Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill residents consider what they want in planned light-rail stations

An example of what could be possible with development around some of the planned Durham-Orange light-rail stations.
An example of what could be possible with development around some of the planned Durham-Orange light-rail stations. Contributed

Development around planned light-rail stations should make it easy for everyone to get from home to work, shopping or entertainment without a car, residents said Wednesday at an inaugural planning workshop.

Others suggested making it safer to cross highways and rail tracks with greenways and pedestrian bridges. A few also expressed lingering concerns that only those who can afford to live near the 17.7-mile route between UNC Hospitals and N.C. Central University will see its benefits.

Consultants also met with neighborhood representatives earlier Wednesday to get a better understanding of local issues.

The comments and questions from the Glen Lennox, Abernathy Place, Downing Creek and Sherwood Forest representatives were similar to written comments they got Wednesday night, Gateway Planning consultant Brad Lonberger said.

Residents were curious about the potential effects on flood-prone areas and how buses would link all of Orange County to the stations, he said. They asked to see more retail options, music venues and local restaurants, as well as ideas about affordable housing and bike and pedestrian connections.

“They’ve been making a lot of their own personal trails, in essence, between some of the neighborhoods, so trying to get those to be more official would be one approach to making sure that these folks have a safe route to walk their dogs or connect to stations themselves,” Lonberger said.

The conversation will continue at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, and at noon Saturday, Feb. 25, in The Franklin Hotel ballroom, 311 W. Franklin St. It wraps up with an open house and Town Council review Monday, Feb. 27.

While the Orange and Durham counties’ boards of commissioners have the final say about the light-rail transit project, the council would decide on projects proposed for the stations within Chapel Hill. Durham’s City Council would approve projects at a dozen rail stations within its jurisdiction.

The Chapel Hill-Durham route “is going to be one connected market, with one connected corridor, with a string of opportunities,” Gateway Planning founder Scott Polikov said.

“People who want to self-select and live a transit life ... the different stations are part of their life, so they go to different stations for different parts of their lives. These stations are not competitive; they’re complementary,” Polikov said.

Southern Village resident Heather Brutz was among a number of younger adults in the room. She and her husband share a car or rely on walking and the bus. Their generation is more comfortable with dense housing, she said, but they’ve struggled to find what meets their needs.

“It’s really hard to find housing that is transit accessible to the point where you really don’t need a car, where you can go and get to the grocery store and everything you need. So I just want to say I think that we really do need more transit in Chapel Hill of all sorts, buses and light rail,” Brutz said.

Station-oriented neighborhoods also should welcome diverse groups of people, said Dianne Pledger, who lives in Chapel Hill.

“I want to make sure as we talk about developing that we are looking at opportunities for entrepreneurs, for the diversity in the development,” Pledger said. “We’re talking about real affordable housing, because affordable housing in Chapel Hill is not affordable housing in Durham. Opportunities for older adults, and also looking at how people in north Chapel Hill, north Orange County or out (N.C.) 54, how they’re going to benefit from this, because ... we need some jobs in our community.”

Polikov noted that the area – with or without light rail – will keep attracting jobs and people, and face affordability challenges. Transit can’t serve everyone, he said, but it can serve those who live nearby and generate revenues to invest in more affordable housing.

The team’s affordable housing experts will use public feedback to develop some ideas, Lonberger said.

“We feel that through this process, we’re going to be exploring what are those affordable housing issues,” he said. “What is affordable housing for Chapel Hill and Durham, and how to we appropriately and legally figure out a way to bring that kind of development into the station areas.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

What’s next

The public can review and comment on workshop results at a 6 p.m. community open house Monday, Feb. 27, in the Chapel Hill Town Hall lobby, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The Town Council will get a report at its 7 p.m. meeting in the Council Chamber.

Get light-rail station updates or post comments online at gotriangle.org/neighborhoods.

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