Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill resident balks at land sale for downtown parking deck

Town officials will meet Monday with a West Franklin Street landowner whose property is central to the proposed redevelopment of a downtown parking lot.

Real estate investor P.H. Craig said he’s not interested in selling his land, which makes up most of the land needed for a parking deck to support the mixed-use project presented to the Town Council last month.

Two other affected landowners – James Pendergraft and The Dilweg Companies, which owns The Courtyard – weren’t invited to Monday’s meeting, said Dwight Bassett, the town’s economic development officer.

Craig sent an email Friday afternoon, after the paper’s deadline, to say Mayor Pam Hemminger told him to invite “whoever I wished.”

Legacy Real Property Group, based in Chapel Hill, submitted a proposal for the town’s half-acre parking lot at 415 W. Franklin St. – between 411 West restaurant and Carolina Ale House – in response to a council request last year.

The council first heard about the proposal April 27 and authorized town staff to draft financial and development plans for review in June.

The proposal would replace the 150-space parking lot with a six-story, 95,000-square-foot building, with ground-floor retail and an unspecified entertainment venue.

Upper floors would include office space and 39 apartments, including 15 lower-cost units. More apartments could be included in a four-story, 450-space parking deck to the west, behind The Courtyard mixed-use complex. Drivers would get in and out of the deck via South Robeson Street.

The developer would finance and build the parking deck before selling or leasing it back to the town.

Craig attended the April 27 meeting but did not comment. He briefly heard about the plan in December, he said this week, and he and Joe Riddle had talked about a parking deck farther east, on lots that both he and Riddle own behind the Carolina Ale House. He didn’t see the final plan, which moved the parking deck to the west and took up more of his land, until this spring, he said.

Bassett warned him a few weeks ago the relationship could turn adversarial if he didn’t sell the land, Craig said. He said he understood that to mean eminent domain, or the public purchase of his land. Bassett told him there was a June 1 deadline, he said.

“Here is the way I have always operated in this town, and I thought the town operated the same way,” Craig said. “I go to my neighbors and say, what do we want to do. Not go to the town and say, lay that down; I don’t give a damn about my neighbors.”

Hemminger said staff gave her the impression that Craig was interested in the project, so his critical response surprised her.

“I don’t like P.H. being so wound up, so I am meeting with him on Monday just to see if I can help settle the waters a little bit and see if he’s interested,” Hemminger said.

The town did appraisals to get an accurate cost estimate, she said. They would never cut off access to other properties and haven’t approved any plans, she said; a June decision would only let staff know whether to keep working.

I don’t like P.H. being so wound up, so I am meeting with him on Monday just to see if I can help settle the waters a little bit and see if he’s interested.

Mayor Pam Hemminger

Bassett said he told Craig and Pendergraft about the plan late last year. The other suggested lots are too small for the parking deck, he said.

“That’s the only way I got authorization to go forward with appraisals to consider, was that I had conversed, one way or another, with all three property owners – Dilweg, P.H. and Mr. Pendergraft,” Bassett said.

Bassett said Craig “got very frustrated” when they met to review the appraisals. The June 1 deadline is not true, he said, although they are hoping for a December council decision, so the project can meet a potential tenant’s move-in deadline of early 2018.

When asked whether eminent domain was a possibility, Bassett responded, “What council authorized was us to develop a financial model and present it back before the end of June.”

Pendergraft said he isn’t interested in selling his lot but might lease it to the town. The grassy strip can’t be developed, he said, because Craig’s parking lots surround it. Craig leases those lots to the town under a deal signed in 2014 when Dilweg dropped plans for its Courtyard parking deck.

Craig said 411 West has relied on the existing parking lot for many years and could be affected while the building and parking deck are built. The new parking deck also would back up to longtime homeowner Phyllis Watson’s front door, south of the Ale House, he said.

Riddle said he’s concerned how the proposed parking deck would affect access to his other lots, 411 West and Ale House employee parking.

“I’m not trying to be the bad guy by any means, but I would like to protect my Ale House tenant and make sure that my other property is not at a disadvantage,” he said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb