CHAPEL HILL - With the town’s new 2020 Plan in hand, developer Roger Perry is seeking approval for a revised mixed-use proposal on 124 acres near Chapel Hill’s southern border.
The Town Council takes up the roughly $500 million Obey Creek project again Sept. 19. The new plan lowers building heights on U.S. 15-501 to roughly 40 feet and cuts the number of homes by about half.
Buildings farther from the highway rise up to 100 feet tall as the land slopes to Wilson Creek, but Perry said passersby won’t see most of that.
Perry’s East-West Partners development group tried to mirror the town’s 2020 comprehensive plan goals, providing mixed uses and more commercial areas, being sensitive to height and leaved as much open space as possible, he said.
The new proposal limits the impact on local schools by restricting up to 50 percent of the 600 residential units to people 55 and older, he said.
The planned 825,000 square feet of commercial and retail space is slightly less than a March plan envisioned. For comparison, it’s more than twice University Mall’s 366,000 square feet.
The floor space includes a 130-room hotel, 350,000 square feet of retail and 375,000 square feet of other commercial space. Parking is multi-level and underground.
If approved, Perry said the 40-acre project would take 10 to 20 years to complete. Another 82 acres to the east of Wilson Creek would be left for a town park or recreation.
Obey Creek will bring a needed boost to the town’s 13 percent commercial tax base, Perry said.
“It’s a way to stem the tide of commercial going on the edge of town,” creating the traffic and none of the tax revenues, he said.
Walmart broke ground this summer on a 148,400-square-foot store just south of the Obey Creek site on the Chatham County line.
Residents are worried Obey Creek will cause its own problems. Resident Jeanne Brown said the additional cars, stoplights and curb cuts would only worsen the bottleneck at the James Taylor Bridge and on South Columbia Street south of UNC. The congestion also would affect Mt. Carmel Church, Culbreth, Dogwood Acres and Smith Level roads, she said.
Residents also worry about the environmental effects and the quality of life for future residents.
They said the town is going back on its own plans by allowing high-density development of the site. Both a 1981 town plan and 1992 Southern Small Area Plan recommended low-density development to balance Southern Village’s high density.
However, a more recent economic development study identified the U.S. 15-501 corridor as suitable for commercial projects, and a 15-501 South Corridor discussion group advised the town to honor the 1992 plan but encourage “clustered” commercial development.
Bob Strauss, who lives behind Obey Creek and attended the discussion group, said the process was too limited to consider public comments.
“I felt like I had to argue with the folks there,” he said.
Strauss and his wife, Mary Jannelli, moved to Chapel Hill a decade ago from Durham. He checked out the zoning near their home then, he said, and never thought it would include heavy commercial development.
He also questioned the project’s economic benefits.
“I think the onus is on (the mayor and council) to convince me of the financial benefit,” he said.
Brown, who lives off Mt. Carmel Church Road, said residents were going to talk with Perry’s son, project manager Ben Perry.
The biggest concern is that the citizens need to be heard, she said.
“What area residents envision and what the Southern 15-501 Discussion Group recommended is more in line with the Southern Village’s Market Street,” she said.
Market Street is a smaller shopping district closer to half the total commercial area Perry’s proposing for Obey Creek.