Chapel Hill invites residents to comment on Estes-MLK plans

tgrubb@newsobserver.comSeptember 7, 2013 

  • What’s next

    Residents can see, learn and comment Tuesday on development options for the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard-Estes Drive area. The community session will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of Amity United Methodist Church, 825 N. Estes Drive. More information is available at http://bit.ly/14j7KlR.

— Residents will get another chance Tuesday to review and comment on several options for growth at one of the town’s busiest intersections.

The Central West Steering Committee has been working with neighbors, town staff and consultants since January to outline uses for undeveloped land near the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The Central West area is one of six areas identified for future development or redevelopment in the Chapel Hill 2020 plan for town growth.

Although the area being considered only contains a few parcels, its development will have a domino effect across town, especially once UNC builds the adjacent Carolina North research campus. A lack of money has delayed the university’s 250-acre, 300 million-square-foot project, but one day, it could bring thousands of students, faculty and residents to the area.

The vision for that future continues to divide Central West residents. In particular, the group has wrestled with issues of car, bike and pedestrian safety, environmental conservation, and the density, height and kind of commercial uses that will serve the town’s economic goals while preserving the neighborhood’s residential character.

The community session Tuesday will include the committee’s four proposed development maps and other information. A smaller group of residents, who said they are frustrated with the current options and how their ideas were received, plans to bring a fifth map to the meeting, said Julie McClintock, who also is a committee member.

McClintock said the committee’s maps are not clear about what will be built or how traffic will be handled. While building height and use are included, the maps do not show the proposed square footage. There also has been very little analysis beyond a town traffic study and some discussion of potential stormwater issues, she said.

“We’re concerned (the community) is not going to be able to see what’s on the table,” McClintock said.

Steering Committee member Whit Rummel, who owns 14 acres on two Estes Drive parcels, said he sympathizes with those who fear the end result will be worse than what is there now. The committee, as well as town staff and the consultant, has tried to do the best job it can with the tools available to it, he said.

“That fear is causing a number of neighbors to oppose what is happening now,” he said.

At the committee’s behest, Rummel said he drew a sample map earlier this year that showed stores and a restaurant on one of his parcels, closest to MLK Boulevard, and a civic or municipal use on the more residential lot, he said. His idea was to get the group thinking about atypical ways to grow, but in the end, whatever is built will only succeed if there is the density to support it, he said.

It also has to be safe, especially for the children, he said.

“(Estes Drive) is not a neighborhood street at all. It is a thoroughfare with people zipping through from one place to another,” he said.

The town will hold a public hearing on the steering committee’s recommendations Oct. 21. The Town Council could make a decision in November.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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