Residents, Elected Officials Share Concerns About Projects Proposed for Burgeoning Downtown Area


By James Kiefer


The Local Reporter

Members of the Chapel Hill Town Council and town residents offered feedback on a number of developments currently working their way through the municipal review process during the body’s regular meeting on June 15. One has hopes to make a mark downtown, whereas two others are trying to find their footing within residential neighborhoods

‘A Much Needed Project’

The council voted to extend the legislative hearing for a proposed mixed-use development located at 101 E. Rosemary St. A draft of the plans calls for a 7-story apartment building with 150 units spread out over half an acre., there’s also talk of incorporating commercial spaces within the first floor.

The height of the building alone would make it one of the tallest structures in the downtown corridor.

A version of the building was presented to the council in May.

Joe Dye, an executive with developer Grubb Properties, outlined recent revisions:

  • Moving sidewalks back by three feet, making the total width along Rosemary Street now 14 feet;
  • Swapped locations of commercial areas and leasing offices;
  • Moved a cycling center into the interior of the building instead of along street-facing facades.

Matt Gladdek, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said even though the organization he heads does not endorse projects, Grubb Properties’ proposal could bring in 200 or more residents living downtown for 12 months out of the year.

Gladdek called the proposed project, “really important for our businesses and town culture.”  

“This is a project that meets a significant number of our priorities for downtown for increasing housing,” he said.

Council member Paris Miller-Foushee agreed this could be a transformative project for Chapel Hill.

“This is a much-needed project,” she said. “We really want this project to work. We really want to get this corner right as well.”

Miller-Foushee cited the lack of affordable housing in the current proposal, something other council members said they’d like to see more of.

“It’s important that as we’re building our downtown it is inclusive for affordable housing,” she stated. “So our downtown does not become a space and place that is not attainable for all our community members.”

Another hearing concerning the property is scheduled to appear before the council on Sept. 14.

Following the hearing, the council reviewed a concept plan for residential development along Old Chapel Hill Road and Pope Road called “Huse Street Residential.”

Architect Dan Jewell of Coulter Jewell Thames, PA, explained that applicant Ernest Brown hopes to build over 260 residential units across the over 10-acre parcel. Jewell’s initial concept has multi-family units, three and four-story townhomes and cottages. Also in the draft are large amenities like a playground, pool, pop-up retail space and green space designed for recreation.  

“We’re really trying to create a mixed-residential and small, business incubator type community,” Jewell remarked.

He added the targeted residents are young professionals, couples, empty nesters and seniors.

During community feedback, resident Ed Harrison raised issues with the location of the parcel. His specific concern is the nature of Pope Road, which he said has special requirements for any work done to it since it falls outside both Chapel Hill and Durham jurisdiction.

Harrison added the area has already seen an influx of traffic over the years— something a new residential development would worsen.

“Pope Road is outside your town limits, it’s outside Durham city limits, and there’s very little that can be done for it,” Harrison stated.

JoAnna Pomerantz, a lifelong resident of Chapel Hill, said she’s proud to be part of a community that fought to preserve its “small-town charm” and green space.

“Sadly that feel is slowly disappearing with every new large multi-development on every free corner we have left,” Pomerantz said. “The traffic and appearance is that of a large city like Raleigh and we’re creating developments for residents who don’t end up living here, but only staying for a little bit before they move on.”

Pomerantz further stated the council shouldn’t be rezoning the outskirts of town to look more like downtown development.

Council member Jess Anderson commented she likes the inclusion of the diverse type of housing, although that it can still be workshopped, but that it should be amenable to connecting to the town’s transit system. She stressed thinking about how it becomes a “complete neighborhood.”

“If we don’t build more housing, I don’t think it’s going to be the future we want either,” she said. “I think we have to think about the trade-offs. Change is hard, but not changing is even harder. We don’t want to be an unaffordable bedroom community.”  

‘A sea of parking among big buildings’

In another stab at Chapel Hill’s missing middle-class residents, the council reviewed another housing development along Barbee Chapel Road. Micheal Skena, Regional Director of Acquisitions and Development for Toll Brothers, said his company is also targeting early career professionals on what he labeled a “very buildable site.”

The 10.5-acre parcel has Toll Brothers vying to build over 300 multi-family dwelling units; 10% of the units will be affordable housing units split between 65% and 80% area median income (AMI).

Skena explained the developer’s hope for the project is to be one of a “multi-modal experience,” due to being along bus routes and proximity to downtown. The project is also located next to the proposed Hillmont development.

Besides hammering on a large amount of impervious surface at the property, and calls for more units to fall below 60% AMI, reducing parking was a recurring critique.

“We’d like to see something different than a sea of parking among big buildings,” Mayor Pam Hemminger remarked.

Other business handled by the council included:

  • Closing the evidentiary hearing and approving a special use permit modification for Fifth Third Bank at 1800 Fordham Blvd.;
  • Closing the legislative hearing and approving the conditional zoning modification for the Gimghoul Castle at 742 Gimghoul Road.
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