Published: Apr 25, 2012 11:01 AM
Modified: Apr 25, 2012 11:02 AM
The key question is, “Would you rather have $770,000 a year or $48 a year?”
If you chose $48 per year that’s about what the 16-acre parcel on the northeast corner of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard now pays in taxes under its Tree Farm use tax rate. All other property taxes are deferred.
If you chose $770,000 that’s what developer’s representative and planning consultant Scott Radway estimates that the property would bring in property tax revenues if the site is developed as Carolina Flats at Estes, a proposed set of 190 student-oriented apartments and a 145-room hotel with 800 parking spots. The timing of the proposed project also runs smack into the Town’s development of its 2020 comprehensive plan, creating a very interesting test of the town’s future vision for itself and how it wants to grow – or if it wants to.
I spent a few hours at the site last week tromping through the tree-farm property and enjoying the woods while they remain. With intrepid urban naturalist Bill Bracey and his faithful dog Simona along for the adventure, we found evidence of a one–man hobo encampment complete with frying pan and a likely chamber pot, an unidentifiable chameleon-like lizard with a bright blue underbelly, a single dandelion like non-native flower, a few painted buckeyes and delicious smelling ‘fringe trees’ (Chionathus virginicus) trying to make it in the understory.
It’s a nice flat site that has been in the Horace Williams airport flight hazard zone for years, requiring a 500,000 square foot minimum for development; no wonder it has never been built on. Now that it appears UNC will break ground on its first building at Carolina North next year, it’s likely that the town could rescind the airport flight hazard overlay as the proposed first building is on the runway. A larger question is if the town will change the zoning from residential to a higher density to permit this project.
The expected opposition to the Flats project has already arisen entitling themselves online the Estes Hills Drive Neighbors. They include the obvious nearest neighbors on Woodshire, in Coker Woods and they have claimed other supporters farther down Estes Drive or up Somerset or down to Mount Bolus and over to Lake Forest in their petition to halt or delay the council’s consideration of this project.
The petition cites concerns about traffic, flooding on Estes Drive, safety for those walking to school and a concern that the proposed project doesn’t fit the neighborhood. It’s interesting to contemplate that the nearest housing was built long after the adjoining high-density Shadowood Apartments and those houses all sold right away. The rest of the intersection now includes a church, a soon to be intensely developed Carolina North, UNC’s facilities management headquarters replete with many trucks, parking lots, construction shops and warehouses, all suitably buffered from view as much of the proposed Flats at Estes would be. The narrow buffer for the proposed hotel would front on MLK with higher visibility, five lanes of traffic and wide sidewalks.
When my wife Rebekah and I were dating she lived at Shadowoods Apartments and I was a convenient half-mile away. We would have loved a great spot within walking distance for a drink and snack after work or on a weekend evening. The proposed hotel could conceivably provide that. Imagine the view from a fourth-floor rooftop lounge there. It would be the best in town from that already high elevation. It would also be great to have a restaurant and sandwich shop there to serve the hundreds of people who live, play, worship, do yoga and work nearby with no other lunch or after work dining options within walking distance.
As someone who used to frequently bike along Estes Drive, the most dangerous stretch is that fronted by the undeveloped woodlands along the north side of Estes by the tree farm and a bit farther down towards Franklin. Farther down, adjacent to the school and houses there are sidewalks and slightly wider streets. The town’s general approach to sidewalk development has been to leave sidewalk and bike lane development to future developers or when the NCDOT gets around to making road improvements the town negotiates the wider right of way and pays for the sidewalks or sometimes uses special pots of state funds. Thus many short but critical stretches of road like this one, lack sidewalk and bikelanes to create those vaunted non-motorized linkages we all say we want.
The town could also do with a hotel in this area, there are none nearby and plenty of visitors who don’t’ necessarily want to bunk at one of the pricier downtown options. College students living there would be right on a busline and their 190 apartments would also contribute a projected $244,000 in impact fees to the city schools while likely contributing very few students. As I write this, it could be an interesting review session Monday in the council chambers. Happy Earth Day.