CHAPEL HILL - Town Council members sharply criticized a proposed hotel and student housing across Martin Luther King. Jr. Boulevard from UNC’s future satellite campus Monday night.
“Your timing’s lousy,” council member Gene Pease told developers.
Developers should delay the plan until the town finishes its 2020 Comprehensive Plan process, in which residents and the town are figuring out what should be built in this part of town, he said.
“This plan doesn’t even come close to what I’d like to see in this part of Chapel Hill,” Pease said.
Carolina Flats would put a four-story, 125- to 145-room hotel and about 190 apartments designed for upperclassmen and graduate students at 850 N. Estes Drive on the northeast corner of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The studio, and one- to four-bedroom apartments would house about 588 residents in three or four-story buildings with 532 parking spaces, according to the concept plan submitted by Orlando, Fla.-based Progressive Capital Group and consultant Scott Radway.
The 16-acre site is currently zoned for single-family housing and would require a rezoning. It also has building restrictions because of its proximity to Horace Williams Airport that the developers says can be removed once the university closes the airport for construction of the Carolina North campus across the boulevard.
The project is consistent with the town’s current Comprehensive Plan and is needed as UNC’s enrollment grows, the developers say. They cited 1.3 percent annual growth since 1991 and 3,673 more students since that year.
The town’s demand for student housing, a hotel on the north side of town, and the property’s access to the Chapel Hill Transit bus system, makes it a good place for development, Radway said.
The project would correspond with the construction of Carolina North, which will be built over the next 50 years off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Estes Drive and Homestead Road.
Carolina North will include research facilities for the School of Public Health, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, a law school, second research building and a utility building and student housing. All told, the campus will put some 8 million square feet on 250 acres of the 947-acre UNC-owned Horace Williams tract.
Residents who spoke Monday largely opposed the plan and said it did not fit with the surrounding area.
Carolina North followed a specific set of guidelines when it was approved, but there’s no similar set of guidelines for the surrounding area, said Priscilla Murphy, a nearby resident. “The town owes it to its residents ... to apply our expectations to our own surrounding neighborhoods,” she said.
The proposed development would compromise public safety by adding significant traffic to Estes Drive and harm the environment, said Jill Blackburn, who represented residents in Coker Hills and Coker Woods.
“We do not believe that Carolina Flats proposal is the right design for this property and (that) this proposed project would bring substantial and detrimental changes to our neighborhood,” she said.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt emphasized that Monday’s meeting was a preliminary and mandatory part of the town’s development review process.
The concept plan is meant to give the Town Council and the community an early look at how a project might look and to give developers an opportunity to get the council’s feedback before submitting a formal application, he said.
And the council offered lots of feedback.
Member Penny Rich, who has repeatedly said she wants to see fewer student cars in Chapel Hill, said the developers’ number of proposed parking spaces is unacceptable.
“We need to change the mindset of students,” she said. “For every student to have a car with them and there’s two spaces for each apartment, I just have a problem with that.”
Member Laurin Easthom said she’d like to see the Carolina Flats project complement Carolina North more and agreed with those who said the project has too much parking.
When trees are removed from an architect’s sketch, “what we’re really looking at is a huge parking lot,” she said.
Adding more traffic to the already-congested and deteriorating Estes Drive would be a “nightmare,” Easthom said.