From Staff Reports
The Chapel Hill Town Council will review the latest concept plan for a municipal services center and new police headquarters Wednesday and once again will be faced with competing interests to balance. Environmental concern and neighborhood protection will be weighed against the department’s critical need and additional room for town offices.
The new concept plan, the third attempt to find a location for the headquarters and the services center, is proposed for Weaver Dairy Road Extension and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the current site of Fire Station #4 and its burn building In addition to the police station, the service center would include a fire station and a home for Orange County EMS as well as provide administrative offices for town departments like parks and recreation, technology services and the town ombudsman.
Town Hall has been overcrowded and squeezed for space for a number of years. Meanwhile, the current police station is more than 40 years old, has become too small for a growing force and is in need of major repairs.
The PD sits on an old coal ash dump site from the 1960s that poses challenges to reconstruction. John Richardson, Chapel Hill’s planning manager for sustainability, said the town is working on a response to the coal ash issue, but local environmentalists say the town needs to do more.
Meanwhile, previous efforts to find a location for the department have included UNC land on Estes Drive and at University Place. But both those sites fell through due to ownership or leasing issues.
But the new proposed location has some challenges as well.
The location is 50 feet above the abutting Northwoods V neighborhood and the perennial stream that is the origin of Booker Creek. A resource conservation district exists on the property as well. The N.C. Department of Transportation would have to approve additional driveways on MLK Jr. Blvd. because of their proximity to the Evolve apartment complex driveway.
In a virtual information meeting with the town earlier this fall, Adam Silverstein, who lives around 150 feet from the proposed site, expressed concerns about the center’s lighting, noise, steep slopes and increased traffic, issues that the town’s recent Comprehensive Plan warns could be problems.
Another neighbor pointed out that Weaver Dairy Road Extension is a curving road with “lots of trees and leaves” and needed a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit to ensure the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Joey Ware-Furlow, a Tremont Circle resident, commented that the topography of the site causes “sounds to be echoed and amplified.” She added that her home physically shakes when nearby dumpsters are emptied.
When the Community Design Commission reviewed the service center concept plan proposal during the meeting, the staff presentation addressed a number of those challenges, including the topography and the impact of a traffic impact analysis.
CDC member Ted Hoskins generally liked the concept plan, but objected to a public plaza hidden behind the building, a concern echoed by other commissioners. Commissioner Megan Patnaik, however, felt that pedestrian safety could be an issue because no sidewalk exists across Weaver Dairy Road. She also asked about the topography and staff confirmed there is a 50-foot drop between the corner of Weaver Dairy Extension and MLK Jr Blvd. and the adjacent neighborhood, which would make it difficult to screen from noise and light.
Commissioner John Weis finally noted that community members had “raised enough questions for us to be concerned.”
After Wednesday’s council review, the town staff will work on reflecting the comments they heard and proceed toward filing a conditional use application.