University Square redevelopment permits approved by Chapel Hill

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously approved permits Monday night that will bring 580,000 square feet of housing, offices and a public greenspace to Franklin Street’s University Square development.

The project will replace the existing University Square development with a combination of office, retail and residential space, along with more than 1,000 parking spots. Granville Towers will remain where it is.

The special use permit was approved by the council after the developer increased the amount it pledged to affordable housing from $90,000 to $250,000, to be paid out over the course of five years.

The $90,000 was an increase to the original $60,000 promised by the developer in November.

UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, who proposed the additional funding for affordable housing, also presented the project to the council Monday night.

“This project has everything that I have felt Chapel Hill needed since I moved here in 1982,” Thorp said. “We will be creating a downtown that will be vibrant year-round.”

And many Chapel Hill residents voiced their support for the project at the meeting.

Meg McGurk, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said the project encompassed her agency’s mission of bringing the University and town together to promote downtown.

“This plan takes us leaps and bounds closer to our shared goal,” McGurk said. “No one development can provide all of our community’s wants and needs, but this is the complete package.”

And Rosemary Waldorf, a former Town Council member and Chapel Hill 2020 co-chairwoman, said she agreed that the project was a step in the right direction.

“This sort of mixed-use development is what we dreamed about when I was on the council in the 1990s,” Waldorf said.

Both council members Gene Pease and Matt Czajkowski said they welcomed the addition of office space to downtown.

But council member Donna Bell was concerned about requirements in the permit regarding parking and the public greenspace continuing if the development changed hands from Cousins Properties, the project’s current developer.

“I’m worried about the greenspace and whether it will continue to be public if someone else owns this property in 20 years,” Bell said. “Y’all seem nice, but we don’t know that things won’t change between 2013 and 2025.”

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt agreed.

“You make a great case about the benefits of this project,” Kleinschmidt said. “I just don’t want to lose them tomorrow.”

The developers said they could not reword the permit to ensure the greenspace would be public regardless of who owns the property, but instead proposed setting aside an additional $160,000 for affordable housing.

The proposal was met with support from members of the Town Council, who said they worried the original $90,000 allocated for affordable housing was too small a sum.

Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison said he thinks this could be the last big downtown project.

“We need to start thinking,” Harrison said. “What else can be done in downtown?”

Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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