Chapel Hill council shares vision for Obey Creek

tgrubb@newsobserver.comApril 11, 2014 

— Obey Creek should be a place to live, work, learn and play but be easily connected to Southern Village and the rest of Chapel Hill, Town Council members said.

It also should also bring more benefits to the community than costs, they said, and help ease resulting traffic.

The town is in the second phase of development agreement negotiations for the 124-acre Obey Creek project, located across U.S. 15-501 from Southern Village.

Developer East West Partners is creating a concept plan now with help from a technical team of consultants, the town manager and town attorney. Plans so far have shown 1 million-plus square feet of apartments, retail, commercial and civic uses built over at least 20 years. An 80-acre park and a future school are possible.

A 17-member Compass Committee that included residents and business owners submitted a report late last year that asked for a less-dense plan and to delay the next steps until there was more specific information about traffic and stormwater.

The council voted 8-1 in January, with member Matt Czajkowski dissenting, to accept the report and move to the next phase. The council brought up similar questions Wednesday.

How the plan has addressed the committee’s issues, council member George Cianciolo asked.

It hasn’t, Czajkowski said, although the technical team was going to study different scenarios.

“If you don’t have those issues addressed, carefully analyzed, data collected for the series of public hearings, it will not be what the mayor wants, because you won’t be giving the public answers to the questions they have asked,” Czajkowski said.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt chided Czajkowski for throwing “kerosene on the fire.”

“I don’t see any reason to be incendiary or to mischaracterize council actions in order to bring up a very good question, why 1.1 million (square feet)? That’s a good question. It shouldn’t be lost in the way that it’s brought to us,” he said.

The council shared some of its wish list Wednesday, including member Maria Palmer, who liked the idea of a park with trails and other amenities. Future connections to the Morgan Creek Greenway and other trails may be possible.

“I have a strong feeling that the more we keep the green areas together, the better it is for nature,” Palmer said. “The more you chop it up, the less it serves its purpose as a habitat.”

How Obey Creek handles the traffic that it generates is critical, council member Jim Ward said. It also should include affordable office space and be able to change with the times, he said.

“If the developer can look beyond the initial use in the building construction, I think that’s another step toward sustainability that typically doesn’t get looked at,” he said.

Several hundred apartments at Obey Creek could serve a variety of ages, incomes and disabilities, council members said. Transit would help make housing affordable, and a bus traveling U.S. 15-501 with a stop at Manning Drive would help existing neighbors, council member Sally Greene said.

Greene lives in the Morgan Creek neighborhood, south of UNC’s campus.

She and Kleinschmidt talked about how Obey Creek could add to Southern Village. A potential pedestrian bridge across U.S. 15-501 to the town’s park-and-ride lot might not attract many people, but it would if the lot were replaced with a grocery store and parking deck, Greene said.

“I know one request we got, which I think is very valid one in this part of the process, is to not think about this area in isolation,” she said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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