CHAPEL HILL - Roger Perry says he will submit a revised plan next month for the Obey Creek project in southern Chapel Hill.
Based in part on his experience at East 54, Perry says the latest incarnation of the retail, residential and office village on U.S. 15-501 will have fewer homes, shorter buildings and less construction along the highway.
His last concept plan for Obey Creek had 1,200 residential units, a hotel and 456,000 square feet of retail space on 40 acres of a 120-acre site. By comparison, University Mall is 366,000 square feet.
Multi-level underground parking will also be included.
Perry said he wanted to wait until the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan was approved to get the town’s vision in writing.
Now, he’s ready to do what he needs to get Obey Creek passed, like he did with his Meadowmont and East 54 projects.
“We don’t push rocks up hill for drill,” he said. “We will shape and morph Obey Creek to the point where it’s acceptable. ... That’s the way we do every project.”
Chapel Hill 2020 changes what town leaders previously said they wanted in that part of town.
The Obey Creek site was down-zoned after Southern Village was built across the street. The Southern Small Area Plan passed in 1992 said the area should remain low-density with no more than one house per acre.
That plan took two years and was created by residents, said Margaret Brown, who served on the Southern Small Area Plan committee and the Orange County Board of Commissioners from 1996 to 2004.
The new vision reneges on the town’s commitment, she said.
“They’re not interested in looking at that plan as far as I can tell,” she said. “I don’t know why the Town Council won’t say ‘Listen, it’s not part of our plans.’ But I guess because Roger Perry is Roger Perry.”
Perry’s son and employee, Ben Perry, served on the Chapel Hill 2020 U.S. 15-501 discussion group, and 2020 cochair Rosemary Waldorf has worked for D.R. Bryan, the developer of Southern Village, Brown said.
“It’s not truthful for them to say they’re going to help the tax rate or anything else,” Brown said. “They’re going cost us money in supplying all the infrastructure which they don’t ever pay for.”Retail development
A 2020 task force recommended the council “recognize and honor the spirit of the ’92 Southern Small Area Plan” but also “encourage clustered retail development, including any new development toward the county line.”
“We’re not just saying, ‘Well that all needs to go by the wayside; that’s an old plan we can forget about it,’” said former Mayor Kevin Foy, who facilitated the group. “Those fundamental principles still hold, but maybe they can be flexible and accommodate moderate, very specific targeted commercial growth on the east side of 15-501.”
The group did a good job of including public input and compromising on how the land should be used, Foy said. The new plan allows for a smaller, concentrated commercial development along 15-501 on one side of Obey Creek, as long as the other side of the creek is preserved, he said.
“There is no support for just blowing the lid off the original agreement,” Foy said.
The next step will be to see how the town deals with resident concerns when a new Obey Creek returns, said former Town Council member Julie McClintock, a member of Neighbors for Responsible Growth.
“I think the most immediate question is whether the town considers the discussion so far as the last word on community input,” she said.
The new 15-501 plan also says any new development proposals should include a community process.
“Something that takes a little more time, but ... gives people an opportunity to give their input and have a back and forth that works for everybody,” said Jeanne Brown, who attended discussing group meetings and lives on Beachridge Court off Mt. Carmel Church Road near Obey Creek.‘NIMBY approach’
Perry says many critics of commercial growth fight any project near them, even when it would benefit the greater community.
“The people who rail against mixed use in this town are a very narrow constituency,” he said. “ I don’t think they reflect the majority of this community. They’re loud and they’re very passionate.”
But Perry says he’s also taken a lesson from experience.
“When you see the plan for Obey Creek you’ll see the scale of the buildings will not look as tall or be as tall at grade as East 54 is,” he said. “We won’t have a long expanse of buildings (along U.S. 15-501). We’ll learn from that.”
He gauged the interest in Obey Creek with a presentation to the town’s economic development committee, made up of council members, earlier this year and said if the town wants his project it has to move faster.
“We don’t want an expedited review. What we would like is a review,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this for two years ... and we’re ceding an enormous advantage to those who don’t wring their hands so much about what they want and don’t want on a site.”
“Are we going to sit by and do nothing like we did 25 years ago when new Hope Commons was debated,” he said. “Let’s decide what we want and get on with it before it’s too late.”
Chapel Hill suffers when it allows neighboring counties like Chatham to build large developments on its borders, Perry said. The town doesn’t get the tax revenue but is stuck with the added traffic.
“You cede all the positives yet you don’t avoid any of the negatives,” he said.
Walmart plans to build a 148,400-square-foot store about a mile-and-a-half south of the Obey Creek site, just across the Chatham County line.