By Adam Powell
CHAPEL HILL — Chapel Hill’s Town Council convened last Wednesday evening for an expansive agenda.
Among the five consent agenda items the council approved included the use of $629,892 for the Community Development Block Grant Program, authorizing Town Manager Chris Blue to submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for an annual update, and establishing the Block Grant Program Plan’s budget for 2023-24.
The consent agenda also included calling a legislative hearing on May 24 to consider amending the future land use map designation of properties along Huse Street and Pope Road, a cluster of homes adjacent to the I-40 freeway corridor and Old Chapel Hill Road.
Along with receiving a public housing report for quarter three and a 2023 affordable housing report, the council received a quarterly update on Chapel Hill’s climate action implementation, while also opening a legislative hearing to adopt the town’s Connected Roads plan. That particular plan will come back before the council in June.
Town leaders also closed their legislative hearing in regards to an amendment to its comprehensive plan. The council ultimately adopted the complete community strategy amendment, which will provide a more clear direction to the town’s transit-oriented approach to future transportation infrastructure.
According to the town’s presentation on the amendment, it establishes a policy direction and implementation strategies for growth and development in the future North/South Bus Rapid Transit corridor and in focus areas identified in the town’s future land use map update.
Specifically, this plan promotes and helps implement “transit-oriented development” in the NSBRT corridor, including the North Martin Luther King, Jr., South Martin Luther King, Jr., Downtown, and Southern Gateway areas.
Another agenda item that council members spent time debating at the conclusion of the session was a conditional zoning application for Starpoint Refuel at the intersection of Smith Level Road and Highway 15-501. The hearing, which was continued to the council’s June meeting, calls for the full site to be zoned to a neighborhood commercial conditional zoning district. There is an existing gas station with some small retail spaces on the site today, and the applicant is proposing to redevelop the existing site with a new gas station and convenience store.
The proposal would eliminate the current mural of Dean Smith that local artist Scott Nurkin painted on one of the current site’s walls back in 2015, shortly after the University of North Carolina Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach passed away. But the updates would make significant improvements to walkability in the area, with the installation of new sidewalks. Town staff indicated that neither the University nor the artist had shown any active participation in attempting to preserve the mural of the UNC coaching legend.
Board members debated the proposal at the conclusion of the meeting in their public comments, while also expressing near-unanimous desire to get more information on the proposed site modifications before moving forward.
“I’m going to stress more on the walkability [aspect of the proposed] sidewalk, as opposed to the mural of a gentleman who has been gone for some time,” council member Paris Miller-Foushee said. “And how we invest if we value the complete communities, and we value the connected roads, and we say that we want our community to be walkable. We can’t just give a pass to this development, (and) new sidewalks right here. But I also understand financial hardship.”
Council member Michael Parker countered by saying he wants to take a “slightly different” view on walkability and sidewalks before the town begins to push the developer.
“I mean, I know the area reasonably well and you don’t see a lot of people walk in there,” Parker said. “And it’s not just because there’s no sidewalks, it’s because you can’t get there on foot, except from a very small number of places people get there by driving, and they’re not going to park in your gas station and walk over to Walmart. So before we spend a lot of money and a lot of effort trying to get sidewalks here, I’d really like to see some data that can either prove or disprove the point that there are in fact, there are really significant unmet pedestrian needs at this place.”
Council member Jessica Anderson suggested the possibility of crowdfunding the relocation of the Smith mural before any future modifications to the proposed site.