Ephesus-Fordham road raises funding questions

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJune 25, 2014 

— One of the first projects expected in the town’s Ephesus-Fordham zoning district is raising questions about who pays to build a road through a South Elliott Road parking lot.

The road would begin at Elliott Road near a former, freestanding restaurant (the old Red Hot & Blue) and run north between Village Plaza and the vacant movie theater site. It would be the main entrance to a future parking deck at East West Partners’ planned residential and commercial development and would end at a future road along the Booker Creek Trail, between Village Plaza and Eastgate shopping center.

The town has not received a formal proposal for the East West Partners project yet, but the land is zoned for buildings up to 90 feet tall. Town documents expect it will be a 250,000-square-foot building with about 225 apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail.

A Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce presentation to Ephesus-Fordham district business owners in March suggested developers might pay for the road, Town Council member Matt Czajkowski said last week. If not, the council should ensure there’s enough money for higher-priority projects first, he said.

“I think it’s vitally important that we get black-and-white clarity on what was said in the past regarding who pays for these roads,” Czajkowski said.

The town is financing $10 million in transportation and stormwater improvements in the district using Town Hall as collateral. The town plans to repay the debt with future increases in property tax revenues or with money set aside for future debt payments.

A town of Chapel Hill slide in the chamber presentation lists the roughly 400-foot road as being “by others.” That slide also lists $8.8 million in district road projects, but the road in question isn’t one of them.

Developer Roger Perry, whose East West Partners built Meadowmont and East 54, said the company will donate half the right of way for the road, and Village Plaza owner Regency Centers is supposed to give the other half.

“No one ever suggested to us we were going to pay for that road,” Perry said.

Current proposal

The slide presentation was not clear, Town Manager Roger Stancil told council members in an email late Friday.

“The current proposal for this road (has) the developer paying for the planning and design, the on street parking, sidewalks, streetscape and associated amenities,” Stancil said. “The Developer would also take responsibility for treatment of stormwater on their site for the road improvements so that the Town does not have to build separate facilities for treating that water.”

Perry said that’s also how he understands the road’s construction will be handled.

The council rezoned most of the 180-acre Ephesus-Fordham district in May and approved a new form-based code to guide its redevelopment. One of the district’s goals is better transportation connections, but the cost is more than the town or any one developer could bear alone, officials said.

In April, town transportation planner David Bonk said the draft of a more complete list of road improvements was nearing $25 million. He did not include the road beside the East West Partners development when council member Jim Ward asked him to list the $8.8 million in projects.

The N.C. Department of Transportation is expected to help pay for some improvements, and the town has applied for a federal TIGER grant. The council also might consider cost-sharing deals with developers, Stancil said.

Bonk referred additional questions about the chamber presentation to economic development director Dwight Bassett. Bassett referred questions to Stancil, who did not return calls or emails seeking additional comment beyond Friday’s email.

The council will get another report with more detailed road construction plans this fall.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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