Following a summer of community meetings filled with concerns about traffic, the Chapel Hill Town Council is considering modifying a special use permit for the ongoing Wegmans development project on Fordham Boulevard.
The application, filed in September, proposes to create a street connection through the adjacent State Employees Credit Union site to connect Wegmans to U.S. Highway 15-501. This modification was discussed at a public affairs meeting on Monday.
The council originally approved the Wegmans redevelopment project in 2017, and it's undergoing construction. The current construction plans show a 102,010-square-foot store and over 700 parking spaces. The primary point of access for the store is a traffic circle that will be built on Old Durham Road.
Michael Sudol, planner II with the Town of Chapel Hill, said the purpose of this new modification to the special-use permit is to create a new access point from U.S. Highway 15-501 at the intersection with Eastowne Drive.
Lew Brown, president of the Meadows Homeowners' Association, one of the neighborhoods impacted by the Wegmans construction, asked at the meeting about the impact of the new intersection on local traffic, specifically how having more cars turning left while coming in off U.S. Highway 15-501 will slow down thru-traffic on the road.
“There’s no way around that," Brown said. "Right now, traffic backs up from the Scarlett intersection all the way down to Eastgate just in the afternoon during normal business hours.”
Other citizens are concerned about the traffic this new modification will bring to local neighborhood roads such as Standish Drive, Scarlett Drive and Cooper Street.
“It’s a huge traffic concern and safety concern for everybody living here because you know, we walk our dogs here and there are sidewalks here and we walk along and people go too fast,” said Pat Shayne, a resident of Colony Lake housing. “It’s an extreme undue burden on the people living in this area to have that much anticipated traffic."
But the Chapel Hill Planning Department said the modification will help ease local citizens’ worries. Sudol said at the meeting that the new proposal and connection from 15-501 would alleviate traffic in the Old Durham Road area that has been concerning residents. However, he said, a traffic assessment is still in progress.
Judy Johnson, Chapel Hill’s interim director of planning, further emphasized this idea, stating that the modification to the special-use permit is the ideal solution to many previous traffic concerns.
"Having it (the connection) come off of Old Durham was not a preferred option," Johnson said. "As far as minimizing impacts, it is going to impact 15-501. This is going to make a huge difference to the Old Durham Road, surrounding neighborhoods, all the communities in that area.”
Environmental concerns come with the new intersection, in addition to traffic concerns. Donna Rubinoff, the Orange County Climate Control Council at-large member for Chapel Hill, brought up some of these points at the public affairs meeting.
“This new option goes through the forest," Rubinoff said. "I wish you would encourage the designers, engineers, to show how the entrance is cutting right through that forest. Obviously, this solution is better for the neighbors. It’s offensive to see them just cutting through that forest and not offering any mitigation."
At the meeting, Johnson said it's very likely the council will pass this modification. Sudol said the town council will consider the application at the end of the month and consider taking action on Nov. 20.
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