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The Daily Tar Heel

Plans for smaller Obey Creek development piqued Chapel Hill Town Council interest

Members of the Chapel Hill Town Council answer questions about the development of the Obey Creek.
Members of the Chapel Hill Town Council answer questions about the development of the Obey Creek.

At a Chapel Hill Town Council meeting Thursday night, Ken Pennoyer, business management director for the town, compared the original plan for the development to an alternative development plan that would make it as small as possible while still being economically viable.

“The minimum scenario represents the minimum necessary to make the project viable,” he said.

Pennoyer said the alternative plan consists of 680,000 square feet compared to the 1.5 million square feet in the original plan.

The cost of the development to the town for things like infrastructure is predicted to be lower in the alternative plan, which reduces residential units by 63 percent and square footage by 55 percent.

“The minimums proposed are not necessarily the range they will be in the final project,” said Ben Perry, project manager of East West Partners, the developer for the project. “Everything seems to hold up, especially with the fiscal analysis of the minimum.”

No matter which plan is chosen, providing public transit for the development will be a problem because the current transit tax could not fund additional buses and bus routes.

On Monday, the town council received a report on the state of Chapel Hill Transit from a consulting agency. The agency said Chapel Hill Transit would need to spend at least $45 million on purchasing new buses to update its outdated fleet. The report also said Chapel Hill Transit has an inadequate number of employees for the amount of services it provides.

“Chapel Hill Transit isn’t really seeking any new riders and can’t afford to,” Councilman Ed Harrison said.

Craig Scheffler, senior transportation engineer at engineering firm HNTB, presented a theoretical traffic report for both scenarios. The traffic was estimated using local and national traffic studies, including a traffic analysis at Southern Village.

Scheffler said the methodology includes recording the number of vehicular trips taken and then downsizing the number to account for transit and internal trips. With this assessment, it was estimated that the alternate plan would see 40 to 50 percent less traffic than the original one.

But with the development, the interchange between South Columbia Street and the James Taylor Bridge would see heavy traffic. To fix this, an alternative traffic plan was recommended to the council.

This alternative traffic plan consists of bikes being segregated from the right turning lane to ensure safety. Scheffler said a major concern with this alternative is that the right turning ramp would have one lane, which would back up turning traffic. Adding another lane would be beneficial, but plans have not been developed for this due to spatial issues, he said.

There will be a public comment section on Obey Creek on Monday and special meetings on Jan. 22 and 23 facilitated by urban designer Victor Dover.

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