The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday June 26th

Development Drama Has Trappings of TV Movie

Meadowmont is a 435-acre mixed-use development, located on the north side of N.C. 54, between Burning Tree Drive and Barbee Chapel Road and across from the University's Friday Center.

The land had long been known as a quiet, rural entranceway to Chapel Hill with rolling meadows and featuring the charming DuBose estate, currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house was completed in 1933 by David St. Pierre "Pete" DuBose, who graduated from UNC in 1921 with a degree in engineering. The land was used as a cattle farm according to Dr. John DuBose, a surviving child to "Pete," who died in 1994.

In 1988, DuBose willed his 34-room Georgian Revival house, along with 27 acres surrounding it, to the University.

The lot was used to build the $24 million Paul J. Rizzo Center, an executive education complex that is part of the Kenan-Flagler Business School, and was completed in September 2000.

DuBose gave the other 400-plus acres to his three children in 1985 to use for a large residential and commercial development.

After the land was annexed by the town of Chapel Hill, the DuBose children approached developer Roger Perry of East West Partners and asked him to help them in developing the land into a mixed-use area. "That seemed like the best way to go," John DuBose said. "The town had plenty of single family homes, but they didn't have a mixture of home, office and commercial space."

Perry designed a plan to transform the land into a residential, commercial and office development with more than 2,400 homes and condos. This would make Meadowmont the largest subdivision in Chapel Hill's history.

It would be a self-contained community -- a place where people could live, work, shop and exercise without having to get in a car.

"The goal is to make people less dependent on the automobile, both by the number of times and the distance that they drive," Perry said.

This type of community is the new trend in land development, providing an alternative to suburban sprawl by offering a tight community that provides residents with all the commodities of everyday life. "It's going to be real easy for a lot of people who live there to hardly ever leave," said Mayor Rosemary Waldorf.

Perry's proposal came just a few months after the Chapel Hill Town Council approved Southern Village, a similar mixed-use development.

But while Southern Village passed though the council with little controversy, Meadowmont took 18 months to approve. "Our project would have been more controversial, even if we went first," Perry said. "Meadowmont had a lot more office and retail (than Southern Village) ... We were also on an entranceway corridor."

In Perry's proposal, he asked for the land to be rezoned from strictly residential to a mixed-use zoning of commercial, residential and office space.

But Perry's proposal directly contradicted the town's 1986 long-range Comprehensive Plan, a set of general goals and guidelines on how the town should develop.

In the 1986 plan, Chapel Hill called for the preservation of the rural N.C. 54 entranceway into Chapel Hill. Therefore, for Town Council members to approve Meadowmont, they must first reject the vision of their long-range plan.

After several public discussions, the Town Council decided in a 7-1 vote that the town should amend its Comprehensive Plan, allowing Meadowmont to be rezoned.

"The sentiment was that mixed-use was a better use of that land as opposed to having 435 acres of R-1," Waldorf said.

R-1 is the zoning for the largest residential lot size in Chapel Hill. "It's a large lot for single family housing," Waldorf said. "It provides the least amount of housing per acre."

Waldorf served on the Town Council from 1993 until 1995, when she became mayor.

Chapel Hill Planning Director Roger Waldon echoed the sentiments of Waldorf.

"The Comprehensive Plan articulated a vision that had grown out of date," he said.

"The land used to be a dairy farm. A dairy farm is not a realistic use in the modern day," Waldon said. "The community has grown around it. Now there's a major interstate intersection down the road."

In July 1997, the Town Council approved several special-use permits, allowing Meadowmont to break ground on several projects: a village center, apartment complex, school site and swim club. They also approved an infrastructure plan, part of which would connect Meadowmont to Pinehurst Drive.

This approval brought an outcry from Pinehurst residents. Eighteen homeowners, all of whom lived on Pinehurst Drive, filed a petition against the town of Chapel Hill.

The angry residents took the Town Council to court, asking a judge to reverse the council's approval of two Meadowmont special-use permits: the one for the village center and the one for the infrastructure plan.

The residents argued that their property value would depreciate as a result of "Meadowmonster's" presence.

"The law says a developer can't do anything to diminish the value of surrounding property," said Edwin Cox, one of the Pinehurst residents involved in the lawsuit.

"We were afraid that the increase in traffic was going to diminish our property values," he said. "They were going to turn our quiet little neighborhood into a freeway. A (U.S.) 15-501, if you will."

While Superior Court Judge Gordon Battle upheld the Town Council's decision regarding the village center special-permit, he overturned their approval of the infrastructure plan, stating that the council would need further evidence to approve the permit.

After reviewing similar neighborhoods in Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte, the Town Council, for the second time, approved Meadowmont's infrastructure plan.

The town claimed that land in nearby neighborhoods would not decrease due to Meadowmont's presence, but their property values would either be maintained or enhanced.

"It was established that Meadowmont would not harm nearby property values," Waldorf said.

She pointed out that Meadowmont's upper-end houses are quite expensive. "When (Meadowmont) properties are high, it's hard to argue that it would diminish property values nearby."

But Pinehurst residents appealed the ruling, bringing the Town Council to court once again. The judge upheld the council's decision to issue a permit, however, and left Pinehurst residents with few options but to accept the inevitable presence of Meadowmont.

Meadowmont appeared ready to break ground and get its massive project under way. Yet one more court battle was in store for Roger Perry and the Town Council, only this time they would be on opposing sides.

Meadowmont brought a proposal to the Town Council to approve two projects: a four-story, 180-room upscale Hilton hotel and an office park. The council voted 5-4 against this proposal and Meadowmont cried foul.

The developers of the hotel, Winston Hotels, and the office park, Capital Associates, filed separate suits against the town, claiming the council had no legal justification for denying the special-use permits.

The town had already approved Meadowmont's Master Land Use Plan, confirming that Meadowmont was in compliance with the town's Comprehensive Plan.

So the question became whether the hotel and office park plan fit in with Meadowmont's Master Plan that the council approved in October 1995.

Developers said their plans did, and Superior Court Judge Wiley Bowen agreed. Bowen's ruling instructed the Town Council to issue permits for the hotel and office park, claiming that their 5-4 vote against Meadowmont was illegal.

Finally, after nine years of planning and battle with the Town Council, Meadowmont broke ground in May 1999.

But Perry had to make many compromises and concessions to get Meadowmont approved.

"Some were good compromises, some were bad," he said. "But the overall approval of Meadowmont was worth the compromises in its overall use and contribution to the town. I think everyone is pleased with Meadowmont."

One compromise Perry made was to donate 22 acres of land to be used by Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to build their ninth elementary school and combat overcrowding.

There will also be a 52,000-square-foot Wellness Center, built by UNC Hospitals. It will offer a gym, a pool, an indoor track, aerobics classes, a primary care clinic, a rehabilitation center and a physical education center. The center will be open to all Chapel Hill residents, not just those who live in Meadowmont.

Waldorf pointed out that the compromises Perry made were good for the town.

"I was keenly aware that (the 435 acres granted to Meadowmont) was the last plot of land that could be developed," Waldorf said. "And we got amenities for the community."

After 10 years of heated debate, the town and developers have come to terms with the inevitable growth. "Dealing with Chapel Hill is a long and difficult process," Perry said. "But I feel the council was looking out for the best interest of the town, and that's their mission."

Waldorf agreed that it was a rough time for the Town Council as well. "The council was very divided," Waldorf said.

"The whole process of reviewing and approving the Meadowmont was excruciating. Like going through childbirth without any drugs."

The City Editor can be reached

at citydesk@unc.edu.

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