By Laurie Paolicelli
New Development Approved for Estes Drive and MLK, Jr. Boulevard
The Chapel Hill Town Council approved Aura Chapel Hill at the northeastern corner of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Trinsic Residential Group will build 419 apartments and townhomes and at least 15,800 square feet of commercial space. Over 3 acres will be dedicated to public green space, including a central plaza with fenced-in playground, a Central Park for holding activities and events, and a Woodlands natural area around a stream on the site.
Under the current plans, Aura will include:
- Housing: 361 apartments, 58 for-sale townhouses. Eight townhomes would be sold to those earning up to 80% of the area median income — $48,400 a year for an individual and $69,120 for a family of four. Nine apartments would be rented to those earning up to 80% AMI, while another 20 would be rented to those at 65% AMI — $39,325 for an individual and $56,160 for a family of four. Trinsic will accept Section 8 vouchers for the affordable units.
- Commercial: 15,857 square feet of restaurant, retail and office space; town council has allowed up to twice that commercial space to be built with administrative approval, should demand for commercial space be greater than expected.
- Parking: 650 surface, underground and garage parking spaces, with parking for residential tenants leased separately from apartments. An upper level of parking along Estes Drive could be converted to other uses in the future.
Construction will start in 2022, with completion late 2023. Construction traffic will feed from MLK, not go on Estes. The town is starting on its ped-bike improvements to Estes this summer.
University Place (former U-Mall) to Undergo Significant Changes
Chapel Hill Town Council approved modifications for University Place that allows buildings up to 90 feet tall on part of the mall site on South Estes Drive, and up to 75 feet tall in another part to allow for new apartment units. The redevelopment completion is expected by 2028.
The current site plan will split the redevelopment into five “pods.”
- Pod A includes a surface parking lot beside Willow Drive, up to 255 apartments and ground-floor retail, including 5,500 square feet of retail space for small businesses. Buildings could be up to 5 stories, along the road to seven stories, inside the property.
- Pod B will renovate about 295,000 square feet of existing commercial space, demolish the vacant Southern Season store, and continue turning the interior-facing storefronts outside.
- Pod C is dedicated to green space along the Fordham Boulevard side that is pedestrian focused and includes programmed space for the Farmers’ Market and other events. By 2027, the site could also include a 125-room hotel.
- Pod D includes another 25,000 square feet of commercial and office space along Estes Drive, which already contains a bank, gas station and parking lots.
- Pod E includes the renovation of an existing bank at the corner of Estes and Willow drives.
A New Library in Carrboro
The 203 Project, an upcoming facility that will house Carrboro’s first, full-time library, underwent financial and construction plan changes in the past six months. The project is set to open in late 2022 at 203 S. Greensboro St. and will house the Orange County Southern Branch Library. Additionally, it will be home to town recreation and parks offices, a teen center, and county government offices. Orange County Commissioners voted at a March 2 meeting to allocate an additional $1.8 million to the project after rearrangements were made to the building and parking deck design, increasing its cost.
ArtsCenter Carrboro to Move
The ArtsCenter in Carrboro is set to build a new home across from OWASA near the intersection of Jones Ferry Road and Barnes Street following the purchase of the 1.3-acre site in January of 2019. The new site will include studio and performance space, as well as parking. According to Daniel Mayer, the ArtsCenter’s executive director, the new two-story building will take advantage of its natural setting, incorporating arts into the environment and preserving over 30 percent of the existing trees – largely surrounding a stream that cuts across the eastern half of the site.
New Welcome Center Opening at 308 West Franklin Street
In December, a new Visitor Welcome Center will open in the heart of downtown Franklin Street when the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau relocates from its current space at 501 W. Franklin Street. The new Center will include a welcome video from former resident James Taylor, and a music video featuring Taylor singing “Going to Carolina in my Mind.” The new space will include 3-D maps of Orange County, a music wall, and information on Hillsborough and Carrboro, as well as Orange County farms. The Visitors Bureau is an Orange County office funded by the hotel occupancy taxes left by visitors to the 1600 hotel rooms throughout the area.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.