Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill leaders question CVS driveway, town policy

The Town Council criticized CVS plans for a new driveway at Ram’s Plaza this week and suggested having an advisory board review all building facades in the Ephesus-Fordham district.

The council, in approving a form-based code to guide development last year, planned to review the first two district projects in the district. The first project, Village Plaza apartments on Elliott Road, was approved in January. The CVS and another retail building for Ram’s Plaza were submitted shortly after.

The town’s Community Design Commission reviews the appearance of projects in the form-based code redevelopment district but can only comment on building facades that face a street. CDC-approved projects in the district receive a certificate of appropriateness, one of two permits required to build. The town manager approves the other.

The code does not apply to other areas of town, where the council still makes development decisions.

CDC members and now the council want to know why the commission’s review is limited to street-side views, when other building facades can be visible to the public. Shoppers in Ram’s Plaza, based on the CVS site plan, would see a long rear wall broken only by a drive-through window.

The commission raised similar issues in October while reviewing three sides of the Village Plaza apartment building. The fourth side was not reviewed because it faces existing stores. The council could consider changes to the form-based code in April.

“To me, as we look to change some things around Ephesus-Fordham, that seems really like bad planning to have half the building facade be something that our advisory boards and ourselves cannot comment on,” Councilman Jim Ward said. “I don’t think that’s the way we want to do business.”

March deadline

CVS wants to build a 13,013-square-foot store at the corner of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard. It would be the first redevelopment of Ram’s Plaza since 1991, town planner Eric Feld said, and has a tentative decision deadline of March 12.

The store would have a drive-through pharmacy window, 64 parking spaces – a loss of 34 existing spaces – and six bike spaces. The developer also will provide a bicycle repair station, Feld said. A basic repair station typically includes a bike stand, air pump and several tools.

CVS will build sidewalks along Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard and could pay the town $24,228 instead of adding more amenity space.

An existing driveway that connects Ephesus Church Road with Ram’s Plaza would become right-in, right-out. Eliminating left turns at the driveway and adding a median on Ephesus Church Road could help reduce congestion and the potential for accidents, town staff have said.

Council members questioned, however, the wisdom of having several parking spaces perpendicular to the driveway. Drivers will have a tough time getting out if traffic backs up, they said.

The N.C. Department of Transportation will weigh in soon, town engineer Mike Taylor said, and changes are possible.