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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Seeks More Flexibility in Town Laws

The chancellor's letter asked for elimination of a zoning cap that limits University floor space and modification of the special-use permits currently applied to the Horace Williams and Mason Farm land tracts.

The letter also requested exemption from zoning-compliance permits and the site-plan reviews associated with them. The costs of zoning compliance permits were raised by the town July 1, 2000.

If honored, Moeser's requests would ease implementation of UNC's Capital Improvements Plan and could indirectly reduce development fees paid to the town.

The current zoning cap allows UNC 14 million square feet of floor space, said Nancy Suttenfield, vice chancellor for finance and administration.

"Our present approved construction takes us to 13.7 million," she said. "We're going to need to add 3 million to 4 million square feet in the next eight years in accord with the Capital Improvements Plan."

Modification of special-use permits would allow the University to construct graduate and family student housing in a town-designated buffer zone adjacent to the Mason Farm community. Modification also would let UNC build an access road from Fordham Boulevard to UNC Hospitals, Suttenfield said.

In addition to specific regulatory changes, UNC officials are seeking more comprehensive changes in the development review process.

"We are trying to get the process changed in general, so that for these projects on campus there would be neither site-plan reviews, which go to the planning board, nor zoning-compliance permits," said Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor of facilities services.

In June 2000, the Chapel Hill Town Council rejected UNC's request to be exempted from increased fees for special-use and zoning-compliance permits. The combined fee increase for new buildings was 501 percent. For example, the cost of a 50,000-square-foot building rose from $5,025 to $25,200. The fee increase for modified buildings was 792 percent.

Exemption from zoning-compliance permit approval and site-plan reviews could reduce development fees paid by the University.

UNC assumes high, though infrequent, costs for site-plan reviews, which are part of the zoning-compliance procedure, said Linda Convissor, facilities services department project manager for campus planning. "Every time we increase our floor area by 15 percent, we have to get a site-plan review," she said.

She said six years passed between UNC's two most recent site-plan reviews.

But Suttenfield said the University officials' requests had nothing to do with possible fee impacts.

Instead, exemptions would streamline the review process, Convissor said.

"Right now, we have to take each individual capital project through zoning-compliance review with the town."

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