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Town council hears proposal to enlarge shopping centers’ signs

Chapel Hill residents might see larger shopping center signs in the future, a possibility that was discussed at the Chapel Hill Town Council’s meeting Monday night.

Council members heard a proposal for a Land Use Management Ordinance amendment that would allow larger ground signs at shopping complexes with over 50,000 square feet of retail space.

The ordinance currently allows signs with a maximum size of 15 square feet in area and 8 feet in height. The proposed amendment would increase the maximum to be between 150 to 216 square feet.

The increase in size is meant to attract the attention of drivers who could be potential customers.

“Being able to lift these signs up and have the text a little higher should be useful,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward.

Town Development Manager Gene Poveromo said current signs only identify the entire shopping center, not particular tenants. The new, larger signs could advertise specific retailers.

There are 11 shopping centers that would be affected, including University Mall, Southern Village and East 54.

“We believe that improved signs will boost sales and increase the capture rate of community dollars,” said Kristen Smith, speaking on behalf of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

According to a 2009 retail analysis, Chapel Hill businesses are losing slightly more than a third of their retail sales to outlying areas.

But several council members expressed concern about the change in aesthetics.

“This is a dramatic extreme for this community to go from 15 square feet to 216 square feet,” council member Sally Greene said.

The council will further discuss the amendment March 28.

Aydan Court

The council also considered the rezoning application for Aydan Court, a proposed 90-unit multi-family residential development on a 5.8 acre site off of N.C. Highway 54.

The project would consist of 1 or 2 bedroom condominiums aimed at young professionals and empty nesters.

Council members denied a similar rezoning request and a special use permit application in March 2009, mainly due to environmental concerns. The developer first presented its concept to the town in 2007.

The site is mostly located within 150 yards of N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission game land. Aydan Court also lies within the Little Creek Bottomlands, a state-designated significant natural heritage area.

“The problem is not the amount of effort put in by the applicant or the council, but the constraints posed by this property, such as the creeks, the wetlands and the proximity to game land,” said Julie McClintock, speaking on behalf of Neighbors for Responsible Growth.

Bruce Ballentine of Ballentine Associates, P.A., whose company designed the project, said the development would provide a much needed middle market for housing.

“We have managed to do everything (the council has) asked, and believe we have an economically viable project,” Ballentine said.

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