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Saturday April 1st

Town Talk

Town Council approves three special use permits

Special use permits for three new developments were approved by the Chapel Hill Town Council Monday.

The council approved permits for the Courtyards of Homestead at 2209 Homestead Road, the New Life Fellowship at 510 Sage Road and The Graduate at 105 Kenan St.

The Courtyards of Homestead is a proposed multi-family development for residents 55 years of age and older, comprising 63 dwelling units, a clubhouse and a pool.

Rather than having a certain number of units set aside for affordable housing on the building site, the development will provide payment in lieu of physical affordable housing units that will subsidize affordable housing elsewhere.

Nancy Oates, a Chapel Hill resident and a publisher of the blog Chapel Hill Watch, praised the development’s potential to provide housing to Chapel Hill’s population of senior citizens.

“I represent the 14,000 members of this target market,” she said.

“A large portion of the Chapel Hill would benefit from the Courtyards at Homestead. If you look at who's spending money in upscale restaurants and stores, many of those people are in my age demographic. Older people who can’t find housing will just move away and take those dollars with them.”

The council discussed setting aside physical affordable housing units, but the project’s developer Ed Bacome of Epcon Communities stressed that meeting the affordable housing requirement with payment-in-lieu would be more economically feasible.

“It's reached the point for us where we want to do this, but we can't,” he said of providing physical units.

The council also reduced the number of bike racks that will be constructed on the property from 16 to eight.

Also approved by the council was a special use permit for The Graduate, an apartment building for UNC graduate students.

Revisions to the development’s original proposal included drawing in the building’s outer perimeter so that it will not be as close to the street, which required adding multiple floors to the building.

The apartment building will also include affordable housing units that will make up 15 percent of the total housing units and will remain vacant if they are not leased, rather than reverting to the market value price, said Jay Patel, co-owner of the Franklin Hotel and a lead planner for the development.

“You guys have owned the Franklin Hotel for a while now — people point to it as a jewel of downtown,” said councilman Matt Czajkowski.

“The changes you've made in response to the dialogue surrounding this development are refreshing.”

The council also approved a revised resolution for the New Life Fellowship Church, which includes requirements for parking, accessibility, emergency access, bike parking, landscape protection and tree canopy coverage, among others.

In addition to approving the special use permits, the council heard a presentation on Village Plaza Apartments, the first project proposed for the town’s Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment district.

The proposed development will be the first that can be approved by the town manager rather than the town council as the result of Chapel Hill’s new form-based code zoning process, meant to streamline development.

John Richardson, planning manager for sustainability at the Town of Chapel Hill, said the development would include new streets and sidewalks, bike lanes, shared lane bicycle marking and 168 bike parking spaces.

Council members and residents alike expressed concern about the design and appearance of the proposed development.

“I personally don't want to live in a concrete and glass jungle without a blade of grass to sit on a bench on or walk my dog on,” said Chapel Hill resident Jane Kirsch.

“I cannot believe that a progressive, smart town like Chapel Hill would approve the development of a piece of property like this one on Elliott Road.”

Councilman Matt Czajkowski expressed concern that the proposed development does not include any units of affordable housing, will not necessarily be LEED-certified, includes excessive space for parking and runs up against Booker Creek and the nearby greenway.

“It’s astonishing to me that the first project out of the box is so appalling that you almost couldn’t have concocted it as such to show all the glaring weaknesses in the form-based code that we passed and that we apparently have no meaningful opportunity to revise except when it comes to the number of bicycle spaces,” he said.

“We just spent probably an hour talking about three (affordable housing) units in a 60-unit development, and now we're talking about a development five times that size, and we're not even going to talk about affordable housing.”

Councilman George Cianciolo said while he isn’t sure the development will be a success, he is glad something will take the place of the vacant lot that preceded it.

“I don't know that the town has benefited over the last ten years from the overgrown lot surrounded by a chain-link fence that's been there,” he said.

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