A new development project on the UNC-owned Horace Williams tract has surfaced, prompting the Chapel Hill Town Council to demand answers from University officials.
During the past two years, UNC officials and consultants have researched how to transform the 975-acre wooded lot into a 8 million-square-foot research park.
The land, located along Airport Road and Estes Drive, is owned by UNC, but several town facilities are on the tract.
At the Town Council meeting Monday night, council members asked UNC officials to come forward with their plans.
Council member Flicka Bateman said Wednesday that she heard about the research park plan through rumors spread by reporters. "It gave me pause in terms of the whole process of open dialogue between the community and the council," she said.
Bateman was an original member of the Horace Williams Plan Committee, formulated by former UNC chancellor Michael Hooker in 1998. "I thought development for the Horace Williams plot had been put on the back burner," she said. "It has all been very hush-hush. I resent the evasiveness of that."
But Jonathan Howes, co-convener of the UNC Horace Williams Plan Committee, said the University will make its plans for mixed-use development public later this month.
The research park would resemble a scaled-down version of N.C. State University's Centennial Campus, housing laboratories, homes, shops and civic buildings.
Howes said the development will be a topic of discussion for the newly organized town-gown committee, which is supposed to increase communication between the University and the town.
The Horace Williams plot, if developed on a scale suggested by Ayers Saint Gross, a Baltimore design consultant firm, would double the University's 13.6 million square feet of space.
Howes said all site research has been internal up to this point and has focused on land programming, a detailed investigation to prepare the research park plan for the next stage of development. "We've reached a different phase now," he said.
After land programming, the plan will come before the council members for approval for land-use planning, which will involve rezoning.
The rezoning could take up to two years and cost the University up to $1.6 million.
Howes said committee members are now ready to present research to a University advisory council and to the public. The committee will unveil its research at noon on Nov. 30 in the George Watts Hill Alumni Center, he said. "We encourage all people who are interested to come."
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