The Chapel Hill Town Council voted 5-3 in June in favor of the application for conditional zoning to establish the Aura development on the 16.2-acre lot at the corner of N. Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Aura is a mixed-use development with retail, office and live-work spaces and housing opportunities with at least 361 apartment units and 57 town homes.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger was among the three council members to vote against the application. She said she still has major concerns regarding the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists on the road.
Now that the project has been approved, Hemminger said the development team will spend time with the Town staff over the next year to obtain a ZCP — zoning compliance permit.
She said the development is subject to change before it is completed because, with these types of projects, the staff always finds that certain tasks that work on paper do not work out in the field.
Hemminger said that she will continue to advocate for the implementation of a traffic light at Somerset Drive in order to appease the traffic problems that will arise from this project.
“There's a lot of children that will walk because of the schools and going to the YMCA and the library,” she said. “We need a safe way for them to cross the street.”
Estes Neighbors — a group of residents and neighbors from nearby Chapel Hill neighborhoods who live and/or work near the development site — have directed their efforts toward the opposition of the Aura plan.
Julie McClintock, a member of Estes Neighbors and the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, said she is unhappy with the council’s decision to approve the plan. She said the development will bring around 650 cars to the neighborhood, which will make for a dangerous and busy intersection.
“I can’t imagine a more important cross-connector than Estes Drive,” McClintock said. “If it’s not moving, then it's a problem for parents, it's a problem for students, it's a problem for anyone using it.”
Chapel Hill Town Council member Karen Stegman was one of five officials to vote for the approval of the Aura development.
Stegman said the project is necessary for the future of Chapel Hill because it is in line with the Town’s climate action plan and future land use map, both of which were finalized this year.
She said the development will increase affordable housing, which is currently a major issue in Chapel Hill.
Fifty-four of the apartment units will be affordable rental units, remaining as so for 30 years. Half of the units will be offered at 65 percent of the area median income and the other half at 80 percent AMI.
“We need more people living and working here in Chapel Hill,” Stegman said. “Right now, we have approximately 40,000 people commuting into town every day, and that causes major traffic, is bad for the environment, is bad for people's health.”
She also said the Council has worked with community members to address their concerns, and there are many more steps of review and design before plans are finalized.
Stegman said the project will take several years to complete, but it will be great for the community once it comes to fruition.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.