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The Carrboro Town Council received a proposal for a structural plan for the ongoing 203 Project, a development project on South Greensboro Street, during a Sept. 15 council meeting.

The 203 Project emerged in 2016, when Orange County requested to relocate the new Orange County Southern Branch Library to the existing parking lot at 203 S. Greensboro St., adjacent to Open Eye Cafe. 

In addition to the library, the project intends to house the Town’s Recreation and Parks Department, WCOM Radio, the Orange County Skills Development Center, the Virtual Justice Center and the Teen Center.

The ArtsCenter was originally included in the 203 Project, but Trish McGuire, planning director for the Town of Carrboro, said the center left the development to pursue independent plans. 

Derek Jones, principal at Perkins and Will architecture firm, presented three structural options at the meeting, but said the firm chose the option "Float." It has a parking deck with 175 spaces and a rooftop terrace. 

According to his presentation, this option was most cost-effective while also exceeding in every category of evaluation. The categories included metrics such as “Active Gathering Space,” “Quiet Reflective Space” and “Covered Bicycle Parking.” 

Randee Haven-O’Donnell, a Carrboro Town Council member, said she likes the building’s plan and flexible spaces.

“Some of the things that Mr. Derek Jones answered was just reimagining the entire picture of how a library can be serving purposes other than what we traditionally think of as a library,” Haven-O'Donnell said.

She mentioned possibilities for the space such as food and PPE distribution, makerspaces and multipurpose rooms. She also said the exposed roof makes solar power possible.

“They agreed that it will be set up for solar panels,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “And with the cost of solar going down in the state of North Carolina, there’s a very good possibility that the solar will be able to be put in with the initial construction. So, that’s very exciting.” 

Jacquelyn Gist, a Carrboro Town Council member, said although she is excited for the library, she has concerns about the way the project will affect the town. 

Gist said the surrounding businesses have expressed concerns with the construction and the way it will affect their business, especially following the effects of COVID-19.

“Some aren’t surviving, and some are struggling to survive,” Gist said. “So they’re very concerned that by the time construction would start on this, that maybe they’re just beginning to recover from the COVID shut down, and they’ll have to deal with the obstruction that construction will cause.”

David Jessee, chairperson of the Carrboro Business Alliance's Leadership Council, expressed hesitation with the project at the Town Council meeting. At the meeting, Jessee requested that construction be postponed.

"The anticipated timing of the approval and construction of the 203 Project will pose serious unintended consequences for our local business community," Jessee said at the meeting.

Sheila Neal, part-owner of Neal’s Deli on the corner of South Greensboro and Main streets, said at the meeting that construction has proven detrimental to business in the past. She said that construction during the summers of 2017 and 2018 caused their sales to drop by $100,000.

“The deli never recovered from this loss of sales from that construction,” Neal said. “So there were two years that construction happened during the summer, but my point is there is a cumulative effect of doing construction.”

Both Gist and Haven-O’Donnell said before the proposed structure is approved, the public’s opinion must be heard. Gist said the plan has changed drastically since citizens were last updated, and since the public is who will pay for and use the space, their feedback is most important.

“It’s gonna take people time to look at this, form an opinion and to know their opinion counts and that this is not written in stone,” said Gist. “Input from the community often changes things.”

Virtual public engagement meetings will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 24, and 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sept. 26, according to the 203 Project website.


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