Go Carrboro: larger scale developments on the horizon

It does look like the efforts of the economic development folks at town hall coupled with development pressure are having an effect on Carrboro's downtown. For better or worse, there is a long list of proposals for development that are going to hit the town over the next few years.

Some of the ones I know about include a 100+ unit complex adjacent to the concrete plant and bike trail, a 5 story condo complex behind Cat's Cradle, some sort of mixed use multi-floor thingie where the current Carrboro arts center parking lot is, a remodeling/addition to the "Trading Post", the Weaver Street market sponsored redo of the Norina on Weaver Street and N. Greensboro, some kind of redevelopment of the Andrew-Riggsbee building, and a 2 story mixed use building on Weaver Street that might house a barbeque restaurant. All of these are simply in planning/talking stages and haven't been approved.

I have mixed feelings about the growth, but do see the need for more densit downtown and hope that this might lead to a curtailing of sprawl on the outer edges of town. I'm sure others disagree. But regardless, it's coming and it's coming soon.


I only mentioned automotive noise because I was responding to your desire for a car-free zone. My poiont was that if the area is mixed usage, you won't really have an automotive-free zone because of deliveries, emergency/safety personnel, buses etc. Figuring out how to deal with their noise is something I think will make the quality of life in a high density zone much higher. Other noise issues are associated with building quality (including insulation) and respectful neighbors--probably the hardest of all to deal with since it can't be legislated.

As for 605 West Main, here's what's coming:


I'll have to respectfully disagree with Melanie as to it looming. I think the building, when complete, will frame the street quite nicely.

If it had been set back further from the street, it would have been worse in the long run. By being placed at the sidewalk, it does allow for interaction with the street itself.

In time, I think that a wider sidewalk would take away some of the perceived mass of the building. Two more well-place buildings at this intersection and Carrboro could actually have a small public square.

On another note, I find it interesting but not surprising that of all the noise externalities mentioned by Terri above come from cars: trucks, sirens, deliveries, trash, etc. Density itself is not the problem. The wider adoption of hybrid cars that run on electric power at lower speeds bodes well for reducing some of these noise impacts.

Melanie, a few of us noticed it in July: http://orangepolitics.org/2004/07/so-what-is-that-thing/

It does look monstrous right now. But I think it will look better when it has an actual facadea nd sidewalk in front. Also, it seems likely that the surrounding lots will eventually have more density (as you point out), so that one building won't stick out so much.

Only time will tell!

The DTH has an interesting story concerning one of these projects.


If the plan to relocate existing businesses in the current location into the new space as it is completed holds true, then this could be a much needed improvement to that location.

These projects are most likely to be great improvements for downtown Carrboro, if they are implemented properly. Increased retail downtown means less driving to Durham for this item or that item, and strengthening the commercial tax base relieves residential tax rates.

One of the best things that could be done to get it all done right would be a comprehensive examination of downtown transportation demand management strategies.

We need to be looking at measures like parking cash-out, car-sharing programs like zipcar, and the unbundling of parking spaces from rental and housing units.

The latter is particularly useful. Instead of assigning 2 parking spaces per unit, housing units and parking spaces are rented separately. That way, people who choose to live Car-Lite or be 1-car families can realize the savings of not paying for 2 spaces in their rent. Property owners can then make extra spaces available for customers in mixed-use buildings.

The thing I love about Carrboro is that it is most definitely a PLACE. It is not an imitation of one. Well-done denser development will enhance the sense of place that we enjoy so much in Carrboro, and I am excited about the opportunities that these projects represent for the town.

Pictures often say it better than words, so I'll sign off today with a photo. This is a picture of what density looks like when it is done right. In this case, 4-5 story buildings that create a sense of place and co-exist effectively with natural elements such as grass and trees.


Nice picture Patrick. As someone who used to live in a high density community, I can honestly say that I loved parking my car and forgetting about it. BUT....there are also real problems living close to streets and other people. Noise was my biggest problem. Walking to the grocery was a blessing--but feeling my dwelling shake as the large trucks drove by was not. Sirens were particularly irritating. It was useless trying to watch a movie at home on a weekend night. The noise was so bad that I rarely opened my windows. Even when individuals park their cars, businesses still depend on delivery trucks, trash collection, etc. Noise can be controlled but it needs to be part of building standards, zoning ordinances, and governance concerns.

