Chapel Hill Council reviews plan for Old Chapel Hill Road/East Lakeview residential community

Photos courtesy EB Capital Partners.


By Adam Powell

CHAPEL HILLThe Chapel Hill Town Council got its first look earlier this month at a concept plan application for a new residential community that, if approved and constructed, would add between 75 and 100 apartments and townhouses to a 2.99-acre cluster of six properties at the corner of Old Chapel Hill Road and East Lakeview Drive in Durham County.

The proposed development, which would be known as East Lakeview Residential, calls for a mixture of 36 to 50 apartments and 30 to 40 townhouses, along with dedicated space for a commercial business.

Multiple other developments have been approved and will be constructed in the immediate area in the future, including the adjacent Meridian Lakeview and Chapel Hill Crossings developments. Although the proposed site is in Durham County, it lies within Chapel Hill’s planning jurisdiction.

Charnika Harrell of the Town of Chapel Hill’s planning department came before the council on the evening of June 5 to explain the specifics of the proposed project to town leaders.

“Concept plans are informal opportunities (for the town council) to provide initial feedback on a proposal,” explained Harrell. “A concept plan review happens before a formal development application. So no decision is made (initially), and staff have not reviewed the plan. Concept plans are reviewed by the planning commission or council but not both, and this concept plan is before (the council) because it proposes more than 50 dwelling units.”

“Concept plans are really a high-level view of a potential project,” added Mayor Jessica Anderson. “So it’s really helpful to give the applicant high-level thoughts about the appropriateness of the uses, of big-picture ideas about the site, anything that (council members) feel does or doesn’t comply with the complete community vision overall. And then, at that point, the developer decides whether to continue working with the staff to bring the project through the process.”

In addition to town staff, Ernie Brown of EB Capital Partners, the applicant of the concept plan, came before the council to describe his vision for the project. Brown’s firm is also working on the adjacent Chapel Hill Crossings development.

“According to the applicant’s concept plan application, the proposed site of the residential development has road frontage along both East Lakeview Drive and Old Chapel Hill Road – although there is approximately three times as much linear footage along Old Chapel Hill Road (533 linear feet) compared to East Lakeview Drive (170 linear feet).

The complex will face Old Chapel Hill Road, and a proposed four—to five-story multi-family apartment building will be along the southwest side of the building site.

Additional components of the project include a nearby park and greenway trail, on-site parking in the form of a covered parking deck proposed to be constructed below the multi-family apartment complex, and an exterior surface lot that will be located behind the main complex. Pedestrians and drivers along Old Chapel Hill Road cannot see this exterior parking lot.

In addition, the 30 to 40 townhomes proposed to be constructed will have one—and two-car garages, depending on the floor plan. The townhomes, ranging from two to four stories in height, will be designed in clusters throughout the subject property. They will all be arranged to provide sidewalk interconnectivity throughout the complex.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has recently upgraded both East Lakeview Drive and Old Chapel Hill Road. These upgrades include eastbound and westbound turn lanes along East Lakeview Drive adjacent to the proposed building site and sidewalks along the frontage that runs alongside Old Chapel Hill Road.

Additional improvements called for in this project include a 5-foot-wide sidewalk running along the East Lakeview Drive frontage, internal sidewalks throughout the community, and dedicated bike spaces in the exterior parking lot. The community would also be part of a new bike and pedestrian greenway trail running along Old Chapel Hill Road.

Following the developer presentation by Brown and a series of public comments, council members provided generally positive comments about the concept plan, while also addressing concerns about children’s spaces, interconnectivity, and creating their complete community vision. 

“I like that (this project) is a little bit smaller scale infill that we’ve been talking about needing,” said council member Elizabeth Sharp. “There’s not a huge moat of parking around the buildings to keep it sort of cut off from the rest of its environment. And I know it’s part of a corridor where it makes sense to have infill there.”

“I really have some concerns about how people actually access the different amenities and things in this area,” continued Sharpe. “What are the two endpoints of those greenways? Where are they going to and from on those greenways? Are there stores that they can get to? Do people walk to Home Depot with a market bag and walk home again? Can people walk to the schools? Do they have to get across 15-501 just to get to Walmart? There’s just a lot going on in that area that has been developed in a far more suburban mode, and it’s going to take a lot of troubleshooting to get around that. I don’t find the green space that has been included meaningful.”

Fellow council member Theodore Nollert echoed some of Sharp’s concerns about nearby greenways and green spaces, while also praising the developer’s efforts to incorporate commercial space into the project.

“We want commercial to succeed here,” Nollert said. “We may have multiple parcels (in this area), but we’re going to need people to talk to each other, because our interest is to ensure that there really is a mix of uses in this area. And I’m pleased that you’re trying to meet that need.”

“My comments will just really pretty much center on the mix of housing types that you’re providing, or homes, I should say, for community members. I like the mix of the apartments. And I’m happy to see the for-sale townhomes,” added fellow council member Paris Miller-Foushee. “I think my only concern would be seeing in your other iterations down the road, some outdoor recreation opportunities for small kids. I know that you’re dealing with a site that’s kind of tight. But what you’re providing for the town is the (housing) density, which I’m pleased about. I think what you’re bringing is what we’ve been looking for: for-sale townhomes, The types of housing that we need.”

“Kudos. I think you’ve bought us a nice concept. I really appreciate it,” added fellow council member Amy Ryan. “I like the project. I like the missing middle (housing) and the townhomes. It’s an area with good transit and it’s developing in commercial. I think it fits right in. The greenway connection is wonderful. I’m really looking forward to that. I think there are opportunities, as Ms. Miller-Foushee was saying, for more kid space. I think you’ve got something on that corner that could be really, really special.”

“I’m glad you’re thinking about putting retail there,” added Ryan. “I know it’s going to be hard to make something like that viable. I don’t know if it’s space you lease out—I don’t know. I don’t know what you can make work on a small site like this.”

“I think you could make a great eBike location there, if I knew somebody who had an eBike company,” said Brown.

Following the council’s initial review of the concept plan, the developer can formally request a conditional zoning district. Within the conditional zoning request, the developer must respond to the feedback provided by council members during their recent discussion of the project.

Adam Powell is a reporter on local news and sports and an education communications professional. A 2001 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Powell has served as managing editor of multiple local publications, including the Mebane Enterprise, News of Orange County and The public information officer for Rockingham County Schools in Eden, N.C., Powell is the author of four books and lives in Mebane with his wife and two children. This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocal

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