Chapel Hill council takes up Glen Lennox project talks

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2014 

Glen Lennox talks got off to a slow start Wednesday with the Town Council asking developers for more information and time to consider the mixed-use, residential and commercial redevelopment project.

If approved, the project would be built using the town’s first development agreement for a private project. The only other development agreement the town currently has is with UNC for its future Carolina North campus, although staff members are working on a third potential agreement for the Obey Creek site near Southern Village.

The Glen Lennox project, on N.C. 54 east of U.S. 15-501, could triple traffic in the area as it’s built over the next 20 years, officials said. The master plan preserves the Glen Lennox shopping center and some existing apartments. It would add more retail along N.C. 54, and offices, apartment buildings and cottages inside the neighborhood.

Project talks began in March 2013 and moved to negotiations with the town manager and town attorney in September. A third-party technical team versed in traffic, stormwater, legal and other project issues is helping with the negotiations.

The town will hold more council work sessions, public information meetings and public hearings in April and May. A decision on the development agreement is possible by June.

Developer Grubb Properties wants to finish as soon possible but take enough time to get the project right, said Rachel Russell, director of real estate development and investments.

The community won’t see the detailed drawings that a developer normally would provide, officials said. Instead, the development agreement would set out expectations for what should happen but maintain flexibility so the developer could meet market changes over the project’s life.

Council members noted several concerns Wednesday. They won’t be worked out in a few hours, council member Jim Ward said.

“This needs to be a deliberate conversation and not one that is rushed,” he said.

Mac McCarley, a consultant with Parker Poe advising the town, said there are several critical issues for the council to consider: transportation, financial costs and benefits, affordable housing and design standards, and public art. The developer wants to know the council’s priorities, he said.

“They (the developers) are unwilling to make changes that could cost money unless they know everything that will cost money,” McCarley said.

The project would create a network of new streets running east to west, traffic signals, bike lanes and sidewalks. Council members said N.C. 54 road crossings, and bike and pedestrian routes to downtown, the Ephesus-Fordham commercial district and points west of Chapel Hill also are important.

The changes could generate more than 17,500 trips a day over the next 20 years, on top of the nearly 8,000 daily trips now, officials said. Project officials are working with the N.C. Department of Transportation. The street network would grow as the project is developed, McCarley said.

Council members also got a first look at the project’s potential property and sales tax revenues, and its potential cost to the town in new services.

Economic development consultant Ian Colgan, with Development Concepts, used existing studies to calculate Chapel Hill’s potential costs and benefits.

A redeveloped Glen Lennox could generate roughly $1.7 million in property tax revenues, he said. The development now contributes about $119,000, officials said.

Council member Maria Palmer asked Colgan if he would bet his retirement on Glen Lennox’s success.

“I feel this underestimates the true revenue of commercial property based on all the other studies I’ve seen,” he said. “I think it’s a very, very conservative estimate.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

Chapel Hill News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service