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Apartment proposal raises concerns for nearby school

Stewart said as a parent and Chapel Hill resident she is worried about the recent proposal to build 600 luxury apartments at the current site of the American Legion near Ephesus Elementary.

“Ephesus has a great walking zone, and Ephesus Church Road will become a highway,” Stewart said.

The town has also proposed a road that would cut through near the school.

“One significant citizen concern stems from discussion of a road that would run between the tennis courts and ball fields near the school,” Mayoral Aide Jeanne Brown said in an email. “That area is heavily used by pedestrians and children playing, so people are concerned about safety.”

Stewart also said she wonders how the connecting road will affect the watershed in regards to storm water and flooding.

“I think if done well, the road we requested can actually benefit the school, the park and the community,” Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Palmer said. “I do understand the concerns from neighbors about increased traffic.”

Town council member Nancy Oates said she is interested to see who actually moves into recently built luxury apartments in the area, such as the apartments at East 54 or Village Plaza.

“Developers have said families don’t live in apartments,” Oates said. “But I don’t think that’s right.”

Stewart said currently, Ephesus Elementary does not seem overcrowded, but as more developments are built, it is a rising concern.

“We need to expand our schools and think strategically about locations and how to serve the community,” Palmer said.

Mayor Pam Hemminger said supposedly the apartments are small and more conducive for non-family units.

“Part of the bond package coming through is to expand Ephesus,” Hemminger said. “And (we can) see if they will be able to pull some pre-Ks out of the schools.”

She said there needs to be a better collaboration between the school district and the town.

She also said the town once used the Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that prevented the town from allowing a development to go forward until there was a school capacity to accommodate the number of children projected to live there.

Brown said in an email that the town no longer uses that ordinance to stop or slow development for legal reasons, but the school district still uses calculations for planning purposes, producing an annual report with numbers based on developments that have been approved in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

James Barrett, chairperson of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, said any time there is a new development, the board takes it into their planning across the district.

“If Ephesus were to become overcrowded (due to the new apartments), more than likely other neighborhoods’ schools would change rather than the ones right by the school,” he said.

Oates said she is also concerned about high-rent, luxury apartments.

“We have enough of those,” Oates said. “Our real need is for working-class, lower income apartments and housing. Well, the real need is for commercial development. But if we are talking about housing, we don’t need more luxury apartments.”

Brown said in an email that 84 percent of Chapel Hill’s tax base is residential, which is not a sustainable model for the town’s long-term financial future.

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Some are worried construction of luxury developments may increase housing prices.

“Families can get a reasonably priced home near the school that’s walkable,” Stewart said. “As traffic patterns change, the home pricing may change and families may not even be able to afford these houses as new developments are built nearby.”

Palmer said she believes there are better uses for the property than luxury apartment complexes.

“I think there are so many potential uses for that location that are more exciting than just more apartments that I’m hoping the developer will explore,” she said.

Stewart said she is not too concerned the current plans for the road and apartments will actually be implemented because she is sure the town council, especially with Hemminger’s school board experience, will look out for the school before they approve anything.

“I am confident there will be a thoughtful eye placed on any new development with new roads,” Stewart said. “If plans progress as they are, you’re going to see an uproar from the neighborhood. There are too many unanswered questions.”