Draft plan for Chapel Hill growth released

tgrubb@newsobserver.comSeptember 3, 2013 

  • What’s next The town’s Planning Board will review the draft plan at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at the town Public Works Building, 6850 Millhouse Road.

    • Find more information about the draft Ephesus Church-Fordham Zoning Regulations at www.townofchapelhill.org/ephesusfordham.

    • Email questions and comments to lumo@townofchapelhill.org with “Ephesus Church” in the subject line. Mail written comments to Town of Chapel Hill Planning Department, Attn: Eric Feld, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill NC 27514.

— The town’s Fordham Boulevard commercial district could be filled with buildings up to five and seven stories tall one day if a draft plan is approved.

The five-story buildings would line neighborhood streets, forming a buffer between the town’s busy shopping areas and its neighborhoods, said Code Studio consultant Lee Einsweiler. He has been working with town staff and residents to outline and draft the Ephesus Church-Fordham zoning regulations.

Taller buildings could be built in much of the existing commercial area, particularly at Village Plaza, Eastgate, Rams Plaza and the strip along Fordham Boulevard near Europa Drive.

The zoning plan has been in the works since 2010. It recently grew to include the entire area between Franklin Street and Ephesus Church Road, stretching from the western side of South Elliott Road to the eastern side of Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery. The council adopted the small-area plan that’s the basis for the draft zoning plan in 2011 during the Chapel Hill 2020 community planning process.

The public has until Sept. 17 to comment or ask questions about the draft plan. That’s when it goes to the town’s Planning Board for discussion. The board’s recommendations will be forwarded to the Town Council by its Oct. 21 public hearing.

The council may not act until later this year, but once the plan is approved, proposed projects will only be checked for zoning compliance and a list of town requirements. The Town Council and the public will not be involved in the development approval process, officials said.

The draft plan defines future land uses, building heights and design and parking.

The placement of buildings would depend on the type of road frontage allowed on the street, Einsweiler said.

• Type A frontage, along internal roadways, would be the most pedestrian-friendly, putting buildings on the street. The appearance would be similar to downtown Chapel Hill, but the building facades would step back at three stories so they don’t loom over the street.

• Type B streets would push buildings farther from the street or, if they are built next to the street, include a driveway and diagonal parking along the side of the building. There also could be limited parking in front of the buildings.

Major streets that are not considered pedestrian friendly, such as Fordham Boulevard, would have fewer building and parking limits. However, the plan is likely to include maximum parking caps, so the area doesn’t become a sea of parking, Einsweiler said. The higher-rise buildings also could include under- and above-ground parking structures.

The draft plan also maps a network of roads that town officials and the consultant hope will simplify traffic and make pedestrians and bicyclists feel more safe.

The whole study area is challenging and will need to better balance the needs of drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists, Einsweiler said. The change could take years as property owners seek to redevelop or sell their lots, he said.

“These are tough properties fading in their economic capacity to serve in the future. Many have issues surrounding stormwater and flooding,” he said.

The goal is to create more development flexibility, simplify the town’s approval process and come up with a plan that gets predictable results and creates a “high-quality public realm,” he said.

The plan also proposes roughly 300 residential units, many of which would be developed along a planned Elliott Road extension through the current Colony Apartments.

Officials also are considering part of the town’s wooded, 20-acre parcel fronting Fordham Boulevard, east of Europa Drive, for affordable housing. It already includes the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery and could house a new fire station, too, said Dwight Bassett, the town’s economic development director.

Stormwater mitigation measures should keep excessive runoff on the steeply sloped lot from becoming a problem, he said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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