Development looms large these days

Tonight the Chapel Hill Town Council will hold public hearings on Greenbridge and University Village, will review some concept plans which I know nothing about, and then will hear a petition from the Planning Board about the process for updating the Comprehensive Plan... about which I have something to say. (Here's tonight's Council agenda.)Greenbridge is the radical plan for what I think would be the tallest building in Orange County - though I doubt that height record will stand for long. We have discussed this proposal here on OP. There are many complex issues involved, but I think most people's opinions on it comes down to two things:1. Whether you are invested in a transit-friendly future Chapel Hill that allows for some growth but no sprawl, and2. Whether you believe the developers claims about the environmental benefits (and financial feasibility) of their green-building approach.There have also been concerns about the economic and cultural impact of Greenbridge on Northside. While I am extremely sympathetic to these questions, I just don't know how to answer them. Perhaps the Council should have included the block south of Rosemary in the Northside NCD? There's just not much that can be done about this at this point in the process. And I also think there will be some benefits of living near this development and the amenities it will offer.University Village is the latest project by Meadowmont developer Roger Perry. He proposes to tear down the existing University Inn motel on NC 54 and create a mixed-use development with 238,904 2 of residential space, 120,214 ft2 of office, 58,487 ft2 of retail, and a 70,000 2 hotel. Now you probably know that I am not inclined toward agreement with Mr. Perry. But as I mentioned during our Planning Board review, I actually think this is a pretty good site plan. It certainly blows Meadowmont's design out of the water, but it also goes further by orienting itself toward the planned transit station as well as the street, and enhancing the pedestrian network of the Glen Lennox area. There's no doubt it will clog traffic up around that section of 54, but it could also have some beneficial effects by putting so many residences and jobs close to transit and each other.Finally, I want to talk a little about this petition from the Planning Board. It's not available from the town web site, but you can download it from OP here (MS Word, 75k). Over the past year, the Town has woven a tangled little web around the Comprehensive Plan. When it was written in 2000, it recommended revising the plan in 5 years. At last year's Council retreat, it was decided that the Planning Board should coordinate an effort (by the staff) to collect input from other boards and the public about what the type and scale of changes to the plan should be. As we undertook this process, the Board found that while some parts of the plan needed only minor updating, other essential parts either needed a serious overhaul or simply didn't exist. We came to the conclusion that the CP re-write should be significant in scope, and that it should begin with public input and developing a community vision for the future of the Town. However, the Council decided on a different approach, which basically involved the staff revising a few chapters at a time and then the Planning Board reviewing them as they went along. The Planning Board bristled at having to execute a process which was counter to our recommendation. (We went through a similar problem with Neighborhood Conservation Districts, which is was amicably resolved at our meeting last night through the creative work of town staff.) We have had several additional discussions with the planning staff and with our Council liaison Sally Greene to figure out how to proceed. Ultimately we settled on a compromise solution, which we are presenting to the Council tonight thanks entirely to the hard work of Planning Board Vice Chair George Cianciolo (author of the memo which you can only get here at OP and at Town Hall in person tonight).Also, this weekend the Council has their 2007 retreat, during which they generally set priorities for the year. Get your comments in while you can...


Terri, I am not sure that the town council will do that. The Planning Board seems just too sold on the environmental aspect of the proposal. Don't get me wrong--I am all for environmentalism, whether it's building materials, site design, or redevelopment and appropriately placed density. At the same time, the site is not the proper one for this project. It will, in fact, destroy a very important neighborhood in our larger community and that's enough for me to see through the environmentalist argument. Given what I imagine will be utter inaction on the part of the town council to seek out the other voices (whom I do NOT believe support the project simply because they weren't present at the meeting), I am interested in working in the community to get information out to Northside residents (i roughly live in the neighborhood, though technically in Carrboro). If you or anyone else is interested in helping me with this effort, please send me an email at Thanks.

I'm on the reservation list for Greenbridge. When the N&O article was published last weekend, I wrote an [admittedly kind of upset] email to the developers asking about the off-siting of half of their allotment of "affordable" units.

They wrote back and stated, in no uncertain terms, that the plan for cash payments in lieu of onsite affordable units was *at the specific request* of Northside community members and EmPOWERment folks, and that this was a compromise resulting from multiple meetings with them.

