St. Paul Village to begin construction in coming months

Rendering of St. Paul Village courtesy of the Town of Chapel Hill.

COMMUNITY NEWS

By Adam Powell
Correspondent

In a few weeks — when the weather gets a little warmer — ground will break on a Chapel Hill concept that will connect modern urban living and working with a local community’s extensive ties to its past.

The project, which has been more than a dozen years in the making, is the brainchild of Chapel Hill’s oldest African-American church congregation.

The St. Paul Village community of Chapel Hill has thrived for a century and a half. Its primary meeting place, the St. Paul AME Church at 101 N. Merritt Mill Road, dates back to 1864, just before the end of the Civil War.

Over the last 160 years, St. Paul AME and its congregation have seen Chapel Hill emerge from a traditionally segregated Southern town into a beacon of diversity and inclusion. For the past several years, the congregation and its supporters have been working with town planners and staff on an adult community that will serve its members and their families well into their golden years.

After multiple drafts and rewrites, in October, the Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously approved moving forward with the conditional rezoning of a 20.37-acre parcel of land located at 1604 Purefoy Drive, on which the applicant — the St. Paul Neighborhood Improvement Development Association — received permission to construct a community that will include about 350 rental units known as St. Paul Village.

Construction on the rental units will begin this summer. About 100 will be set aside for residents who are 55 years of age and older. An additional 80 units are expected to be set aside for lower-income residents, meaning that over half of the units will be for either 55-and-older residents, lower-income residents, or both. The additional 170 units will be at the market rate.

Plans for the property include a central green area that includes a trail network, a neighborhood center, ground-floor retail space, a sanctuary, and a recreation facility. The residential units will be in a variety of one—and two-bedroom floor plans, with the affordable units dispersed among the market-rate units, creating the same appearance throughout the complex.

The proposed buildings on the site include a five-story multi-family apartment building, a two-story sanctuary and neighborhood center, a two-to-four-story building that will include multi-family and 55-and-older units, and two parking locations. About 9 acres of the 20-acre site are deemed too difficult to develop due to steep, sloping terrain and a series of easements and buffers. That area—located roughly along the middle of the property—is being proposed for green space and the trail network.

According to the Development Association’s application, the goals and aspirations of St. Paul Village include supporting a diverse population and encouraging aging in place, creating a walkable local community and building a pedestrian-oriented mixed-use neighborhood focusing on small businesses and educational and cultural programs. It will also create a community rich on health, well-being opportunities, and mindfulness of the natural landscape.

The idea that ultimately will become St. Paul Village arose from a need a couple of decades back for St. Paul AME and its congregation to consider expanding from its current location along the border of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

In the early 2000s, the church purchased multiple tracts of land at Purefoy and Rogers Road and merged them into one larger tract. Over the years, resisting the urge to sell its desirable property to other would-be developers, the faithful of St. Paul AME Church banded together to create a new neighborhood in which they could grow old together.

In 2012, the congregation sought and received initial approval from the Chapel Hill Town Council to construct just under 100 units on the site. However, the project would have depended on a septic system without town water and sewer onsite at the time, which proved financially unfeasible.

Fast-forward 12 years, however, and the St. Paul AME congregants have received a blessing in disguise. By waiting for the necessary infrastructure to be implemented, the community will now be more than four times as large as originally planned. It will include full water and sewer connectivity from the town.

Construction is expected to take two years, and residents are expected to move into the community in the fall of 2026.

The office and retail space was one of the reasons why the St. Paul Village applicants had to request a rezoning from a special use permit the town had approved back in 2012 for a Residential-5 Conditional Zoning District (R-5-CZD), and replace that zoning with Office/Institutional-3 Conditional Zoning District (OI-3-CZD).

“It’s been a long time coming,” said former Chapel Hill mayor Pam Hemminger in October after the public hearing and unanimous approval of the project. “It’s been a pleasure to work with the folks from the St. Paul Village community.

“The community and the idea — I know it’s taken a little bit longer than we’d hoped, but it’s going to be wonderful, and we’re so appreciative of building communities,” Hemminger said. “Thank you all for being supportive. Thank you all for persevering. Go forth and conquer – we are so excited.”


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. This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocal Reporter.press

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