Town Council tackles infrastructure, land development in four-hour session


By Adam Powell

Over more than four hours of public commentary and discussion on the evening of Wednesday, November 15, the Chapel Hill Town Council approved a variety of measures, including a new water and sewer extension to southern Chapel Hill, the approval of multiple real estate purchases and exchanges, along with opening a legislative hearing for a conditional rezoning of Homestead Gardens.

As part of the approved consent agenda, the council moved forward with an amendment to its Code of Ordinances, which will prohibit a right turn on a red-light signal on westbound Mt. Carmel Church Road at South Columbia Street (U.S. Highway 15/501/Culbreth. The approved ordinance establishes that a no-right turn on red light sign will be installed along the westbound lane of Mt. Carmel Church Road at U.S. Highway 501/Culbreth.

In addition, town leaders approved purchases between Chapel Hill and Beechwood Obey Creek, LLC for a property at 4511 S. Columbia Street, and another real property exchange between Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill Ventures, LLC for a property along W. Rosemary Street and Pritchard Avenue. That agreement will authorize related easement across adjacent Chapel Hill-owned property.

Following approval of the consent agenda, a public forum was held. Community Development Program Manager Megan Culp discussed a Housing and Community Development Needs Assessment for the Community Development Block Grant program that Chapel Hill has joined. During this informational and public comment discussion, town leaders received various comments on housing and community development needs throughout Chapel Hill.

Much of the meeting was spent debating and hearing commentary on a proposal to extend water and sewer capacity along the U.S. Highway 15-501 corridor down to the Chatham County line. The council agreed by an 8-1 vote to amend the town’s WASMPBA (Water and Sewer Management Planning and Boundary Agreement) to allow for the extension.

Although many public speakers expressed concern that the town was moving too fast with the proposed water and sewer extension, council members were primarily in agreement that the extension was necessary.

“It may look to some folks that we’re getting the cart ahead of the horse, but we really aren’t,” said council member Michael Parker. “This is being done more thoughtfully than I think we’re being given credit for. I support it. I think it’s necessary. I think this is a logical place to get missing middle housing and some affordable housing, at a minimum on the land that we own. Plus, as we know, we have been very successful over the past several years in getting voluntary dedication of affordable housing and everything else that we’ve gotten built. So in addition to the land that we control, it is highly likely there will be affordable housing that comes along with any new development in that area. I am quite confident that what ultimately transpires there will be a real benefit to the entire community.”

After approving the water and sewer extension, town leaders considered a zoning atlas amendment, which would allow for the conditional rezoning for Gateway at E. 19 Lakeview Drive. Thomas & Hutton, on behalf of developers NorthView Partners and Bryan Properties and property owners JTCIV, LLC, Redwing Joco LLC, and APL Capital LLC, requested to rezone a 15-acre collection of adjoining parcels for a multi-family residential community.

Town planner Charnika Harrell presented to the council, indicating that the application added adult and child daycare as non-residential uses, and conditions have been added for the Greenway to Old Chapel Hill Road and pedestrian path to the Chapel Hill crossings project, as well as a playground.

The motion ultimately passed the council by a 6-3 vote, with council members Adam Searing, Tal Hunyh, and Karen Stegman voting against.

The council next closed its legislative hearing regarding a conditional rezoning application for Hillmont at 138 Stancell Drive. A conditional rezoning request, submitted by commercial developer McAdams, requested to rezone a 38.33-acre collection of parcels along Stancell Drive and Barbee Chapel Road to allow for a multi-family residential community. 

“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.”

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. It’s really is that really reasonable or fair?”

Despite the community objections, the motion to conditionally rezone the proposed Hillmont properties was unanimously approved.

The council closed out the meeting by opening a legislative hearing for a modification to a conditional rezoning request for Homestead Gardens, located at 2200 Homestead Road, and a legislative hearing for a land use management ordinance (LUMO) text amendment regarding planning systems implementation.

The primary modifications that the council had to approve regarding Homestead Gardens were a reduction from 126 housing units down to 89 units and a decrease from 175 parking spaces down to 126.

“(We have) a really good variety here,” said Wendi Ramsden, a landscape architect with Thomas Hutton, who is assisting the applicant. “We have an extensive sidewalk network on site. We’ve got the bus [stop) on Homestead Road. The bus stop will still have community green space with a playground, a gazebo and community gathering spaces. The apartment in the center has an indoor community room, which should be available to all the residents. We still have the basketball court (to be installed onsite).”

According to town officials, the LUMO text amendments are being pursued as an initial step to helping achieve goals, including incentivizing investment, making the process more efficient, and getting desired outcomes. The specific adjustments include proposing that if a concept plan falls below certain thresholds, it would only be reviewed by the planning commission. If it exceeds the threshold or meets the thresholds, it would be reviewed by the town council. The text amendments also include an incremental change in the review process. 

Following a couple of public comments on both topics, the elected board moved to continue the discussion on the proposed amendment to the Homestead Gardens project and the proposed LUMO text amendments to their November 29 meeting.

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