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The Daily Tar Heel

The future of American Legion land is uncertain

The Chapel Hill Town Council is still considering the future for 36.2 acres of land near Ephesus Park in Chapel Hill. 

Woodfield Investments, a development company based out of Florida, is interested in the land and submitted a concept plan for a possible development to the town council. The concept plan was discussed at a town council public hearing on Sept. 19. 

The property, which is currently owned by the American Legion, has been offered to the town to potentially purchase, but Scott Underwood, Woodfield Investments' representative for the Raleigh-Durham area, said the land is currently under contract with the firm.  

Woodfield Investments intends to purchase the land and develop apartment units and retail space.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said the town does not have priority in the purchase of the property.

The land was previously offered to Chapel Hill in November 2015, but the town passed on the proposal and gave up their right of first refusal. American Legion offered it to the town again at the public hearing.  

Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria T. Palmer said they have been given a 30-day window to decide whether or not they are going to purchase the land now.

American Legion has set the property’s price at $9 million. The council has not yet reached a decision and has not shown signs of leaning toward either of the two options. 

Hemminger said it will take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to rezone the land from the date an application is processed — if they choose to make the purchase.

The council has received feedback from the community advocating for the land to be used for a park. The land is currently zoned for residential use, so the town would have to rezone the land. 

“It’s a balance — what do we trade off if we do this, what do we trade off if we don’t?” Hemminger said.

The council can finance the purchase if they draw money from other areas of the budget.

Hemminger has received a large amount of community feedback and said the city and council will come to the decision that is best for Chapel Hill.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I want it to be taken seriously,” she said.

Carrboro resident, Michelle Miller, said she doesn't support the building of a new apartment complex because she thinks the town needs more affordable housing options instead.

“This city is already overdeveloped in a sense of catering to the students," Miller said. "What people don’t realize is that Chapel Hill and Carrboro are large centers for recovering addicts and the homeless — there is little to no subsidized or lower income housing."

Melody Ivins, a Chapel Hill resident, said she is not in favor of Woodfield Investments' development plan because she thinks the area is overdeveloped and doesn't think the apartments will be affordable.

“Our need for affordable housing close to town is crucial for people like me, who ride the bus,” Ivins said.

She is also in favor of more green space and the positive effects green space brings to the economy.

Underwood said Woodfields Investments is planning to build 300 to 400 apartment rental units, between 50,000 and 100,000 square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of flex space — space that hasn't been given a purpose yet.

“The community is under the impression that [the American Legion land] should be a park,” he said.

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Underwood said citizens have reacted negatively toward Woodfield Investments' plan for the land, but he thinks many have misunderstood the situation. He said the company intends to make the land better.

Woodfield Investments plans to fix up the area and build a road through it — should they acquire the property, he said. Underwood also said there is a possibility of building a recreation center on the flex space.

The concept plan application has already been submitted by Woodfield Investments, which is awaiting the town's decision. 

The Chapel Hill Town Council will consider signing a contract to purchase the American Legion property for $7.9 million at the Dec. 5 business meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall Council Chamber.

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