Anybody been down West Main recently? Have you SEEN the structure they are putting up? (Well, if youk've been down W. Main, you've seen it--you can't miss it...) It LOOMS. I can't believe they approved that building right on top of the sidewalk--with no setback. And it is shorter than what has been proposed for the rest of downtown Carrboro....

As much as I loved my (formerly) little house at 616, I'm glad we moved.


Those who are in the forefront of the Car Free movement have spent a lot of time looking at some of the issues that you mention, including noise and freight delivery.

Check out http://www.carfree.com/ and click on the "Objections" and "Moving Frieght" sections to cover some of the noise and delivery issues, albeit in very brief form.

Noise is another benefit that Light Rail or streetcar service has over buses- a light rail train is about 10 decibels quieter than your average diesel bus.


Maybe once it's finished...I walked that stretch of road four times daily for seven years...(up and back to Carrboro Elementary) and I think the framing is oppressive. Maybe once the REAL sidewalk is finished.

Interesting that you should mention adding two more buildings at that intersection--that would mean eliminating those small rental houses across the street...

Do we really want to replace affordable housing with buildings like the one going up? And howwould one reconfigure that intersection? It's relatively difficult to cross there at the BEST of times--with a school crossing guard...

melanie/walked the walk for YEARS('til we moved and walked to Estes Hills and Phillips!)

Hey, folks,

If you're interested in getting an in-depth look, and a first opportunity for input, Main Street Partners (the owners of the Artscenter/Cradle complex at 300 E. Main) will give a presentation and public input session on the proposal for the redevelopment of the 300 block of downtown Carrboro,
this Monday, Sept 13th, 7:00pm at the Carrboro Century Center.

Without repeating any of the foregoing,
what I've seen thus far at the presentation to the Downtown Development Commission is truly exciting. As i've mentioned elsewhere, we went through an exhaustive Downtown Visioning process (Initiated and run by Yers Truly, thankyaverymuch) to establish a blueprint for the cultural and economic hub of Carrboro. The resulting report (http//www.townofcarrboro.org/downtownvision) calls for a dense, pedestrian and transit-oriented mixed-use town center, whose anchor attractions are centered around cultural and entertainment activities.
Key components of the proposal are new, expanded facilities for the ArtsCenter and Cat's Cradle--two of our marquee attractions, with an amphitheatre, and 300,000sf of mixed retail, office and residential around a pedestrian plaza.--It is being done by local owners and architects, who have, in my view, used the new Vision For Downtown Carrboro document as their guiding work. Can you tell I'm stoked?

Well, come by Monday and judge for yourself.


I'll try to make it on Monday. My main question at this point is whether any of the new retail space will be affordable, or if we're moving towards Franklin Street $6000+ per month territory where only bars, franchises, chain stores or wealthy startups can afford to be there.

Re: Busted link & stuff

The link I posted doesn't work. Just go to http//www.townofcarrboro.org and click on the 'New Vision for Downtown Carrboro' link on the homepage.

Good point, Ethan--I, and others share that concern. Hope you'll raise it Monday.

And, Melanie, Don't freak abt the properties across the street from 605 W. Main. They're not zoned commercial or mixed-use, and aren't contemplated for such uses.


I was in Buenos Aires recently and there was a 3 story building downtown that had maybe 6-8 small glass front retail spaces per floor, mostly run by young people selling vintage clothes & jewelry, but also including a bookstore and a record store. Each one was maybe 120 square feet, max, plus a large closet/storage area. Some were double or triple units, so up to 360 sq. ft. This seems like a great way to help small retail businesses get started. Or you could have a small gallery, or a one or two person office.

I pretty much agree with everyone regarding the look of and concerns about this project. However it isn't as shocking [depressing] to me as when I see land that is being cleared for development. This is one of the "pioneers" of infill development, and most likely we will grow to appreciate its redeeming qualities. In any case we can learn from it. It seems obvious that having parking at ground-level won't enhance its neighborly facade, but maybe it will work better that we think. I feel strongly that it is important to start trying this type of development and to learn what works and what doesn't. Here's to wiser development in the future!

From Alex- "And, Melanie, Don't freak abt the properties across the street from 605 W. Main. They're not zoned commercial or mixed-use, and aren't contemplated for such uses." Hmmmm... that could have been said about 5-story buildings in Carrboro a year ago- that is "not zoned." Allowing 5-story buildings in Carrboro will have a definite effect on the development of the surrounding area. In 7-10 years property values will increase to such a extent that single family home owners will not be able to afford the property taxes. Simultaneously, the town will have realized the economic benefits of high density housing and developers will be pushing for more land upon which to build... Seems like a slippery slope to me. The future of "those small rental houses" may well be compromised.


