By Adam Powell
CHAPEL HILL — Following its annual summer break, the Town of Chapel Hill Council returned to action on the evening of September 13 with an expansive agenda that lasted more than four hours.
The elected board considered a concept plan review for The Reserve at Blue Hill, a proposed development along Ephesus Church Road while approving the Town’s Affordable Housing Plan and Investment Strategy.
The town also considered a new space for its Police Department while continuing the remediation work that has been taking place at the Department’s longtime facility along Martin Luther King Blvd.
Town leaders also opened a legislative hearing for a conditional zoning application for St. Paul Village along Purefoy Drive.
Before the start of the agenda portion of the session, Mayor Pam Hemminger paid tribute to America’s fallen heroes on the 22nd anniversary of the September 11, 2001 tragedies. Multiple Town Council members made mention of the recent firearm-related incidents on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, including the murder of a UNC instructor at the hands of one of his students.
“I’m very proud that people heed the warnings, take safety precautions, and follow the guidance,” the Mayor stated. “It’s the world we live in. We know these kinds of things need to stop.”
Hemminger and the Town Board also honored longtime Chapel Hill resident Joe Nassif, who served as Mayor for six years in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Nassif recently passed away.
“He moved to Chapel Hill in 1964. He was involved in local politics serving on the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen as they were called in the day, and he served six years from 1978 to 1984,” Hemminger said. “Nassif was an architect by profession and there were many unique homes in Chapel Hills that he designed. He also volunteered with Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation as a peewee football coach, and is remembered fondly by those who called him Coach Joe.”
The Mayor touched on the recent tragedy that befell the owners of Classic Carolina along Franklin Street, as owner Dhruva Chellani and his son Kris were killed in an automobile accident. Nearly $100,000 had been raised on a GoFundMe page to support the surviving family members.
“We’re truly devastated by this very sad turn of events,” the Mayor said. “And we’re keeping the entire Chellani family and their employees and the close knit East Franklin Street community in our thoughts.”
City leaders gave a tepid response to a pre-application concept plan by Phillips Management Group to develop the 7.65-acre King’s Arms Apartments site along Ephesus Church Road. The council addressed concerns not only about the types of housing proposed, but also the rate of rent to be charged, and the potential displacement of existing residents at the King’s Arms Apartment complex.
“Based on what we say about what a complete community is, this project just does not meet that standard yet,” said council member Jessica Anderson, who is running for Mayor. “And you’ve got to figure it out. It’s not the town or the county’s job to provide those resources for you as the developer. You need to figure out how you’re going to make that work.”
Town leaders also approved their Affordable Housing Plan and Investment Strategy, which will guide future decisions on approving sustainable, affordable, and equitable housing throughout Chapel Hill.
“Like many communities across the country, Chapel Hill is facing an affordable housing crisis,” reads the lead statement of the strategy document. “A constrained housing supply, increasing wealth and income disparities, and racial inequities have led to rising housing challenges. Fewer households in Chapel Hill can access homeownership and rents are increasing far faster than incomes for most households. Furthermore, historically marginalized communities in Chapel Hill continue to face displacement pressures as housing costs increase.”
The Town spent considerable time in the second half of the session listening to public speakers expressing both support and resistance to a conditional rezoning request by St. Paul’s AME Church to rezone its property, located at the corner of Purefoy Drive and Rogers Road, for the proposed St. Paul Village, which would bring several hundred new affordable homes to the area.
The Church is asking the Town to rezone to an office/institutional zoning district to allow up to 350 multi-family dwelling units, of which at least 100 would be targeted to the active adult (55 and older) community. After listening to the community feedback, the Council elected to take up the issue again in October.
Perhaps the most consequential immediate news that came out of the meeting was the council’s unanimous vote to approve a $1.5 million lease at The Parkline along Fordham Boulevard – the former longtime home of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina – to relocate the town’s Police Department.
The department has been at its current location along Martin Luther King Drive, adjacent to the downtown business district, since the 1970s. The site sits on thousands of tons of coal ash that was detected back in 2013, and the town is currently working to remediate the issue.
Chapel Hill could extend the lease with The Parkline’s owners, the State Employees Credit Union, to remain the temporary home of the town’s Police Department for up to ten years.
The relocation process from the current to the newly leased site wouldn’t likely be completed until the summer of 2024.
“We must move – you (the Police Department) must move. And I’m amazed at how long you’ve held off on putting this before us. I’m sure there’s been attempts (in the past). But we have to move,” said Board member Camille Berry.
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 TarHeelIllustrated.com. 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.