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Could a new hotel be coming to downtown Chapel Hill?


On Sunday, Sept. 29th 2019, a student walks by the vacant lot on Rosemary Street where a new hotel is planned to be built. 

By 2023, the residents of Chapel Hill may be seeing a new four to seven-story, 140-room hotel above their eyeline as they walk down Rosemary Street. 

Currently, the developers, SMART Hotels LLC and The Olympia Companies, are discussing the hotel with the Chapel Hill Community Design Commission and the Town of Chapel Hill. They are looking for approval to take the next step toward construction.

The hotel, if it makes it through all of the approval stages, will be located on West Rosemary Street, on the intersection near North Columbia Street. This would be the second closest hotel within walking distance from campus, after The Carolina Inn. 

A four-to-seven story hotel may soon be built near the intersection of West Rosemary Street and North Columbia Street. Photo courtesy of SMART Hotels LLC and the Olympia Companies.

On site, there will be a total of about 90 new spaces: 70 spaces from underground parking and on the lot, and between 18 to 20 spots on the town-owned adjacent lot. There will also be about 10 bike parking spots.

All parking spots, except those in the underground lot, will be shared by both the hotel and the Town and accessible to the general public. It will be a one-way drive, with the entrance on West Rosemary Street and the exit on North Columbia Street. To accommodate for traffic and make parking quicker, the hotel plans to add a valet service for those staying at the hotel. 

Ed Small, the president of SMART Hotels LLC, said the developers plan to incorporate the old town hall building into the design.

"We think it's important for us in terms of our material selection, in terms of the way we incorporate the materials into our building facade to reflect our context," Small said. "And so there's something of a historical context there. But we also feel that it's important for each building to reflect something of its time."

The historical former Chapel Hill town hall is located the corner of West Rosemary and North Columbia, but it will not be touched as the hotel plans on being in an "L-shape" to wrap around the town hall. 

"In terms of aesthetics, there's certainly a strong brick masonry character to the buildings," Small said. "So my expectation would be in particular as our site wraps around the historic town hall, that's the strongest architectural piece that we've got. And it's an important piece not just because it's adjacent to our site but because it's important to the community."

Small also said the developers were reaching out to community stakeholders to get feedback on the plans.

"We contacted the Orange County and Chapel Hill visitor's bureaus," Small said. "We've started conversations with some of the adjacent property owners, including those that are proposing new projects on Rosemary Street to find out how our buildings might be synergistic. We're just now going to be reaching out to the Northside neighbors to hopefully set up a meeting with them.

During the Community Design Commission meeting Tuesday, a couple of residents voiced their concerns about how the proposed hotel will fit in with the aesthetic of Chapel Hill. Kim Hoppin, a resident on Short Street who’s lived in Chapel Hill for 27 years, questioned how the hotel would impact the current resident’s view.

“When the AC Marriot was being built, the developers were very nice while building and added landscape buffers, but now I'm looking into the back windows of the hotel every day," Hoppin said.

However, Adam Nicholson, the staff liaison for the Community Design Commission, said the developers are going through a process to have the new building match the surrounding area.

“The applicant has every indication that they’re going to select materials that are responsive to the character of Chapel Hill," Nicholson said.

Additionally, the developers plan to use cues of materials from the other side of Rosemary Street that can be used by the community to showcase art like murals. 

SMART Hotels LLC and The Olympia Companies also plan on contributing to street-side improvements, like enlarging the sidewalk outside the West Rosemary Street side of the hotel and updating the existing town-owned parking lot to make it more functional for the general public.

The plans include a rooftop terrace and meeting rooms on the ground floor that will be accessible. Lastly, they plan on adding a “pocket park” on the grounds between the hotel and adjacent to the town hall. 

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