Published: Oct 15, 2012 12:46 PM
Modified: Oct 15, 2012 12:47 PM
In 1992, the town of Chapel Hill created a Small Area Plan for the southern 15-501 area. A density swap was made to transfer the zoning density on the east side of 15-501 to the area now known as Southern Village. Now, 20 years later, East West Partners, the developer of Meadowmont and East 54, wants to build a new high-density, mixed-use development called Obey Creek on 33 acres of the section zoned as low density in the swap.
In the design presented to the Town Council on Sept. 19, the Obey Creek development includes more than 1 million square feet of office/commercial (375,000 sq ft), retail space (350,00 sq ft), a hotel (100,000 sq ft), and 600 residential units. The 820,000 sq ft of commercial/retail is more than three times the size of the Southern Village commercial square, and over twice the size of University Mall. The magnitude of this proposal clearly violates the spirit of the 1992 Small Area Plan.
Despite a long list of factual objections issued by 23 citizens and 67 e-mails expressing a multitude of concerns, the Town Council ended the Sept. 19 discussion by acceding to the developer’s request to pursue a development agreement rather than advising Roger Perry who was speaking for East West Partners that evening to go back to the drawing board.
According to the town’s FAQ, a development agreement (DA) is “a unique tool that is useful for large projects that will be built over many years.” DAs provide developers with a level of certainty about what can be built and what mitigation measures will be required. DAs also allow more creative solutions, including the participation of local residents in determining the details of the development. The advantage to using a DA is that it gives binding certainty to both sides. So assuming this development is going to be built, a DA might be the best approach. But should the development be built?
The 1992 Small Area Plan down zoned this tract of land for a reason. The Planning Department categorized most of the tract as “Building Restricted,” defined as “Major building constraints due to extreme slopes, soil, hydrologic, geologic conditions, and flood plains. Additional site analysis of soil conditions and hydrologic/geologic conditions is needed to determine acceptable building and engineering techniques.” Wilson Creek, which flows into Morgan Creek, bisects the tract. Just last year, the council rejected a proposal for Aydan Court on the basis of steep slopes and the negative impact it could create within the Jordan watershed. So why are those same council members now assuming Obey Creek should be built?
The 15-501 South discussion group, appointed by town staff and CH2020 stakeholders, was charged with developing “a land use recommendation for the Southern 15/501 area of the Chapel Hill 2020 Future Focus work.” Residents from through Chapel Hill and southern Orange County came together and agreed that this property should be developed. Let me repeat – there was near unanimous support for developing the property. But the caveat to that support was that any new development should honor the spirit of the 1992 density swap, and should be developed as community retail in a similar density, height, and design as Southern Village.
The concept plan as presented neither honors the spirit of the 1992 Small Area Plan nor respects the CH2020 recommendations. Until there is a concept plan that comes significantly closer to honoring those recommendations, there should be no development agreement, indeed, no further discussion.
We, the citizens of southern Orange County, deserve same respect shown to Glen Lennox, Kings Mill/Morgan Creek, Northside, and several other neighborhoods within Chapel Hill. We respectfully request the Town Council to honor the spirit of the recommendations adopted into the town’s ordinances through the Chapel Hill 2020 plan via the 15-501 South Discussion Group prior to pursuing a development agreement.