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Greenbridge development opens despite controversy

Houses condominiums, retail and office space

Five years of planning, economic hiccups and controversy culminated in Greenbridge’s official ribbon cutting Friday.

The building comprises 97 condominiums along with commercial and office space.

“There’s about 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space on the ground floor,” said Frank Phoenix, a partner and resident of Greenbridge.

Developers hope for restaurants, a small grocery store and maybe a clothing boutique, he said.

Plans for the project began after a discussion over lunch in September 2005 turned to the need for sustainabilty, Phoenix said.

“My interest was in doing something that would demonstrate what a sustainable building could and should be,” Phoenix said.

But the project has generated controversy and opposition from community members who argued it gentrified the area.

“We’ve had some vandalism in the building, we’ve had some bomb threats, and we don’t know who’s doing that,” he said.

Phoenix said the protest has died down and is probably over now that the building is actually open.

“Although Greenbridge was a controversial development, I think all citizens will be stunned by the final product,” said Caroline Culler, a freelance photographer at the ribbon cutting.

“People of different economic statuses need to live together,” she said. “I’m not sure why people would think it’s so bad that it’s next to the less wealthy part of town. I think there should be more of that in all cities.”

Beyond attracting business and promoting environmentalism, Phoenix said Greenbridge has already benefited the surrounding community in tangible ways.

“There were two abandoned houses on the property and if you wanted to buy crack in Chapel Hill, this is where you came,” he said.

“We took a liability and turned it into an asset.”

Diana Steele, who moved to Chapel Hill in 1942, bought one of the first Greenbridge units sold because of its location and environmental awareness.

“My sense of it is that it’s a really interesting-looking, green building, filling up with some really interesting people,” she said.

While she empathized with those who opposed the project, she said the controversy saddened her because of the pains to which Greenbridge’s developers went to involve the community.

“I think some outsiders got involved in it and wanted to get angry and put together a package they could be angry with that did not reflect the truth,” Steele said.

“They may have thought they were standing up and protecting people, but I don’t know that they had their facts right.”

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