By Adam Powell
Chapel Hill’s Town Council continued a public hearing at its November 15 meeting about a conditional rezoning application for a collection of eight properties along Stancell Drive and Barbee Chapel Hill, totaling 38.33 acres, to allow for a multi-family residential community called Hillmont.
The developer, Northwood Ravin, proposes to construct multiple buildings ranging from three to five stories within the development, with a combined total of between 390 and 500 housing units.
The development would be organized into five so-called blocks, with one block, Block E, designated for five apartment buildings that would be the largest within the development, between four and five stories.
Three other blocks – Blocks A, B, and C – would be earmarked for three-story buildings, while Block D would be set aside for open space and recreation, including a dog park, trails, and parking.
The rezoning request was from mixed-use village (MU-V) to residential six conditional zoning district (R-6-CZD) and would replace pre-existing zoning for the properties, dating back to 2008, that included a special use permit and a separate land use plan that is no longer applicable.
Following the initial presentation made to town leaders back on October 11, the developer, Northwood Ravin, was asked to make multiple updates to their proposal, including making commitments to design for 100-year storm events, providing more public access to Block D, and considering more parking spaces for electric vehicles.
The developer responded by agreeing to the 100-year storm event management commitment, providing public access to the Block D trail system, increasing electric vehicle-ready parking spaces within the development, and adding non-residential uses to allow certain types of service businesses within the community.
Northwood Ravin also agreed to design and submit plans to town planners for a future multi-use path extension along Stancell Drive to connect to another existing multi-use path to the immediate west. The developers also met with the nearby Finley Forest residential subdivision homeowners association to gather feedback.
“We can commit to a stormwater management of the 100-year storm (event) for the entire site,” said Adam Golden, Development Partner with Northwood Ravin in a presentation to town leaders. “That took some studying. It will add some expense, but we can do that, and we feel it’s the right thing to do.”
“As for public access, we can provide public access to the trail system on Block D. So that is something we will do,” Golden added. “We will increase the electric vehicle-ready parking spaces from 20 percent (of all parking spaces) up to 30 percent to cover future demand. We have added all of the non-residential uses permitted in our sixth district. Namely, an adult daycare facility and childcare facility. We will meet with the town’s Vision Zero Task Force, look at the safety concerns and conduct a walk audit of the site.”
The applicant presentation revealed a range of street and turning lane improvements in the immediate area, including a restriping of the lines along the northbound approach on Little John Road, turning onto N.C. Highway 54.
Northwood Ravin also proposed construction of dedicated right turn lanes on Barbee Chapel Road turning onto N.C. Highway 54, as well as Stancell Drive onto Barbee Chapel Road. There will also be a dedicated left and a right turn line extending the left turn lane onto Little John Road by approximately 250 feet.
“It’s a little bit of a pinch point there,” Golden explained. “It just gets so close to the intersection. The big thing there is just being able to provide that right turn lane off [Highway] 54 and then actually back down Barbee Chapel [Road] as well, where our driveway [entering Hillmont] will align with Finley Forest, will have a left turn lane into our driveway, as well as the left turn lane into Finley Forest.”
“The project offers many community benefits and aligns with council goals,” said town planner Katherine Shor. “The applicant has committed to several key changes that we think improve the project. We heard council member comments about multi-modal safety, stormwater management design, affordable housing, publicly-accessible open space and non-residential uses. I just wanted to point out that there are specific conditions in the ordinance that commit the applicant to those requests that council members made.”
Despite the proposed street improvements and additional amenities offered by Northwood Ravin to appease town leaders in order to gain the project’s approval, multiple residents from adjacent communities, including Sherwood Forest and Downing Creek, came to speak in opposition to the proposed rezoning.
“We’ve always known something would be built on this property and we were gratified that the former town council appreciated the concerns of our neighborhood and helped us work out an agreement with the former Woodmont developer,” said resident Jodi Flick. “Now the Northwood Ravin developers have told the council they respect their neighbors and are working towards solutions. But thus far we’ve seen absolutely no evidence of this. Every concern and suggestion made by Sherwood Forest and Downing Creek residents has been ignored, disregarded or flat-out dismissed.”
“Our neighborhood has been there 70-plus years,” added Gail Roberts of Little John Road. “It’s hard to understand why the apartment setbacks are more important than ours. A four-story apartment building and parking that close to our homes will most certainly lower the value of our properties. Is that really reasonable or fair?”
“We’re not opposed to Hillmont,” added Downing Creek resident Henry Lister. “The traffic issues Hillmont creates by bringing over 4,000 daily trips onto Stancell Road without there being any changes to the access to N.C. (Highway) 54 or Barbee Chapel Road will be a nightmare for residents of Sherwood Forest and Downing Creek. Increased traffic on N.C. 54 already poses egress problems.
Despite the community objections, the motion to conditionally rezone the proposed Hillmont properties was unanimously approved by the town council.