Published: Mar 05, 2013 12:00 AM
Modified: Mar 05, 2013 06:21 PM
CHAPEL HILL - By Tammy Grubb
Work is under way to balance community desires with the economic and residential returns of redeveloping land surrounding three decades-old shopping centers, a consultant says.
Lee Einsweiler of Code Studio told more than 100 residents at an Ephesus Church-Fordham Boulevard meeting last week that transportation connections are key to redeveloping Ram’s Plaza, Eastgate Shopping Center, Village Plaza on Elliott Road and nearby areas.
Most cars now travel along three busy corridors – Elliott Road, Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road. New roads – extending Legion Road to South Elliott Road, and South Elliott to Ephesus Church Road, for example – will ease congestion and give commercial properties better visibility and accessibility, he said. New bike lanes, greenways, sidewalks and bus stops will make alternate transportation safer and easier, he said.
Einsweiler is helping town staff update Chapel Hill’s land-use management ordinance and rewrite zoning codes as part of the town’s 2020 comprehensive planning process. The changes will make implementing new projects less expensive and less arbitrary, he said.
“They will allow more than is allowed today, and in return, we’ll get the components we want,” he said.
However, residents weren’t sold on the concept of “by-right development,” which speeds up the project approval process by limiting public input where there are zoning rules and development plans in place.
Several residents encouraged better pedestrian, bike and bus connections. Frances Street resident Jim Sahadi suggested a pedestrian bridge across Fordham Boulevard near Eastgate Shopping Center to make crossing the busy highway easier.
Einsweiler said the focus first should be on building quality streets and crossings.
“One of the challenges of an elevated walkway as an alternative is it says we’ve completely given up on the street and we’re never going to make it safe,” he said.
Other residents wanted to know if submitted projects could be delayed until they finish talking about the area’s future. Town leaders have said it’s not possible to stop progress until every focus area is discussed.
Bobette Eckland, who also lives on Frances Street, said she worries how a planned seven-story project, The Park at Chapel Hill, will affect Ephesus Church Road residents and traffic. The retail and residential complex would replace the 198-unit Colony Apartments, one of the town’s few affordable housing complexes, and add roughly 600 more apartments.
The complex also would have a 10,000-square-foot retail building and parking for more than 1,000 cars.
Einsweiler said the community discussed the Ephesus Church-Fordham plan before the Town Council approved it in 2011. That process included details, such as environmental protection, neighborhood preservation and how to meet residential, retail and office space needs.
Economic Development Director Dwight Bassett said the maximum potential for new and redeveloped property could at least double to roughly 600,000 square feet for office and retail, 280,000 square feet for hotels and up to 1,000 new residential units.
The town will end up with something better than it has now in that area, Einsweiler said.
“We need to find ways to encourage developers who share our values and give them free rein to surprise us – in a good way,” he said.