CHAPEL HILL - Former Mayor Kevin Foy will chair a new 15-501 South Corridor Discussion Group tasked with recommending how that part of town should grow.
The group will study the area including Southern Village, the park-and-ride lot, the U.S. 15-501 entrance to Chapel Hill and the Obey Creek property. The group will recommend land uses to Chapel Hill 2020, the community planning process guiding the town’s overall growth and spending priorities.
After workshops last month, both town staff and several 2020 participants suggested a parallel discussion group for the corridor. In an interview Friday, 2020 co-chair George Cianciolo said groups studying other parts of town were able to agree on many goals, but the discussions looking at how the southern corridor might grow were “contentious.”
“There were some people who said they didn’t want to see anything there, turn it into a park – even though we have a park across the street,” Cianciolo said.
Some people objected to Roger and Ben Perry of East West Partners, attending some meetings, and one person criticized former mayor Rosemary Waldorf’s role in the 2020 process because she works for D.R. Bryan, the developer of Southern Village. Waldorf is the other 2020 co-chair.
“You have some strong opinions,” Cianciolo said. Waldorf could not be reached for comment Friday, but Cianciolo said the ultimate 2020 recommendations will come from the process’s 80 to 100 “stakeholders,” not its co-chairs.
“Rosemary and I try to stay above the fray,” he said. “And I think she’s done a pretty good job about it.”
Foy’s role is to serve as an impartial moderator, according to a town news release, and the former mayor said he’s not coming in with any preconceived notions.
“There are strong emotions generally about growth issues in Chapel Hill,” he said. “I think it’s good that people are passionate about what they do and don’t want to see.” Obey Creek
The southern part of town is much in the news now because of a new Walmart coming to northern Chatham County, close to the Orange County line.
East West Partners has said the town needs to act quickly to take advantage of the retail opportunities there, although company head Roger Perry has also said he will wait for the 2020 process to conclude before finalizing plans for Obey Creek. East West Partners has proposed 1,200 residential units, a hotel and more than 450,000 square feet of retail space on a 120-acre site across U.S. 15-501 from Southern Village.
Obey Creek runs counter to a 1981 town plan that downzoned much of the area, keeping it low density in exchange for the high-density Southern Village project.
Some residents have already said the town should stick to the earlier downzoning, but Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said in an interview this month that conditions have changed and it may make sense to allow more development in less-sensitive parts of the area.
Foy agreed it’s worth talking about.
“I think it’s hard when you’ve helped to construct the way a place looks today, the way a place feels today, to say let’s think about it differently. That’s the nature of life,” he said. “I don’t think it’s wrong to think about things and talk about things, and maybe make changes to things.”
The town release said the new work group’s discussions “will be a model for civil discourse on a topic of community-wide importance.”
The work group is made up of the following members:
• Kevin Foy - chair
• 2 Planning Board members: Kimberly Brewer and John Ager
• 1 Bicycle and Pedestrian Board member- Rainer Dammers
• 1 Transportation Board member- Whit Rummel
• 2 Southern Area Residents - Susan Duke and Jeremy Purbirck
• 2 Southern Area business or land owners or land owners representative: Lori Eichol and Ben Perry
• 1 Southern Area ETJ resident: John Schmidt
The work group will hold three meetings, receive public comment at each meeting and make a recommendation to the 2020 co-chairs and participants before April 24. Chapel Hill 2020 aims to submit its report to the Town Council in June.
For more information about the Chapel Hill 2020 process, including Draft No. 1 of the new comprehensive plan, visit www.chapelhill2020 or the blog at www.2020buzz.org.