Chapel Hill council hears downtown apartment plan

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 19, 2013 

  • Hearing delayed

    The Town Council delayed the second part of a public hearing Monday about the Timber Hollow Apartments redevelopment project on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

    The developer asked for more time this week to respond to previous town and advisory board comments. The discussion has been rescheduled tentatively for Feb. 10.

    Developer Ron Strom, with Blue Heron Asset Management, said there are three primary areas of concern: row houses planned along MLK Boulevard, a new multistory building and the new community center.

  • Project stats

    •  Name: Franklin Student Housing (could change)

    • Location: 106 Mallette St.

    • Developer: Wintergreen Hospitality

    • Property Owner: DRE Investors

    • Acres: 0.7

    • Zoning: Town Center-2

    • Square footage: 103,726

    • Stories: 6

    • Residential: 55-60 apartments.

    • Parking: 120 spaces on two levels under the building.

    • Current Tax Value: Roughly $1 million

    • Current Property Taxes: $23,000

    • Proposed Property Taxes: roughly $200,000

— Town Council members raised several questions Monday about parking, affordable housing and how a six-story apartment building would fit in with downtown neighbors.

The 106 Mallette St. project is about walkability and urban living, said consultant John McAdams of The John R. McAdams Co.

The apartments aren’t just for students, despite being temporarily named Franklin Student Housing, developer Jay Patel said. The founder of Wintergreen Hospitality owns The Franklin Hotel with his brother Anup Patel.

“We’re not looking at a demographic group of people … in a certain age group or a certain economic class or a certain profession,” he said. “What we’re looking at is really a lifestyle thing.”

The proposed site is between Mallette and Kenan streets, behind the hotel and facing Panera Bread. At 103,726 square feet, the building could have 55 to 60 apartments on less than an acre.

The exterior could reflect the hotel and nearby buildings, but with vegetative or reflective roofs. Council member Jim Ward said he’d also like to see energy-efficient utilities, pedestrian walkways and maybe some street-level stores.

“Over the years, I see that ... this part of Mallette (Street) is going to be incorporated into the downtown fabric much more than it is today,” he said.

Two parking levels under the building contributes to the need for a taller building than allowed, said John Felton, Cline Design Associates design director. The narrow site also makes it critical to use the maximum square footage through height, he said.

The site now has 46 public parking spaces. Council member Ed Harrison asked if any of the planned 120 new spaces would be public. Patel said the parking lot is an interim use; they don’t know how the project will fit into downtown plans.

They also haven’t decided how to address the town’s affordable housing needs, he said. The preliminary proposal includes roughly 10 less-expensive apartments or a payment into the town’s affordable housing fund.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said several recent housing fund payments left the community with “buyer’s remorse,” because they should have asked the applicant for more. Council member Donna Bell suggested they work with an affordable housing group, such as the Community Home Trust.

How the building co-exists with smaller, mostly rental houses to the south also will be important, council members said. The upper stories would be set back, providing more distance from neighbors and reducing shadows. The council asked to see more ways to ease potentially negative effects, from wider buffers to a narrower building.

Council member Sally Greene suggested the developers look at what’s been done in Northside. The neighborhood, north of West Rosemary Street, has new, larger developments that meet specific design standards to blend in with existing homes.

The town needs to talk about the issue now, because more tall projects could be proposed beside smaller homes in the future, Bell said.

“I think we should work in coordination with the developer to think about how these bufferings should work and think of it as a pilot program to figure out what we’re going to do long term,” she said.

Felton said they also will look at reducing noise from an open-air pool now planned just feet from a neighboring house. It could be built with a wall that dulls sound or even on the rooftop, he said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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