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UNC contends Heritage Area won’t be affected

A view of the DuBose House at the Rizzo Conference Center complex. The expansion of the conference center, which is part of the Kenan-Flagler Business School, has been met with environmental concerns.

UNC’s attempt to expand its business school is meeting resistance from some residents and environmentalists ­— but UNC holds that construction will not affect protected natural areas.

At Thursday’s public information meeting for the expansion of the Rizzo Conference Center, some Meadowmont neighborhood residents voiced concerns about the construction’s threat to nature and the imposition on a North Carolina Natural Heritage Area.

The conference center is an expansion of the Kenan-Flagler Business School and is located near Meadowmont.

University Architect and Director Anna Wu said after hearing concerns, the University asked the land development design firm John R. McAdams Company to look at the boundary dispute. The consultants determined the expansion does not fall on land protected by the Natural Heritage Program.

“We retained some environmental consultants and asked them to demarcate the boundary, and according to their demarcation we are not in this area,” Wu said.

The heritage area boundaries extend onto University land, but the heritage program is not a regulatory agency and has no legal jurisdiction to protect the land, program botanist Misty Buchanan wrote in a report sent to the Chapel Hill Planning Department.

Buchanan wrote that the preserved areas are determined by biological factors — not property lines — so there is some confusion as to where they start and stop.

Still, David Stevens, associate dean for operations and finance at the business school, maintained the new construction would not compromise the protected area.

“We had a consultant that went out and marked that natural heritage wildlife boundary technically,” Stevens said. “In our minds, we are not building on that boundary.”

Wu said UNC is taking steps to ensure the impact on the surrounding environment is minimal.

“We’ll be mitigating for storm water impact as well as erosion and sedimentation control, and it’s our intent to keep clearing for this project to a minimum,” Wu said.

The surrounding area is also a popular hunting site, but Wu said she doesn’t anticipate that to be a problem for conference center guests.

The expansions for the center are set to include 72 guest rooms in addition to the current 116, three more classrooms, a dining center, a parking garage and offices for the executive MBA program.

The current building is expected to reach capacity in one to two years, and the new space will accommodate growth as well as generate more revenue for the school, Stevens said.

Bill Ferrell, manager of the Meadowmont Community Association, said he believes the larger conference center may increase business to the area.

The community is preparing for an increase in traffic and anticipating the conference center guests’ use of restaurants and businesses in Meadowmont Village, Ferrell said.

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