By Ian Jackson
After the May 26 Chapel Hill Town Council public hearing about the Aura development plan, I wonder if it is too late for a better project for the Butler property at the corner of MLK Jr. Boulevard and Estes Drive. Public interest is at a high level because the consequences of approving this bad proposal are easily understood, with negative impacts to traffic, safety, stormwater runoff, the tree canopy and the long-term walkability of a large area of Chapel Hill. The Texas-based Trinsic is seeking a permit to build up to 360 apartments for rent, up to 60 townhouses and just 2 percent commercial space at this busy corner.
Here is the question of the moment: Do council members have the courage to say “no” to the proposed Aura project when this project clearly does not serve the best interests of our community?
It’s remarkable that, of the many speakers on May 26, the vast majority urged the council to oppose the project with well-reasoned arguments; only the developers on the Trinsic payroll, including the chair of our Community Design Commission, and the Chamber of Commerce speaking in favor of approving this project.
This project is distinctly not what the town wants: more expensive rental apartments, too few townhomes, a surfeit of automobiles, acres of paved surfaces, few community amenities and almost no retail. Why would any elected official feel compelled to approve a project so at odds with what Chapel Hill wants and needs?
Here is the predicted legacy if a Town Council majority does not heed the call for a “no” vote on Aura.
An unsafe Aura entrance design will endanger vehicles, bikers and pedestrians, causing injury and death.
Absent an Estes traffic plan, uncoordinated development of future properties causes unnecessary traffic and many more accidents.
Per the Traffic Impact Analysis, more congestion at the majority of area intersections, and long delays at MLK, Somerset and Franklin streets.
Neighbors’ properties will be damaged by flooding unless impervious surface is reduced.
Tree canopy is gone from a long stretch of Estes Drive.
Expensive rents deny opportunities for home ownership.
Revenues from luxury apartment rentals leave Chapel Hill, instead of remaining local and enriching the community.
Lack of retail space fails to create walkable neighborhoods, which encourages increased car use, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and unacceptable traffic snarls.
This is a legacy vote that will be remembered for decades. I urge the Town Council to vote “no” on Aura, or at the very least impose sufficient conditions to the approval of the application so that the harms are mitigated, and so that the development of the parcel at Estes and MLK will contribute to the long-term well-being of the Chapel Hill community.
Ian Jackson is a concerned Estes Hills Elementary School parent who looks forward to raising his young family in a vibrant, evolving and safe community.