The stated rationale was something along the lines that the community representatives felt that their neighbors would be uncomfortable living in the building, as opposed to living in homes among their friends and neighbors. (the word actually used in the email was that they'd find it "scary" to live in Greenbridge).

I have no way of evaluating the veracity of any of this, other than that it came directly from one of the principal Greenbridge partners.

It has never been entirely clear to me exactly what the affordable units were originally going to look like; whether they were all just going to be small studio/one-bedroom (as the current "artist studio" units are, at ~650sqft), still priced at the building-wide $350-400/sqft rate, or whether they were going to be a more reasonable size for families, sold at a discount.

Certainly if they were all going to be in the 600-700 sqft range, one might imagine why the neighborhood reps would have opted to take cash instead.

I wrote another email to the developers, in response to their reply, in which I asked about the word "artists" that had begun appearing in reference to the remaining onsite affordable units, but I haven't gotten a reply.

While I obviously can't blame the Greenbridge people if the half-onsite/half-offsite split came at the request of the community, I'm still dismayed to learn that the building is apparently going to be even more predominantly upper-upper-class than I had originally thought. I'd like to believe that there will come a time when LEED-certified development doesn't have to cost $350-400/sqft (and I was certainly *hoping* that that time was NOW).

I looked at the website for University Village and I'm wondering who lives in one and two bedroom luxury condos in our area. Not families. Retirees? They might be drawn in by the golf. The website suggests young, attractive white people are their target market. (Not that this means they shouldn't build it.)

Ruby, I hear you applauding the attention to transit issues, but it's hard for me to imagine anything on 54 being anything other than car-friendly. For example, I suspect people who live in Meadowmont would drive to dinner at this new place. Or are there plans to encourage other options?

As for Greenbridge: my problem with it is the displacement of Queen of Sheba. I find it ironic that a developer touting economic sustainability and social equity would displace a solid, vibrant business run by a female minority immigrant.

Also, according to the Chapel Hill News,

To meet the town's affordable-housing requirement, the Greenbridge developers want to build eight affordable units for local artists and contribute cash in lieu of another eight units to support affordable housing efforts in Northside and the nearby Pine Knolls neighborhood.

Can Greenbridge require certains residents to be artists? And will this lack of real affordable housing ensure this development is economically and racially segregated?

We definitely didn't discuss reserving housing for artists at the Planning Board review of Greenbridge, and if they do it they had better make sure they are artists who also happen to make less than 80% of the area median income!

As for U Village, your points are valid, but we also have to think ahead. Their site directly abuts a planned station for fixed-guideway transit (which is something I still - I must - believe in). Also, they will be adding and improving sidewalks and crosswalks on 54. So there actually is some reason to think it will be pedestrian-accessible, even that's not how most people access it.

I can't say I'm terribly excited about it, but the proposal for U Village could suck a lot more than it does. If you assume the land will be re-developed, this is probably a decent way to do it. Although i also hate that they are cutting down two nice trees at the main entrance to the property.

Ruby, OC is also in the process of updating/redoing its Comprehensive plan. I have wondered how much coordination there is between planning jurisdictions and whether there are any communication mechanisms in place for various municipalities and planning jurisdictions to keep one another informed during a process like this one?

One example I have is the concern that some people have that Chapel Hill and Carrboro are simultaneously developing properties in close proximity (West Rosemary and East Main) which will have great impact on one another with traffic and population, and whether there is any joint discussion related to traffic flow and other issues.

"Transit oriented" is the beard behind which so many poor planning decisions are being made in today's Chapel Hill.

I agree, we do need a town-wide rethink on the comprehensive plan and a NCD type collaborative process to pull together a common view of our Downtown.

We're headed toward looming banality that will squeeze the uniqueness and charm out of our organically, historically developed community. Not once have I heard a call by our Council for a town-wide conversation on whether that's what our citizens want...


Where would you like to see growth in Chapel Hill?

Ok I'm going to give live blogging a shot. I'm sitting with George Cianciolo, who I agree with Ruby is a most outstanding person. Pretty full crowd.

I came out to speak for Greenbridge, but I'm actually pretty enthused abut University Village too so as long as I'm in the neighborhood I'll do both.

Go Heels!