Your concerns are not unfounded. However, remember also that if Carrboro is able to expand its commercial tax base by building up in the downtown area, the town may be able to reduce the share of the overall tax burden carried by residential property owners. (I'd also like to see Carrboro Plaza expand upwards, too)

Whether or not this tax shift can be managed effectively will be one of the major challenges as Carrboro grows.

I'll also second Alex's comments on the ArtsCenter/Cradle proposal. I think this is a fantastic opportunity for the town.

To me, what's really disappointing and disengenous about 605 W. Main Street is that there is no first floor retail. And I think the developer pulled the wool over people's eyes about this omission and no one rang the alarms. I know the developer had the rights, but as one who follows this stuff closer than the average Joe and lives a block away from the building, I was under the impression that 605 would include first floor retail and I believe the artist's rendering intends to make it look like there's retail. Well, it's a street level parking lot. Why wasn't this building plan Exhibit A for why we needed a new ordinance? Did no one know there's no first floor retail? We'll have to live with it now and maybe it will turn out for the good. But it smells to me like another project where the developer will make the requisite profit by doing the minimal and not give a damn about impact on the community. And I'm very dissapointed that the folks who are supposed to look out for such things didn't ring the alarms on the lack of retail. This isn't a neighborhood building, it's a mini office park with a couple of condos. As my 8 year old says, only lawyers will go in it... Just very dissapointing all the way around. Think how much a nice coffee shop or cafe in that building would change it for the good of the community relations, meeting people, etc.

I hope some other folks post their impressions of the meeting tonight. In general, I liked the layout presented -- it could turn out nice, or it could end up looking like The Streets at Southpoint. The central plaza looks good, but is it just going to be private space that pretends to be public space? How will they deal with post-show crowds from the Cradle hanging around at 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning? Will people in the 4th or 5th story apartments complain about the noise? One thing struck me as a little odd.. they (Main St. Properties) talked about the Artscenter and the Cradle as their anchor tenants, but also mentioned that neither could pay market rates for the square footage they'll be occupying, so the other tenants would have to subsidize them and effectively make up the difference. They want to charge $20-25 per square foot, which isn't completely outrageous, but there are storefronts on Franklin Street that pay more in the range of $12-15 per sq ft. For a 1000 sq ft. space at $20-25, that's about $1700-2100 per month. At the same time, Main St. says they aren't interested in pursuing "Banana Republic" type tenants who could easily afford to pay market rates. They seem very committed to making it possible for the current tenants to stay and for other local businesses to move in, but I got the impression that what is actually built will depend on how many high-rent tenants they can secure beforehand. Does anyone know if there going to be a way to submit written comments about this?

Ethan, I think I'm going to start a new thread about last night's meeting . Please repost your comments there.

Well--it appears that now that 605 W. Main is FINISHED--a number of people STILL think it is hideous--including Carrboro's Mayor. At least according to today's Chapel Hill Herald: http://www.heraldsun.com/orange/10-584983.html

Remember 605 W. Main when people start talking about how wonderful the plans for the Cat's Cradle et al are. It can be difficult to envision what a FINISHED building will ACTUALLY look like--particularly when all you are presented with is an artist's rendering of the front elevation.

You Carrborians better be paying attention!


Unfortunately, your point is true for all buildings regardless of height. It's easy to look at a drawing and see the best in it without seeing the worst parts of it. I don't think we should allow the opinions about one building built under the old ordinance to affect whether we should move forward with the new one.

But I do agree we need to be extra cautious. I still don't see the Artscenter space can't reclaim the connection between Roberson Street and that road that runs past Nice Price Books. Seems like a potentially elegant way to restore another set of two city blocks while alleviating some traffic flow issues.... But no one seems to be paying much attention to that idea.

I think most people agree that
parking instead of ground-floor retail is the biggest flaw of this building. If it had storefronts opening onto the sidewalk, I think you wouldn't hear the word "cold" to describe it.

I don't think there's any inherent problem with the building's form. Yes, the back is kind of boring to look at from Poplar St. Some day in the future, though, it is quite possible that there will be another multi-story building on that corner blocking the less detailed backside.

In the long run, I think the building will do fine. The biggest problem I see with it aesthetically is that the utility wires are not sunk, and therefore you have this ugly string of electric/phone cables breaking up the facade.


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