Council supports UNC foundation bid for old Chapel Hill library building

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJuly 3, 2014 

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The old Chapel Hill public library building at the corner of East Franklin and Boundary streets is an example of mid-century Modernist architecture.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com

— The Town Council voted Wednesday to recommend a UNC foundation’s $1.7 million bid for the old Chapel Hill Library building on East Franklin Street.

Preservation North Carolina is handling the sale for the town and will make the final decision.

The deal from the UNC Arts and Sciences Foundation includes a one-time payment of $475,000 to the town instead of paying annual property taxes.

The private, nonprofit foundation also would make up to $2 million in renovations to the mid-1960s building at 523 E. Franklin St. A state preservation easement protects the former library – considered a significant example of modernist architecture – from major changes.

Permits and a rezoning necessary for it to be an office building could take another 18 months, officials said. The foundation raises money for the College of Arts and Sciences; public cultural events; scientific research; and additional learning opportunities for UNC students.

The building has served a variety of uses since being replaced with a larger library off Estes Drive in 1994. It now is home to the Chapel Hill Historical Society; foundation officials said meeting space might be available for the historical society and other community groups after hours.

The society also could find a home for itself and its archives at the Chapel Hill Public Library, director Susan Brown said this week.

Preservation North Carolina was brought in to sell the 13,500-square-foot building, parking lot and acre of land. The property was assessed at $747,000, and the town is selling it to help build a new police station or meet other major needs.

If the foundation decides to sell the building, Preservation North Carolina will have the first opportunity to buy it back, then the town. The agency has a preservation easement that protects the building against demolition or major changes. It will monitor any renovations and the building’s upkeep for many years, regional director Cathleen Turner said.

The town planned to pay Preservation Chapel Hill a $5,000 fee for handling the sale, but Turner asked the council this week for 2.5 percent of the proceeds instead. The sale has become more intensive and complex than expected, she said, and the fee is usually 5 percent to 25 percent.

Council members debated the fee increase before agreeing to it Wednesday. They also talked about whether a $1.8 million offer from Chabad of Chapel Hill would be a better deal.

The Jewish center sought a new home for services to area hospital patients and their families, Jewish education and programs for college students.

Many neighbors, in emails and public comments, supported the UNC Foundation’s offer and expressed concern Chabad would bring more activity and traffic to the residential neighborhood.

Other offers were a $752,000 bid from resident Jay Miller to create affordable nonprofit office space and a $1.4 million bid from neighbors Chris and Ann Cox, who wanted to establish a cultural center.

There’s no bad decision, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said, but it’s still disappointing to sell the library because it was built to bring the community together.

“I remember the old library,” he said. “It was a place a lot of people walked to in the community. It took me a long time to support the bond to move the library over here back in ’94, because I always thought how great it was that the library was central to campus.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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