Published: Jul 21, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jul 20, 2012 04:56 PM
Roger Perry, the developer of Meadowmont and East 54, hit on precisely the question that commands so much attention in Chapel Hill.
“If you accept the inevitability of growth,” Perry told us for a story we ran on July 11, “then how do you accommodate that?”
There are two parts to that sentence, and both are worth discussing.
First, of course, is the premise.
Is growth in Chapel Hill inevitable? Is it desirable? And if so, how much growth? Do we ever reach a point where we decide we’re big enough? What is that point?
There must be a maximum reasonable capacity. Our space is finite, constrained by our physical boundaries, the carrying capacity of our schools and services, and the limitations imposed by the Rural Buffer (which could, of course, be amended or even done away with, although we haven’t heard anybody suggest anything quite that drastic).
But clearly we haven’t maxed out yet. Perry himself is planning a big new development, Obey Creek, which at last count was to have 1,200 residential units (he has said he intends to reduce that – by how much, we don’t yet know).
This remains a desirable place to live, from what we can tell, and without new housing we’ll wind up with high demand and limited supply, which stands to drive the already high cost of housing up even more. Not what we want.
As for the second part of Perry’s question – How do we accommodate growth? – clearly we live in the Age of Building Up.
Some years back, the trend for large developments in Chapel Hill was the Mixed-Use Village. That’s what got us Meadowmont and Southern Village. Those projects feature hundreds of homes, many of them single-family houses and townhouses, arrayed around a “village center” of shops and restaurants. The buildings are a few stories high at most, and the developments are set back and largely hidden from the nearby thoroughfares.
That model has given way to the much harder-to-miss urban reach-for-the-sky aesthetic. Mixed-use condominium projects are the trend, and “Build up, not out” is the mantra.
The pale yellow towers of Greenbridge on West Rosemary Street block the sunset from points east. The East 54 buildings stand right up against the road on the eastern approach to town and tower over, well, everything. On West Franklin Street, construction of the 140 West condos has topped out at eight stories.
The economic downturn makes it hard to gauge exactly how successful that model is. East 54 dropped its condo prices by a third, and Greenbridge was foreclosed on less than a year after it opened.
Most of the people we’ve talked to who live in those places say they like it. But for our money they are hardly welcoming structures to the rest of us.
Attitudes about growth and development evolve over time, as they should.
If things go well, you learn from the flawed assumptions, unintended consequences and other mistakes of the past, incorporate those into your thinking and come up with increasingly better approaches.
So what do you think? Are we on the right track?
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