By Adam Powell
CHAPEL HILL — Chapel Hill Town Council came together last Wednesday to discuss a wide range of local topics.
There were 21 agenda items and discussion lasted more than for hours on issues including bus route changes, exclusions to development in certain districts around town, American Rescue Plan Act funding for local parks, greenways, and bike paths, and the opening of a public hearing on the annexation boundary agreement between the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, among others.
Perhaps the most consequential issue came in the consent agenda, as the council adopted a resolution to call a legislative hearing for proposed changes to setbacks and height exceptions for townhouses and refining missing middle housing types on May 24. These proposed changes to Chapel Hill’s could fundamentally alter the way the town goes about approving residential construction projects in the coming years.
Other items approved in the session’s consent agenda included the recognition of proceeds from the town’s $8.25 million installment purchase contract for the replacement of transit buses, signing off on negotiating a contract for a paint machine for the parks and recreation department and the calling of a legislative public hearing in May for a proposal to incorporate the town’s Connected Roads Plan as a component of Chapel Hill’s Comprehensive Plan. One consent agenda item — the approval of recommended funding for the Tanyard Branch Trace development along Jay Street — was moved to May.
Assistant Planning Director Judy Johnson presented an annexation boundary agreement between Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The previous 20-year agreement, put in place in 1995, is set to expire soon.
“We are looking to renew this agreement and to renew the associated resolution for the entranceway for Smith Level Road,” Johnson explained. “This line defines our jurisdiction boundary between the two towns. The agreement basically is Chapel Hill can annex up to the east side of this line, and Carrboro can annex to the west side of this line. This line has not changed since that 1995 annexation boundary agreement.”
Johnson indicated that Chapel Hill and Carrboro officials are in agreement that Smith Level Road should remain as a two lane road between Rockhaven Road and Starpoint Storage Park, located at 1500 Smith Level Road. The annexation boundary agreement was unanimously approved by council.
The council considered and ultimately unanimously approved a proposal to consider American Rescue Plan Act funding for the town’s Parks, Greenways, Bikeshare, and Community-Based Budget Pilot program. Mayor Pam Hemminger explained that the town needed to move relatively quickly to receive $5,000 in additional ARPA funding for a proposed skating park in Chapel Hill before the money potentially goes away.
“There’s been more on the front of Congress considering clawing back on appropriated ARPA dollars,” Hemminger explained. “Unfortunately, a lot of us haven’t gotten to all the allocating yet. So we need to move along.”
Chapel Hill still has about $1.5 million in ARPA funding left to spend, and projects must be contracted by December 31, 2024. Oland proposed that the town spend $500,000 of the funds on repairs to the town’s skate park, located at 100 Aquatic Drive, and an additional $500,000 on a greenway extension at Bolin Creek from Umstead Road to Estes Drive Extension.
Parks and Recreation Director, Atuya Cornwell, told council the proposed skate park modifications could go in several directions. One option would feature a bowl, constructed of steel, of multi half pipes, quarter pipes, wraps and railings for more experienced skaters. $500,000 in funding would allow for the replacement of vertical components around the skate park, but the concrete footing remains.
“This option is virtually maintenance free and has a 20-year warranty,” Cornwell said.
Cornwell indicated that another material option that is often used for skate park construction is concrete. Although replacing the entire skate park with concrete would exceed the $500,000 the Parks and Recreation Department was requesting, the project could be done in phases. Cornwell also indicated that the department would engage in a public communication process to get feedback from local residents before moving forward.
“$500,000 would not replace our total skatepark, which we have a 10,000 square foot skate park,” Cornwell said. “However, we’re confident that if concrete was that desired choice of our community members, we could potentially have an option where we could have a phase one approach to utilize the $500,000. For the concrete option, if funding is allocated, the concrete option has a longer projected life cycle than the steel option.”
The proposal to extend the Bolin Creek Greenway to Estes Drive Extension would create a continuous path from Carrboro to the Chapel Hill Community Center. The project would combine design and construction timelines with Estes Drive Extension. The North Carolina Department of Transportation recently provided the town planning department with a municipal agreement for Estes Drive Extension bike and pedestrian improvements, which means that the town can proceed with design and engineering for both the greenway and bike/pedestrian projects simultaneously to save money and time.
“The hope was to conduct the design and engineering for that project and [the Bolin Creek Greenway] project at the same time for cost and time efficiency,” Planning official Bergen Watterson explained. “Since the projects don’t touch at the end, it would make for a better connection between the two. The goal is to have a design firm approved and a contract ready for Council to approve before the June break. So time is of the essence with this project right now.”
Both the skate park and greenway proposals received unanimous approval.
Chapel Hill’s next Town Council meeting will be held the evening of April 26.