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Owners of small businesses at 306 W. Franklin St. face possible relocation, closure

The Purple Bowl is pictured at 306 W. Franklin St. on Nov. 30, 2022. It is among the businesses that could soon be displaced.

Development plans for the Chapel Hill Life Sciences Center at 306 W. Franklin St. have drawn much of the Chapel Hill community's attention to the small businesses currently located there. 

These businesses include The Purple Bowl, Bella Nail Bar, Chimney Indian Kitchen and Bar and Blue Dogwood Public Market.

The concept plan for the life sciences center is still in an early consideration phase by the Chapel Hill Town Council. The current development plan by Longfellow, a real estate development firm that now owns the land there, includes laboratory, office and retail spaces along with parking. The goal is for the new building to be nine stories tall and potentially have penthouse apartments on top of the building.

Paula Gilland, CEO of The Purple Bowl, said the zoning of 306 W. Franklin St. currently allows for four stories. However, Gilland said Longfellow is requesting a conditional zoning permit to expand the building to nine stories.

Tina Ngo, the owner and manager of Bella Nail Bar, said she was not initially informed that there would be a new landowner of the building.

“We sent a new email to want to know how to renew for the new policy and they kept quiet until the end of 2022,” she said.

On Nov. 11, 2022, Longfellow announced plans to demolish the building, which would require the removal of the businesses located there.

Ngo said she has tried to explain the history of her store, her employees, the existing customers and her love of the store to Longfellow.

The real estate company said they would refer Bella Nail Bar to another location in Durham, but Ngo said the location would be too far for her and her employees to travel.

She added that she has invested a large amount of money into the current location, including paying for a remodel of the salon.

Gilland also expressed concerns regarding difficulties The Purple Bowl would face if the conceptual plans moved forward.

She said Longfellow proposed that the restaurant close for four years and reopen in the new building once the space is finished. Gilland said this is impossible for a small business.

“Our brand would be dead. Our workers would be gone. It’s just insane that they even suggest that,” she said.

Sebastian Mateu, a sophomore at UNC studying economics, coastal resiliency and business, said he and other students are concerned about how increases in conditional zoning permits given out by the Town might change the community experience.

He said many buildings remain vacant because small businesses can't afford the rising rent.

As a student and someone who lives on Rosemary Street, Mateu said he has given a lot of thought to the lack of small businesses in the area and how issues such as housing and rent prices have impacted development.

“If it appears very easy for a developer to come in to get this zoning permit to allow them to build nine stories and then immediately buy everyone else out from their leases because they can pay a premium, what does that mean for other developers that have had their eye on Chapel Hill?” he said.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Camille Berry said Chapel Hill lacks office space and does not have an abundance of businesses downtown that can support hospitality industries.

She said she appreciated how The Purple Bowl was able to bring attention to the concerns of the community with the new landowners and to express the investment they had made into their company.

“A drawback is that it's going to affect change and change is always a challenge,” she said. “How do we adapt to something that is different?”

She said she wanted to see downtown Chapel Hill active at all times throughout the day and night so people can move around and sense the vibrancy of the area.

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“If we as a council say we see this Town growing, then how do we do it in a way that’s supportive — not pain-free, but helps all of us to move into this new vision,” she said.

No vote has been taken on a final plan for the development, but the Town Council has transmitted comments from the council and members of the community to Longfellow for further consideration.


@DTHCityState | 

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