Town of Chapel Hill moves ahead with Legion Road development

Photo courtesy of town of Chapel Hill.


By Adam Powell

The Town of Chapel Hill is making significant progress in developing a 36.2-acre tract of municipally-owned property along Legion Road, as local officials announced last week a partnership with a local firm to create affordable housing at the location.

Numerous ideas have been hinted at and suggested over the six years since the site was purchased, with many residents in favor of the location becoming a large municipal park.

In the end, those residents in favor of arboreal preservation will partially get their wish, as the majority of the 36.2-acre site is being maintained to become an extension of the existing Ephesus Park eventually.

Those residents in favor of more affordable housing will also get something out of this, as the town plans to build 160 housing units, specially priced for low-income thresholds as dictated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, on the site.


In May, the Council authorized then-interim Town Manager Chris Blue to begin searching for a developer. In June, town leaders appropriated additional monies in this year’s 2023-24 fiscal year budget for Parks and Recreation capital needs, including funds to assist with the master parks and recreation planning process.

On Friday, December 8, The Town of Chapel Hill announced that it had selected DHIC, Inc. as the developer for the Legion Road site. DHIC, Inc. has been constructing affordable housing throughout the region since the 1980s.

DHIC developed Greenfield Place and Greenfield Commons, a collection of senior living apartments constructed less than half a mile from Legion Road on 10 acres initially allocated to the Chapel Hill Cemetery.

“[We have] selected DHIC as the affordable housing developer to partner with the town for the affordable housing development of this site,” read an official statement from the Town of Chapel Hill on its website. They’ll work with the town through the design, permitting, financing, and construction of a new neighborhood next to the future town park.

Shortly after purchasing the site back in 2017, Chapel Hill established the American Legion Task Force (ALTF) to begin exploring land use options. ALTF made a series of recommendations and suggestions to Chapel Hill town leaders.

For nearly three years, through the COVID-19 pandemic, little action was taken on the site, as the town dealt with more pressing matters. But now, with the pandemic lifted and a tremendous need for affordable housing throughout Chapel Hill, local leaders are ready to move forward.

Is the pond a problem?

The Legion Road property owned by Chapel Hill currently includes an 8,400 square-foot building, which served as American Legion Post 6’s home for decades. Also on site is a small dance studio and a large pond totaling over three acres in size.

The pond has an adjacent dam with various drainage issues that must be addressed before construction on the site can occur. Environmental studies raised issues with the pond dam, including a “shed floor drain with an uncertain discharge point,” according to the town website.

The town has employed the services of a local engineering firm, Tetra Tech, to provide consultation and a final solution on a pond dam location on the site. This work will require substantial permitting and construction/demolition. Staff is anticipating a two-year time frame to complete this particular part of the project.

A partnership

The partnership between the Town of Chapel Hill and DHIC is a compromise, as town planners are looking to develop approximately one-fourth (nine acres) of the property while preserving the remaining nearly 30 acres as an extension of the nearby Ephesus Park.

In December 2022, town leaders approved retaining ownership of the entire Legion Road property, refusing to sell any or all part of it. They also agreed to combine the preserved Legion property with Ephesus Park to create active and passive recreation accommodating the cultural arts. The plan calls for maintaining existing natural areas, including streams, forests, and natural buffers.

The town is also preparing a bid notice for a comprehensive parks and recreation master plan consultant, who will assist in the merging of the preserved Legion Road property – approximately 27 acres – with the approximately 12-acre Ephesus Park along Ephesus Church Road.

This year, the Town Council has taken numerous additional steps to move the project along. In March, they approved $540,000 as part of their fiscal year 2021-22 excess fund balance to begin addressing the pond dam on the site.

Funding for the project will come partially from the town’s Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan, which will allocate tens of millions of dollars to various municipal projects throughout town over the next decade.

The project will also attempt to secure low-income tax credits in the coming years. However, that will be a competitive process against other in-state municipalities seeking to construct similar low-income housing for its residents. Planning staff expects it will take three to five years to complete construction on the Legion Road project.

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