By Michelle Cassell
CHAPEL HILL — A 43-acre development across from Southern Village received a unanimous green light from Chapel Hill Town Council last week.
The approval came after Developer Beechwood Carolinas revised its proposal to increase housing density, add more commercial space and pedestrian connections to Southern Village in its proposed South Creek project.
The build is a project of The Beechwood Organization, a major residential property developer. The company expects construction to begin in late 2024 and begin the first occupancy the following year.
According to the developer, South Creek will offer market-rate and affordable housing for rent and for sale, including mid-rise apartments, townhomes and duplexes, and commercial and community open space. The apartments will range from 525 to 2,725 square feet. The townhomes will range from 1,600 to 2,900 square feet.
Steven Dubb, Principal of the Beechwood Organization, pledged the South Creek development will become one of the finest mixed-use communities that Beechwood has ever created in 35 years of developing new neighborhoods.
“Our vision is to enhance the quality of life for current and future residents with new homes, new shops and new open space for community gathering in a destination all can enjoy and be proud of,” Dubb said in a statement Monday.
The South Creek parcel of land was approved for development on June 15, 2015, but a consensus on how it would evolve has taken years.
The vote was 8-0 with Mayor Pro Tem Karen Stegman absent. No one spoke during the allowance for public comment.
Lee Bowman of Legion Land and Development, a spokesperson for the developer, presented a new plan during Wednesday’s regular council meeting that addressed the concerns council raised in April. The new plan responded to council’s requests to add density, expand commercial areas and provide safe pedestrian crossing.
The developer agreed to abandon its Obey Creek Development, which suffered from environmental and unit density concerns, and was granted a mixed-use village conditional zoning District permit for the decision. The site is in the town’s watershed protection district, with slopes between 12% and 30% sloping down from US Highway 15-501 to Wilson Creek.
The development will include 815 housing units, compared to the 688 Beechwood originally proposed. More units were added by increasing the height of buildings and replacing some townhomes with an additional condo building. The tallest buildings will be five stories.
Beechwood has committed to providing affordable rental units in 15% of for-sale condominiums, 15% in for-sale townhouses, and 10% of apartments at below-market-rate units, totaling 101 units of affordable rental housing.
The town’s technical review of the project states the plans now comply with the inclusionary zoning ordinance to provide a percentage of units at reduced rates. However, it falls short of the Housing Advisory Board’s recommendations for affordable housing in a new rental development, which calls for 15% of the units to be affordable at 60% of the area’s median income.
The commercial space is designed to increase in proportion to the development and has been allotted up to 54,000 square feet to provide retail, restaurants, and offices. The developer added an additional 4,000 square feet of commercial space by adding more floor space and ground floor retail opportunities. Also included will be common green spaces for social gatherings.
The developer’s plans offer a collective gathering space, a plaza centered around an open lawn that will offer room for community uses, such as group events, live entertainment, and outdoor fitness classes.
The plans include a larger green space adjacent to the plaza which could accommodate food truck rodeos, farmers markets, community festivals, concerts and other public events.
This centralized area will feature terraced hillside seating and shelter for social activities and events.
“I love the gathering spaces on the plaza,” Mayor Pam Hemminger said. I am also pleased that the public will have access to the 80 acres with the greenway trail and public parking.”
This plan addresses the higher unit density the council had asked the developer for by increasing the apartment building height from four to five stories.
The South Creek development will offer public access to the Wilson Creek crossing, providing a pedestrian bridge and an internal trail system for 80 acres of open space east of the creek. Trails will be integrated into the development with overlooks and trailhead parking for vehicles and bikes.
Council member Amy Ryan said, “ Thank you for the greenway connection to the creek and providing public parking at the trailhead.”
The council accepted Beechwood’s explanation that providing a tunnel or bridge to cross U.S. Hwy. 15-501 was not feasible and accepted the company’s recommendation to put road-level pedestrian crossing with options for increased signals, pavement markings, and protective measures including a refuge island, they say will be helpful for children crossing 15-501 to Scroggs Elementary School.
“The pedestrian bridge adds quite a bit of travel time to the users at a possible cost of $11 to $13 million,” Bowman said. “A tunnel would also provide a pedestrian travel time issue. Construction would involve opening an existing section of 15-501. It could take a year to construct, causing disruption to businesses, delaying the new housing project, and driving away potential home buyers. It would cost $9 to $15 million and involve relocating the OWSA water and existing utilities.”
In addition, Bowman said the cost of either the bridge or the tunnel would be passed on to South Creek residents, raising rents and home prices.
“I think the giant refuge center in the pedestrian crossing is a pretty wonderful idea for school kids,” Council member Amy Ryan said, adding she hopes they will consider adding some trees in the area.
“Over the past two years, we consulted with local groups and individuals to understand the Town’s hopes and wishes for South Creek. Now we will build it,” Beechwood Regional PresidentRobert Kardos said in a press release.