Chapel Hill News

With official OK, what comes next at Obey Creek?

An artist’s rendering shows the Obey Creek project from the perspective of someone standing on the southeastern corner of Highland Park and looking south down a new Main Street.
An artist’s rendering shows the Obey Creek project from the perspective of someone standing on the southeastern corner of Highland Park and looking south down a new Main Street. Contributed

It could be at least three years before shoppers and tenants move in to Obey Creek, across the highway from Southern Village.

The town’s 20-year development agreement with Obey Creek Ventures LLC could bring 10 buildings – four to six and eight stories tall – to the sloped site east of U.S. 15-501. The building area is roughly 35 acres, with 85 more acres deeded to the town for Wilson Creek Preserve.

The height of the stories and buildings overall will depend on where they are and what’s inside. Buildings could rise 70 feet near the highway, 155 feet farther away.

The agreement lets them court retailers and billion-dollar investors, said Ben Perry, with developer East West Partners. The final site plans depend on the anchor tenants’ needs, he said, but if all goes as planned, crews could break ground in about 18 months.

“We have to take a big bite of the apple to get it off the ground,” Perry said.

Road work ahead

While larger than usual for Chapel Hill, Obey Creek’s roughly 16,000 estimated daily trips make it a moderately size project for the N.C. Department of Transportation, district engineer Chuck Edwards said. Mebane’s Tanger Outlet, for comparison, was forecast at about 30,000 daily trips, he said.

The DOT’s preliminary recommendation adds new turn lanes and four-way traffic lights at the U.S. 15-501 intersection with Sumac and Market streets. DOT officials also suggested adding three new right-in and right-out driveways at Obey Creek and changes in the highway striping north of the project.

DOT officials will review the final engineering plans before permitting driveway connections, Edwards said. The developers could have to do another traffic study and make more improvements if they exceed expectations.

The developer also is paying the town $250,000 to extend an N.C. 54 off-ramp, restripe U.S. 15-501 north of Mt. Carmel Church Road, add pedestrian, bike and bus amenities, and help Dogwood Acres Drive neighbors study and install traffic-calming features, such as speed humps.

Community benefits

Obey Creek provides some community benefits in return for a more dense neighborhood. The biggest, Perry said, is the 85-acre Wilson Creek Preserve, east of Wilson Creek. It will belong to the town and include a restored quarry and 8,000 feet of walking and biking trails.

Green spaces also include the 1.3-acre Highland Park, visible from U.S. 15-501, and the half-acre Overlook Park, at the preserve’s entrance. Other courtyards and recreation areas may be provided.

The community also can expect about 38 for-sale townhomes and for-rent apartments to meet the town’s affordable-housing rules, and a pedestrian bridge linking Obey Creek to Southern Village. Architectural accents, including rounded building corners and tall spires, will add local character and help pedestrians find their way.

About half of the affordable apartments will be set aside for tenants who receive federal housing vouchers; the other half will be for those earning 60 percent to 80 percent of the area median income, or roughly $28,000 to $38,000 a year for a single person.

Getting permission

The development agreement and design guidelines prescribe Obey Creek’s growth, including the design of buildings, parks and other amenities, but it is the first of several hurdles to construction.

Town staff will ensure the final site plans comply with the development agreement, but the project also needs construction, engineering, occupancy and state driveway connection permits, among others. The town’s Community Design Commission will review building materials and placement.

Project updates will be posted to the town’s Development Activity Report at nando.com/1d-.

Staying informed

The council will get an annual report about Obey Creek’s progress every year, including changes in traffic, public improvements and the work schedule.

Staff updates will address other work, including plans for more bike and pedestrian links between neighborhoods and a proposed redevelopment of the town’s nearby park-and-ride lot.

Future Obey Creek traffic data will be used to improve traffic management around town and inform DOT talks about easing regional traffic effects.

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