 10,000 square feet, moving a pedestrian crossing to a new traffic light planned for Eubanks Road and adding pedestrian crossings and sidewalks to Chapel Hill North.

The developer also offered to build the project to meet national green-energy standards, while preserving a little more of the existing trees.

A plan to pay for 50 affordable apartments with tax credits could be delayed until Raleigh-based DHIC Inc. finishes applying to the same program for the town’s Legion Road affordable housing project. The developer’s plan is to seek tax credits for five years.

They could keep trying for 10 years, Golden said, if the town agrees to pay for half of the required road improvements, including new stoplights; travel lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks on Eubanks Road; and more turn lanes at the Eubanks-MLK Boulevard intersection. If the tax credits still don’t materialize, the town could buy the affordable housing site for $1, he said.

The developer’s plan continues to generate concerns for Northwood Drive residents, who worry in particular that speeding drivers will cut through their quiet neighborhood streets to avoid congestion at the MLK Boulevard intersection.

Northwood Ravin should pay to install speed bumps or other traffic-calming devices on Northwood Drive, resident Richard Miller said. That would help ease some concerns about the project, he said, although lights and noise from the mixed-use neighborhood could prove to be worse.

“The lights from the buildings at the Edge, depending on how tall they are, will shine way into Northwood, way past our house to the other side of Northwood,” he said. “It’s one thing that can be mitigated ... and it’s only fair, I think, that developers be required to bear those costs.”