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Complete Community Initiative to provide framework for development in Chapel Hill

Julia Taylor, urban designer for Neighboring Concepts, tables in the Pit to raise awareness for Chapel Hill Transit's "Shaping Our Future" development initiative on Sept. 15, 2022.

The Town of Chapel Hill held a series of events last week to share updated plans for the Complete Community initiative.

The initiative, which the Town first created in 2021, aims to build a framework for future residential development in Chapel Hill.

Town representatives visited the Hargraves Community Center, the Sheraton Chapel HillHotel, the Chapel Hill Farmers' Market and Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews to give community members an opportunity to learn about and share feedback on the project.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Jessica Anderson said she defines a complete community as an area with diverse housing types and easy access to shopping and employment opportunities without needing a car.

“It's some place where your neighborhood is a complete place where you're near parks and nature,” Anderson said.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said the project began with a joint study between the Town and UNC.

Hemminger said the study’s original purpose was to assess student housing needs, but it became apparent that there was no shortage of student housing.

“We have plenty of capacity for that right now, but we're really lacking in certain areas,” Hemminger said. 

She said there is a shortage of “middle housing," including townhomes, condos and other places where young professionals, academics and families could live.

According to the housing study, Chapel Hill needs to increase its housing production by 35 percent over the 2010s to avoid a rising jobs-housing ratio.

Hemminger said to address housing shortages, the Town is looking for ways to create more housing, retain its historic character and ensure that residential buildings are connected to the community.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Michael Parker said that, as Chapel Hill grows, it is important to build residential buildings that are not isolated from the rest of the community. 

He said while the study and formulation of the Complete Community Initiative is recent, community members and leaders have been dissatisfied for a long time with the lack of overarching strategy in housing development. 

“I would say that number one, approving projects one-off without an overall strategy or an overall view of how we want to grow and evolve has been problematic,” Parker said.

He said growth through multi-story buildings makes some residents uncomfortable.

The Town has a large number of apartment and condo buildings that are wrapped around a parking structure, Parker said. He said many people feel these buildings are too large.

To address this problem, Chapel Hill is currently rewriting the Land Use Management Ordinance. Hemminger said the ordinance explains the rules for sidewalk width, building size and other development-related matters. She said she thinks the over-30-year-old ordinance has restricted development because it is out-of-date.

Hemminger said in the future a home developer will have to consider public gathering spaces and green infrastructure like stormwater drainage — as well as how residents might get around without a car using greenways, sidewalks and transit.

“Even if you're building an apartment building, we want a plaza or a garden or outdoor room or a coffee shop on the first floor, some reason for other members of the community to come to that,” she said.

Currently, Parker said there are no developments operating under the Complete Community framework. 

He said that, by the end of November, the Town plans to design a pilot project that includes a revised Land Use Management Ordinance and a codification of the Complete Community Initiative. 

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Overall, Parker said the initiative is groundbreaking work, and he is excited about going forward with it. 

@DTHCityState |