GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT
By Staff Reports
At its May 4, 2021, meeting, the Chapel Hill Planning Commission voted 8-1 to recommend approval of the Aura proposal. Over 60 members of the public attended the meeting, which was held virtually. The commission recommended that the following conditions accompany the approval: (1) allow administrative approval of additional commercial square footage; (2) that all affordable housing be offered at a price affordable to households earning no more than 65 percent of the area median income; (3) provide space for bike share docking in the planned nearby Bus Rapid Transit station area; (4) reduce the number of vehicle parking spaces; and 5) provide a minimum 40 percent tree canopy cover and pervious pavement.
Many Planning Commission members shared Commissioner Melissa McCullough’s position that approving the Aura proposal would help achieve the town’s climate change goals by placing high-density residential development on a proposed Bus Rapid Transit line. Both McCullough and Commissioner John Rees said they would like to see fewer parking spaces built (650 are currently proposed) but that “parking does not equal traffic,” because, in their view, residents would leave their cars parked and use public transportation, specifically the planned North-South BRT.
Commissioner Neal Bench, who cast the lone dissenting vote, stated that the project adds too much high-density housing to Estes Drive and will lead to an explosion of requests from the owners of neighboring properties to build additional high-density housing. Bench also said the proposed 72 percent impervious surface was an “outrageous” amount to propose for land that is currently 100 percent forested and that is zoned to allow only three housing units per acre.
The Planning Commission did not discuss the concerns about traffic congestion and public safety on Estes Drive raised by residents during the public comment period or the recommendations of other advisory boards that have reviewed the proposal. Earlier, the Transportation Advisory Board unanimously recommended against approving the proposal. The Town Council will open a public hearing on the Aura proposal at its May 12th meeting.