They're previewing this weekend's retreat, well planned by Councilmen Strom and Hill as well as town staff and Tim Dempsey.

Sounds like a great agenda for this weekend. I'm sorry I'm going to be out of town.

Phil Mason is giving the staff report on Greenbridge. I'm not going to type all of this out. Once we get into public commentary I'll do more with it.

Quick staff report from Phil. Always appreciated on a long agenda. Tim Toben is about to give the applicant's presentation. They're having some trouble with the technology.

They're beaming Bill McDonough in through video now. Pretty cool to have the chance to put a building in downtown Chapel Hill done by an architect so renowned that he made the cover of Time Magazine.

McDonough himself lives in a house designed by Thomas Jefferson- definitely jealous about that!

Ok public commentary...

Virginia Mason is first. Her family has a long history with this property. Her late father would be very proud of what is happening with this property. Her supportive commentary was touching.

Kate Wheeler now. She lives in Carrboro and is a student at UNC. She has been the loudest voice in opposition. She thinks this project will be devastating for Northside. She says it will tower over the neighborhood and be intimidating. She is unhappy with the affordable housing specs. She says this will be a bunch of rich, white people moving into the neighborhood. They will drown out the political power of black people in the neighborhood.

She says the building doesn't cater to the community. She doesn't think Tim Toben has been very effective in engaging the community.

Disagree with everything she's saying but always good to see students who care.

Here's Bernadette Keefe, who lives downtown. She feels like a part of the Northside community. She is paying homage to the folks who have made the neighborhood great over the years.

She says she would object to Greenbridge if she thought it would hurt the community. But she doesn't. She thinks it's going to make the area that much better. She is happy about developers who obviously have such a passion for the neighborhood.

Henry McCoy up now. He is a Kenan Flagler grad and his firm works in various parts of the Chapel Hill community. He specializes in the 'triple bottom line.' He's talking about environmental justice. He says Greenbridge is unique in how it looks at Northside. The way that it is trying to preserve and intergrate with the existing neighborhood is admirable. He is enthused about the project.

Now up is UNC's Doug Crawford-Brown. He is very happy about the project. He says this is something we can point to as a model for his students about sustainability. It's a template for carbon reduction potential.

Philip Duchastel up now too. He is in favor of this project. He thinks it will cause gentrification and that Northside will disappear. He supports it anyway because of the location- he thinks it's better because it's not located on Franklin Street. He thinks big development should be closed to Franklin, but never on it.

Barbara Trent up now. She says she's a big anti-war person. Kids are dying because of our dependence on oil. She says the project fits with the town's commitment to ending the war and to protecting the environment. She disagrees that this will be a rich, white enclave. She thinks we should have nice condos in an African American community.

Bill Walzer? now. Not sure on the spelling. He's a realtor in Chapel Hill. He's in support. He has no association with the project. He thinks it will help downtown merchants and enhance the neighborhood.

GeorgeC is going to explain his flip flop. More on that later because I have to speak though.

Ok I spoke it in support. Now Terry Melville. She's for it too. She says that Bill McDonough is an amazing architect and we are lucky to have him building in our town.

BTW, George voted against Greenbridge at the Planning Board, but supported it at the CDC because the developers made some more concessions on the green features in between those two meetings. He was appreciatve of their willingness to compromise.

Carrboro Planning Board chair James Carnahan is a strong supporter and thinks that this project will do good things in downtown Carrboro as well as downtown Chapel Hill.

This is 11 speakers in support and 1 opposed so far. Both African American speakers were supportive- the conflict seemingly anticipated by some local media outlets along those lines doesn't seem to have materialized.

Former Councilman David Godschalk up now. He says green is good and that Bill McDonough is great.

He seems opposed though. He doesn't want a ten story green building. He thinks we're getting out of scale.

My battery's about to die.

He thinks they need more on site affordable housing.

He wants to know what the role of the Planning Board is in this. He says there needs to be form based zoning.

He thinks Greenbridge is a done deal.

Gary Tiller? He says he's a potential resident is Greenbridge is approved. He hopes it will be. It will allow him to live in a smaller space and get down to one car and hopefully none. He'll be able to walk to Weaver Street, ride his bike places, and have the kind of lifestyle he's been striving to have.

