CHAPEL HILL — A community panel planning for future growth at one of the town’s busiest intersections cheered a rare moment of unanimity last week.
The Central West Steering Committee approved the first piece of its recommended map – a plan for bike and pedestrian connections – before moving on to what kind of projects might be built on the eastern side of the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard-Estes Drive intersection.
Committee members tentatively agree on a mix of retail, residential and civic uses on the northern side of Estes Drive, with residential lots near Somerset Drive. They want to see a limited amount of residential development and an even smaller amount of commercial development south of Estes Drive.
Committee members have mentioned a Parks and Recreation office as a potential civic use near the existing neighborhoods.
The committee also tentatively agreed to a maximum of three stories for buildings throughout most of the 100-acre study area, with the potential for four to five stories inside the steeply sloped southern portion, behind the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA. The final decision will come at a future meeting.
The committee pushed to nail down some of the plan’s details ahead of Tuesday’s presentation to the town Planning Board. The presentation will not address traffic, stormwater and other issues that the final plan might create.
The Central West focus area is the first of several areas identified in the town’s 2020 Plan as ripe for future growth or redevelopment. A public hearing on the final plan is scheduled for Oct. 21. The Town Council could vote Nov. 25.
‘Twists and turns’
Some neighbors and committee members said they still have concerns about the new map’s potential effects on traffic, pedestrian safety and stormwater, all of which have yet to be studied.
“Even by the twists and turns that have become a characteristic of the Central West Steering Committee, the abrupt switch in one week from a map being called a first draft and a starting point for discussions ... is an astounding change of directions,” resident Alan Tom said. “The reality is the steering committee is not really ready to offer a final report that can be meaningfully reviewed by the Planning Board next week.”
Co-Chairwoman Amy Ryan reminded the group it’s been nine months. There will be other meetings to work out the details, but now’s the time to get something done, she said.
“We have talked and talked, and we need to make decisions,” she said.
Ryan and co-chairman Michael Parker brought the newest map to the committee Sept. 19 after talking individually with committee members. Four plans shown at a Sept. 10 open house have been dropped, and a primarily residential citizen alternative map that proposed shorter, less-dense commercial development never got off the ground.
Landowner and committee member Lucy Davis said the draft map is not a new direction but a synthesis of the committee’s work so far.
“We are trying to set a direction for kind of development that could go here in this area,” Davis said. “It’s not saying that this specific development is going to be X.”