Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill Town Council approves Obey Creek’s 1.6M square feet of retail, offices and homes

Ed Harrison
Ed Harrison Submitted

The Town Council, in a 7-1 vote, approved a development agreement Monday for a 1.6 million-square-foot retail, residential and office project across the highway from Southern Village.

After hearing once more from residents, many opposed to the Obey Creek project – and discussing whether the vote should be delayed a week or two for a review of last-minute changes – the council chose to make the deal effective July 1.

The delay will give town staff and the council time to make minor adjustments to the agreement.

Councilman Ed Harrison voted against the Obey Creek development agreement, saying he is not ready for multiple reasons.

“I think this does look like a well-designed development,” Harrison said, while noting his uncertainty about the transportation details and desire to see both the final agreement and a “more robust analysis and discussion of different options for sizes.”

“I think the third reason is ... even if I don’t agree with every point they made, someone here needs to represent the folks who had concerns about this that were not alleviated,” he said. “If it has to be me, I’m willing to do that.”

The council also voted unanimously to create a new development agreement zoning, apply that zoning to roughly 44 acres denoted for development and swap a half-acre of town-owned land at the site for the 85-acre Wilson Creek Preserve. Obey Creek officials will maintain the new, town-owned preserve.

The decisions wrapped up six years of talks and eight months of negotiations with developer East West Partners. The project would meet minimum requirements for commercial, residential and office space over the next 20 years but also provides the developer flexibility to meet market changes.

Obey Creek eventually could add up to 800 apartments and townhomes – about 300 for adults 55 and up – plus 475,000 square feet of retail space, 600,000 square feet of offices and 400 hotel rooms in 10 buildings. Buildings along U.S. 15-501 could reach up to 70 feet tall.

The heights, as buildings move down the hill from the highway, could rise as much as 155 feet tall, according to Mary Jane Nirdlinger, the town’s executive director of planning and sustainability.

At least 35 percent of the square footage would become retail, offices and a hotel as the project reaches 600,000 square feet, the agreement states; at least 40 percent at 1.4 million total square feet, and 45 percent by 1.5 million square feet.

The maximum retail space, as proposed, would be 1.4 times the 350,000-square-foot space at University Place (formerly University Mall). The maximum office space would be nearly twice as large as the mall, while the amount of residential space would be 3.5 times as large.

The decision also reverses a 23-year-old community expectation that land east of U.S. 15-501 would be developed with low-density homes and neighborhood businesses. More than 120 acres will be annexed into the town.

Supporters said Obey Creek could bring the town more retail options, tax dollars, affordable housing and other public benefits. Others worry it will clog U.S. 15-501 and smaller neighborhood streets with more traffic, while costing the town more in services than it generates in tax dollars.

Members of CHALT – the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town – issued a statement following the council’s vote Monday. The group’s members have argued in favor of delaying the agreement to consider a smaller-size development with fewer apartments.

Town financial reports released in the last few weeks showed dropping the apartments would produce similar revenues for the town but halve the amount of traffic that Obey Creek could produce.

CHALT members, in the statement, said the development agreement is at odds with the town’s comprehensive plan, an Obey Creek Compass Committee’s report, recommendations from the town’s Planning Commission and the wishes of 600 people who signed a recent petition.

“Alternative development scenarios would have produced as much or more public benefit with fewer adverse impacts,” the statement read. “We look forward to electing new leadership that is more responsive to the town citizens and more responsible in its actions.”

Four council seats will be up for grabs in the Nov. 3 election, including the seat vacated when Matt Czajkowski resigned earlier this year. Council members Donna Bell and Lee Storrow have announced they will seek re-election. Councilman Jim Ward has not made his plans official.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt also will face re-election in November.

The filing period for the 2015 municipal and Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board campaigns opens at 8 a.m. July 6.

Project stats

Name: Obey Creek

Location: U.S. 15-501 South, across from Southern Village

Developer: East West Partners

Property owners: Obey Creek Ventures LLC, Mueller Partnership, town of Chapel Hill

Acres: 35 developed, 8 in stream buffer and 85 in public preserve

Square footage: up to 1.6 million

Height: 10 buildings, ranging from four to eight stories

Current zoning: Low-density residential, neighborhood commercial

New zoning: 43 acres under development agreement-1

Residential: Up to 800 apartments and townhomes

Affordable housing: Up to 38 for-sale and rental homes

Commercial: Up to 400 hotel rooms, 600,000 square feet of office space, and 475,000 square feet of retail

Parking: Roughly 2,800 spaces