By James Kiefer
If the Chapel Hill Town Council Meeting Oct. 12 were a platter, it would have been an appetizer sampler made of money, downtown development and a decent portion of housing talk. Council voted to extend the issuance of a bond referendum past its initial period, heard a staff presentation on how it can plan for a corridor of Franklin Street and approved the conditional zoning application for a housing development targeting Chapel Hill’s middle-income residents.
Bonds and beyond
In the first item on the discussion, the council discussed extending a $40.3 million bond referendum that voters passed in 2015. Business management director Amy Oland explained over $21 million of the general obligation had been issued, leaving approximately $19 million to be doled out.
Oland explained during her presentation that monies already spent have gone toward the following items: streets and sidewalks, trails and greenways, recreation facilities and stormwater improvements.
She also added the general time frame to issue a voter-approved bond is seven years under North Carolina law; the current authorization expires on Nov. 3. The council does have the ability under North Carolina general statute 159-64 to extend the authorization by three years.
“We’re requesting the extension because it has taken longer than anticipated to complete some of the projects in design, permitting and construction,” Oland said.
Over $13 million of the remaining bond is slated to be paid out toward multiple city projects between 2023 and 2024. That leaves approximately $5 million leftover that was initially dedicated to a solid waste transfer station; there is no timeline for the issuance of that bond, according to Oland.
An extension has already been approved under the Local Government Commission, part of the Department of State Treasurer, and if the council voted to allow the extension, town staff would have until 2025 to issue the remaining bond,
Council person Jessica Anderson asked if the council let the solid waste transfer station bond lapse could the money be used toward another effort. Oland responded it cannot, advising it would be wiser for the town to extend the bond in the event it does want to pursue a transfer station. Oland also said the bond has no impact on Chapel Hill’s debt capacity.
“What we are putting before council tonight is just the extension of the ability to issue the bonds, we are not committing to actually issue any of the bonds,” she clarified.
The council approved an extension to issue the bonds unanimously.
The future of Franklin Street
Who maintains what and where on Franklin Street is becoming a question for the Town Council.
Transportation planning manager Bergen Watterson reminded the council the stretch of Franklin Street that extends through downtown Chapel Hill is owned by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). The Town is responsible for maintaining items like sidewalks, street sweeping services, trash collections, parking spaces and other similar measures.
Watterson added this contributes to two different philosophies regarding the roadway: NCDOT sees it as a thoroughfare whereas the Town wants it to be more of a destination. Additionally, the Town must acquire NCDOT approval for right-of-way projects along Franklin Street, including traffic stops.
Laying out five potential options, Watterson explained the town could explore avenues that do not require transferring maintenance of the street and have a lower bar of difficulty to complete versus more involved plans, like instituting a multi-use path, which would be a higher cost and necessitate the road’s transfer of ownership.
Sarah Poulton, senior projects manager, explained it could cost Chapel Hill an annual amount of nearly $191,000 if it decided to purchase the roadway from NCDOT, with the two highest costs being $75,000 for general street maintenance and $83,000 for stormwater maintenance. The Town is also facing several one-time expenditures, chief among them $825,000 to resurfacing to reduce crowning and $1.8 million to replace the stormwater system.
“Note that both East and West Franklin Street have been resurfaced within the last three years,” Poulton added. “They’re really in the best possible shape they’ve been in a long time and [now] is the best time to make minor adjustments to them.”
Several council members commented on a point brought up during public comment which was Franklin Street’s traffic problem, and that will take foresight to deal with.
“It is really understanding the totality of how we use the downtown streets. We have lousy collateral circulation,” Council Member Michael Parker stated. “Anything we do to constrict Franklin Street really very quickly jams up other blocks, which is a problem other places may not have.”
Other council members said that before the Town pursues purchasing Franklin Street, it should have a clearer vision of what the main drag should look like.
“We need more of a plan before we jump,” Mayor Hemminger said.
Stanat’s Place moves forward
The council also unanimously approved a conditional zoning application for a project with lofty goals. CapKov Ventures Inc. representative Eric Chupp said the site will be a “textbook example of a pedestrian-friendly [and] transit-oriented community that has been designed to serve the missing middle.”
The proposal for Stanat’s Place consists of 47 homes, each over 1,700 square feet, at 2516 Homestead Rd. Since the application last appeared before the council, the proposal has undergone several updates, including;
- Building a stormwater basin;
- Offering street connectivity with Vineyard Square;
- Providing bike racks to every residential garage at no charge to tenants;
- Shortening a roadway on Cabernet Drive as a traffic calming measure.
Other stipulations the developer agreed to are making the houses all-electric, setting the rate for the four affordable housing units at the site at 65% AMI (area median income), providing a sewer easement to at least one nearby property and working with Town staff to work on traffic calming measures.
The Town Council also approved an additional $27,000 in funding for the Human Services Program and heard a concept plan review for 157 E. Rosemary St.
James Kiefer is an award-winning photographer and writer who’s covered everything from homicides, to sports and the occasional miracle.