Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill to partner with developer on $3M fire station

An artist’s rendering shows the Station at East 54 from the corner of Hamilton and Prestwick roads. The Aloft Hotel is in the left background; the East 54 development is to the right. Fire Station No. 2 is at left, in front of a parking deck (not shown) that would be build partially at the base of the office building.
An artist’s rendering shows the Station at East 54 from the corner of Hamilton and Prestwick roads. The Aloft Hotel is in the left background; the East 54 development is to the right. Fire Station No. 2 is at left, in front of a parking deck (not shown) that would be build partially at the base of the office building. Contributed

A developer could start planning this fall for a new Chapel Hill fire station and a four-story office building near the Aloft Hotel and East 54.

The Town Council approved a development agreement Monday with East West Partners and rezoned roughly an acre of town-owned land at the corner of Hamilton and Prestwick roads for the Station at East 54. The council also authorized staff to finalize a business agreement with the developer that will allow the town to keep the title to both the fire station and the land under it.

Business agreement talks could wrap up by late July, interim Fire Chief Matt Sullivan said. Construction could start quickly, since the developer wants to move in tenants by 2018. The fire station would be relocated temporarily to a vacant UNC fraternity house on Finley Golf Course Road.

“If it comes to the point where we can’t make this deal work, (or) it comes to the point that the money just doesn’t work out, then we’ll not do it,” Sullivan told the council.

“I understand it’s a huge project, so before we execute it, we’ll make sure it’s in your best interests, he said.

Those interests include combining a fire and EMS station at a lower cost, he said, as well as giving employees a better work environment and generating roughly $40,000 a year in addditional tax revenues.

The Hamilton Road station – Fire Station No. 2 – was built in the 1950s and is the first of three fire stations to be replaced. The others are on Elliott Road and Weaver Dairy Road.

East West Partners has agreed to pay $1.75 million of the $3 million construction cost for an 11,000-square-foot, three-bay fire station. The town will give part of the land – appraised at $665,000 – to East West Partners.

The town also will pay up to $750,000 toward the fire station’s construction. Orange County has plans to chip in another $500,000 and house an EMS unit now based at UNC in the new station.

The Station at East 54 also will include 60,000 square feet of office space and 140 parking spaces in a two-level parking deck, a surface lot and along Prestwick Road.

The parking deck would stretch from under the office building to behind the fire station and have dedicated spaces for emergency workers. Drivers would access the first parking level from Hamilton Road; access to the second parking level would be on Prestwick Road.

Mayor Pam Hemminger expressed concern about the low number of parking spaces, especially if a planned light-rail station is built next to the site. The developer is confident that won’t be a problem, said Bryson Powell, East West Partners development director.

“At the end of the day, we have to be able to lease the building, and the building comes with X amount of parking spaces,” Powell said. “If we weren’t comfortable with the parking ratio, then we’d have a big problem on our hands, because we wouldn’t be able to lease the space.”

The council also voted Monday to make local rules consistent with state changes last year giving towns more leeway to use development agreements.

A development agreement gives the town more say over how the project is built, outlines developer and town duties, and requires annual reports. The state changed the rules to let towns use development agreements for projects on less than 25 acres and with a shorter construction timeline.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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