Judith Ferster now. One of the Sierra Club's great volunteers. The Orange/Chatham Group has endorsed the project and written a statement. They think it meets the criteria for sustainability and quality environmental design. They are happy about the Gold level LEED certification...

Battery's going to die at any minute. The point has been made though. There is overwhelming support.

Angela Lee now. She belongs to St. Paul AME church (a neighbor) and operates a downtown business. She is favorable. She thinks it will help develop young people. She is very excited across the board.

Good job, Tom. I'm watching from the break room (with a little basketball mixed in).

Tom Toben just said it costs $225,000 to build a house in Northside! What is that - a house made of gold?

I love the live blog!
Keep posting Ruby.
I'm not surprised by Tim's $225K quote. Custom built houses are not cheap in the triangle. Where's Mark Marcopolos? He could tell us what it takes to build a house by the square foot.

I'm sorry I had another engagement tonight, or I would have been there to speak in favor. This project sits at the end of my street, and looking out the south-facing window next to my bed, in addition to being a generally aesthetically pleasing structure, would do me a world of wonder by blocking my view of the UNC coal plant. :)

On a more serious note, I think this is exactly the type of project we need to be encouraging in our downtown corridor. It is big, but I don't see any reason to be intimidated by this. Sometimes I think we here in Chapel Hill are unnecessarily wary of height due to the lack of positive examples in the area. A dense, multi-purpose, environmentally friendly building right on the main thoroughfare is a good step for Northside. Sure, I'd love to see it be LEED Platinum, 100% affordable housing, designed from the start with input from everyone living within 1000 feet of it. But given the realities of development, I think it's an excellent attempt which will succeed in a lot of areas. One of the best ways to combat bad development is to snap at opportunities for good ones, and I believe this is such a project.

The Council had some in-depth discussion of affordable housing and Tom Tucker actually explained this artist thing that Joan asked about above. They're calling them "live/work" spaces. Not sure what the verdict will be on that.

Councilmember Mark Kleinschmidt is now asking questions about the design. He says it feels a little too "now" and is concerned the design will become dated very quickly.

Very interesting discussion now about "Northside Community Plaza" which Tim Toben claims is public space but in fact will be maintained and managed by Greenbridge. The Council wants to know - what if they want to dance there?

Toben doesn't seem to get that it's not adequate to just trust the owners personally. The Town deserves legal assurances.

OK, U-village is up now...

The number of jobs in CH/C is increasing quickly and has been for a long time. The number of new housing hasn't been keeping up with the number of new jobs and a direct consequence of that is unafforadable housing in CH/C and sprawl outside CH/C.

CH/C doesn't determine whether development occurs, rather UNC does. All CH/C determines is whether development will be good or bad. If CH/C supplies places to live for UNC employees then the development can be good, but if it doesn't (and it hasn't been) then the development is bad, although people in CH/C may not notice because they don't have to see the bad development. It is essentially akin to taking all your garbage and dumping it in a neighboring town and then saying "Look how nice our town is, no garbage at all." Just because your town doesn't have garbage in it doesn't mean your town isn't the source of existing garbage.

They're putting up a big building next to where I work on the UNC campus and hundreds of people will work there. Those people have to live somewhere. Where will they live?

Having long discussions over one big green building just takes the focus away from more important issues. The positive environmental impact of one big green building isn't nearly as large in magnitude as the negative environmental impact of thousands of people commuting tens of miles hundreds of times each year.

FWIW, I asked my husband (a carpenter who works with a contractor on remodels and renovations in Carrboro and Chapel Hill and sometimes Durham) what the cost of building is here, and he said around $150/sq. ft, and it can go up or down from there. But it's easier to go up.

Cornell West was wonderful as last night's Martin Luther King guest lecturer. His theme, naturally enough, was justice, democracy and love and how important it is for communities to have Socratic dialogues in examination of our practice of justice and democracy.

What about the residents of Northside who didn't come to town hall last night? Did they not come because they support Greenbridge or because they don't feel they would be listened to?

I love the concept and the energy of Toben and his partners, but the impact of this building is going to be huge on a small, low income neighborhood that is always on the receiving end of other people's good ideas.

My hope is that the town council will take an activist stance and seek out the non-public neighborhood voices in Northside before they approve this project. The entire Chapel Hill-Carrboro community has continuing problems with race and economic disenfranchisement. This is the opportunity to have a meaningful Socratic dialogue in the name of democracy and social justice before another good idea is implemented that will change this community forever.

