Chapel Hill council reviews South Creek condo and townhouse plan

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A proposed neighborhood for a wooded slope across from Southern Village needs work, including better stormwater planning, safer pedestrian connections and housing at varying prices, Chapel Hill City Council members said Wednesday.

Developer Beechwood Homes submitted concept plans for several hundred condos and townhouses, as well as some commercial space, in November. Its South Creek project could occupy 40 acres along US 15-501 South, while preserving an additional 80 acres of more environmentally sensitive land to the east around Wilson Creek.

A concept plan is not a formal application. This is a draft that allows the developer to solicit feedback from City Council and City Advisory Councils, which can then be used to develop an official application.

The project could bring diverse housing within walking distance of shops and bus routes, officials said. A recent town report advised the council to engage in more comprehensive community planning on how and where 35% more housing could be built each year.

The city needs about 485 housing units a year through 2040, about 90% of which would be for working-age adults and seniors, consultant Rod Stevens said in the Chapel Hill Housing Report. The rest – about 45 units – would serve students living off-campus.

US Census data shows Chapel Hill added an average of 430 new residents per year from 2010 to 2020.

Council member Jessica Anderson noted that the council is more interested in middle income housing, rather than ‘missing middle’ housing, which involves a variety of housing types as well as price ranges.

“I think what we’re really looking for is middle income,” Anderson said. “We’re not looking for a housing typology, but an income level, so really talking with our housing and our community (staff) and looking for that middle income I think will be really important and very necessary.”

In front of SV.jpg
An architect’s rendering shows the main entrance to South Creek from the intersection of Market Street and US 15-501, across from Southern Village. A ground floor retail and office building could flank the new street. Contributed Beechwood Homes

South Creek Project Details

Acres: 40 developed, 80 undeveloped

Residential: 650 condominiums and townhouses

affordable housing: Council urged the developer to work with local nonprofits, such as Community Home Trust, as well as city staff and advisory board members. The city’s inclusive zoning ordinance requires that at least 15% of homes for sale in a project be affordable to residents earning up to 80% of the area’s median income – someone earning up to $48,400 a year and a family of four earning $69,120.

State law prohibits rent control, but the council can take advantage of incentives, such as density bonuses, and negotiate with developers.

Commercial: 42,000 square feet of commercial and office space

building height: Townhouse buildings are shown at three stories, with condominiums going from four to seven stories as construction moves east down the hill.

Approvals: Rain gardens, pocket parks, swimming pool, a pavilion overlooking the park and a central terraced green space with a strip shell

Transport: The proponent may add a stop on the future North-South bus rapid transit line and is working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to weigh other potential road improvements. Driveways controlled by red lights on US 15-501 are offered at Market Street and Sumac Road. Parking would be under condo buildings and in garages.

What the board said

Pedestrian safety, traffic and environmental implications for the steeply sloping site, which includes an abandoned quarry east of the creek, will be significant issues to address. Council members urged the developer to consider a conservation easement for the reserve and a range of affordable housing.

The developer could also work with groups, such as Home Ownership for Personal Empowerment (HOPE), to incorporate a different model of affordable housing for people with disabilities, Anderson said.

Council member Michael Parker suggested revising the plan to mix condos and townhouses using a variety of building styles. It could create a more organic community, instead of a community where everything looks the same, he said. He also encouraged a mix of department stores and grassroots community retail, to create “more of a neighborhood feel that gives people reasons to walk around”.

Some work housing units would be a good addition, council member Tai Huynh added.

Council members agreed with the developer that South Creek should complement Southern Village’s existing homes, apartments and shopping center. Pedestrian safety – and a red light on Sumac Road – will be essential for this connectivity and for making the road corridor a boulevard and a square, said council member Amy Ryan.

She suggested that the developer and the city work in this context to come up with a better plan.

“It really is the green gateway to the southern part of town,” Ryan said. “Southern Village has observed and kept a lot of that character. I think there will be value in figuring out how to keep that here too.

What happened to Obey Creek

If approved, South Creek would replace Obey Creek’s previously approved proposal, which the board approved in 2015.

This project, which was supposed to add approximately 1.6 million square feet of retail, office and apartment space with 85 acres of public parkland, did not materialize when the developer struggled to find the retail and office tenants needed to begin construction.

In August, Beechwood Obey Creek LLC, a subsidiary of Beechwood Homes, paid $7.25 million to Obey Creek Ventures LLC for the land, county records show.

Council is expected to terminate the Obey Creek development agreement before accepting a new conditional zoning permit with Beechwood Homes. The land intended for Obey Creek has already been annexed to the city limits.

The orange report

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This story was originally published January 13, 2022 08:27.

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Tammy Grubb has been writing about Orange County politics, people, and government since 2010. She is an alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill and has lived and worked in the Triangle for more than 25 years.

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