Ram Realty Services officials have offered an early look at plans for up to 300 apartments and a new commercial building at Village Plaza South and around the corner on Fordham Boulevard.
The Town Council does not review or vote on Ephesus-Fordham district projects, which are now governed by a form-based code of building, streetscape and other requirements. The developer, after submitting a formal application, will need approval from the Community Design Commission and the town manager.
Project officals told the commission last week they intend to file an application before the council considers walkability and public-space code changes this spring.
Ram Realty Services bought the 68,000-square-foot Village Plaza South shopping center, on Elliot Road across from Burger King, in July. They want to revamp the brand to avoid confusion with Village Plaza and Whole Foods, said Ashley Saulpaugh, director of investments.
The three-phase project would start with an exterior renovation, demolishing the ABC store and improving traffic in the parking lot and with a new exit beside the Alexan apartments on South Elliott Road. Those plans could be submitted in the next 60 days.
“It’s tired; it needs some renovations. That’s the easiest and most obvious, and that’s the first we’re going to tackle,” Saulpaugh said.
The second phase would add a two-story, 11,000-square-foot building and on-street parking near the Alexan, he said. Tenants could include a restaurant with a rooftop patio.
The third phase would replace the Days Inn off Fordham Boulevard and adjacent, undeveloped land with 250 to 300 apartments and a parking deck.
The plan shows a five- to six-story building on about four acres between the Elliott-Fordham intersection and the Eastgate Crossing shopping centers. The building’s facade would be broken up by a central motor court and pedestrian pass-through, and wrap around a roughly 345-space parking deck.
The proposed apartment building looks “very massive,” commission member Duncan Lascelles said, and it’s hard to know how the planned breaks will work. Member Lucy Davis, referring to the shopping center, recalled people saying when the Alexan was proposed that surrounding redevelopment would be taller.
“And now we see that this shopping center is being redeveloped in the same manner that it already is – a one-story shopping center – so that’s very disappointing. I would rather see something that was more significant there, because it’s such a prominent site,” she said.
There are 18 tenants with different lease terms, Saulpaugh said, so the short-term possibilities are limited.
Commission members also asked about better pedestrian paths between the apartment site, Village Plaza South and the Booker Creek Greenway behind the shopping center. Town staff have asked about an easement north of the project for a future pedestrian bridge, Ram development director David Klepser said, but bridging the creek to the shopping center could be complicated.
Commission member Laura Moore suggested closing the service road in front of Days Inn could provide more green space and a connection to South Elliott Road.
The plan includes sidewalks and bike paths, plus two more courtyards behind the building, one featuring a pool and the other a view of the creek, Klepser said.
The creek is the main floodway through the Ephesus-Fordham district, and the project site is in the floodplain. Any buildings would have to meet local flood-damage prevention rules, Federal Emergency Managment Agency rules and the Jordan 50-foot stream buffer rules, Town Manager Roger Stancil said.
The town’s planning and stormwater staff are studying a draft Lower Booker Creek Subwatershed Study that recommends building a flood storage area in the creek corridor between Village Plaza South and Eastgate. The Town Council could review that draft study Jan. 9.
Klepser said they plan to use fill dirt to raise the ground level. The project will lose about an acre of land to the stream buffers and an additional amount to the plan to widen South Elliott Road, he said. The developer also would have to treat stormwater on the site and at least maintain the current runoff volume.
Chapel Hill resident Kristie Mather shared with the commission a letter from eight citizens concerned about the potential effect on district flooding and the environment. The town should consider state and federal environmental rules and the subwatershed study’s findings before considering an application, she said.
“It would seem very important for the CDC and town manager to know about these possible conflicts before a permit is issued,” Mather said. “Knowing whether these regulations apply would save needless time and expense.”
Commission member Chris Berndt asked town staff to bring back flood-zone information. The plan could get another courtesy review before being submitted.
“A lot of water comes through this site, and it’s daunting to think of a lot of apartments in a flood zone. That really does concern me. I think they’ve highlighted an important issue for your project,” Berndt said. “I think it would be necessary to know the answer to what the regulations are before we look at it again.”