Apart from the other issues, William McDonough is one of the great planetary heroes of our time. I absolutely believe that he will be remembered like Leonardo da Vinci several centuries from now. His work is on the cutting edge of planetary health & sustainability. A phrase he likes to use and backs up better than anyone is that he designs "for the children of all species forever".

In terms of housing costs, Tobin is probably pretty close. Especially with modern road requirements and permitting and regulatory costs. Affordable housing is a complicate issue, but my view in a nutshell is that you can only bring down the price of a house so far and still have a decent house (not to mention pay the workers a fair wage). The banks, the suppliers, the insurance companies, all the supporting entities - they get theirs. What;'s left is the builder taking the risk and construction workers who hardly ever get any benefits. If construction workers were paid with the same benfits package that government & corporate workers get, tyou wouldn't believe the astronomical cost of housing we'd see. Anyway - affordable housing is not so much a problem of houses costing a lot; it's a problem, of underpaid people not being able to afford them. And last, the future will see a big shift toward multi-family housing, coops, co-housing, etc.

Actually, the better explanation that convinced me to support 1/2 off-site affordable housing was that the real-estate dollar can go further in Northside. The same amount of money buys a bigger house in Northside than a comparable condo in Greenbridge. Families need a little more room... so this seemed like a good idea.

Additionally, as Robert Dowling has argued, the long-term implications and associated costs of condo units as workforce (affordable) housing is not fully understood.

It's also difficult for some to fully appreciate the concerns of those who might buy affordable units in an upscale building. Their fears might reinforce some of our more base class and racial stereotypes, but they are there nonetheless. A lot must be done here before we reach an understanding of these issues, let alone resolve them.

Yeah, that's what I assumed when I said "Certainly if they were all going to be in the 600-700 sqft range, one might imagine why the neighborhood reps would have opted to take cash instead." Who wants to cram a family into 700 square feet?

Unfortunately, this just reinforces the notion that green/sustainable technology is too expensive for "regular" people. Sigh.

There was an article in the NY Times the other day about a Greenbridge-like development proposed for NYC that's going to be *entirely* affordable housing:

Maybe if Greenbridge is perceived as a success, it'll open the door for some kind of public/private partnership to work toward similar goals.

The term "artist studio" is probably used the same way as "granny flat" -- don't read too much into it.

Actually, Catherine I think they are proposing retail-like space to go with the artists studios, so I don't think it's just a euphemism.

Ah, then the ground floors resemble the Torpedo Factory in Arlington? If so, way cool.

Ruby -
I just received this today - the 22nd - I always receive it a week late - and am wondering if it is my Norton - do any of you have an idea why?
I want to remind all interested in supporting Del Snow's petition to the CH Town Council regarding the rapid development of NW Chapel Hill without plan to have the infrastructure in place prior to occupancy to attend tonight's meeting. When entering Chapel Hill off I40 exit #266 there will be gridlock if something isn't done. More important than metal box movement will be the lack of a well laid plan in place for pedestrians and bikes to move in the area. Thanks for your support in bringing up these important issues.

You might want to include your concerns about the rapid cultivation of Rogers Rd. for Chapel Hill annexation.

My concern? That the area will be annexed, with the attending new tax burden, prior to the landfill issues being resolved.

Problem? Existing homeowners will be saddled with additional financial burdens before they can realize the actual gain on their property (which will be delayed by the landfill resolution). Mark K., Bill S. and Tom Tucker seemed really eager to prepare the area for annexation... I'm sure developers would be quite happy to pickup properties there for a song when folks are forced to sell.

Suzanne, I'm not sure what you're receiving. The weekly digest always goes out on Monday and contains the previous week's posts. If you want to get immediate updates of new posts, sign up for OP Junkies. Both are available at

Will, that's a good point. The landfill neighbors have already been through many broken promises from our local government, so we need to remain vigilant.

Public hearing for Greenbridge pt. 2 going on right now. The speakers have been largely favorable. Two folks were opposed, both mostly because of the height of the building, which has been overwhelmingly the top concern I've heard about the project.

East 54 (University Village) passed unanimously earlier in the evening.

And a bunch more speakers in favor...



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