During a, let’s say, spirited community meeting back in January, a large crowd of Chapel Hill residents made known its disgruntlement regarding a developer’s proposal to build a resort-style luxury-apartment complex on one of the last remaining chunks of undeveloped land in Chapel Hill. That property—thirty-six acres in all—is owned by the American Legion Post 6, and it sits just east of Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road. The Legion intends to sell the land for $10 million to Woodfield Investments, but the deal hasn’t gone through yet. The sale is conditional on a rezoning of the land, which the town council would ultimately have to approve.
Woodfield, which had not formally submitted to the town its proposal for the property, finally did so in late July. Viewable here, it contains not-insignificant changes to what was proposed back in January. “Woodfield has compiled some concerns & thoughts from the community and has started to incorporate these into the concept plan,” the plan states.
What’s different? The original plan called for over six hundred residential units. The new plan will max out at four hundred units. The original fifty-thousand square feet of office space is now “50,000-100,000 square feet of office use” and “50,000 square feet of office/civic/flex space.” (Woodfield also says it has begun conversations with the YMCA to be a potential tenant of the site.) The new plan also commits 25 percent of the property to “open space, stream buffers, and trails,” according to the proposal.
In other words, Woodfield’s plan:
*Decreases the number of luxury housing units (good, because Chapel Hill already has a glut of these)
*Beefs up commercial use on the property (good, because one of Chapel Hill’s biggest problems is that it has a weak commercial tax base)
*Preserves a decent amount of green space (good, because parks are good)
But does it go far enough? Many wanted the town to purchase the Legion property last year and preserve it as a park; the town’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan identified the land as an ideal spot for a park. But the town passed on that opportunity last year because, as town manager Roger Stancil told the INDY in January, the $9 million price tag was “half the town’s fund balance.” If the council denies Woodfield’s request for a rezoning, the Woodfield deal would fall apart, and that could put the property back in play for the town. The new town council, elected last November, has fewer members likely to be enthusiastic about high-end condo projects in Chapel Hill.
Councilwoman Nancy Oates is one such member. She tells the INDY she was surprised to see Woodfield’s latest revision, because at a special council work session last spring where ideas were discussed regarding what the council would like to see on the Legion property, “not a single council member expressed support for it to be used for apartments.”
Oates adds: “We hear from our constituents and businesses that they want a walkable community. We need to give all those people who will live in Ephesus-Fordham some businesses and offices to walk to. Otherwise, we’re simply a bedroom community.”
The Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, or CHALT, has strongly opposed the Woodfield development. It is not swayed by the new plan. CHALT cofounder David Schwartz sent over the following statement to the INDY:
“Chapel Hill has a more than adequate supply of new market rate housing units—over 6,000 at last count—already approved or in the development pipeline,” CHALT states. “Conversely, Chapel Hill has a shortage of public park land and recreational facilities, particularly in the part of town where the American Legion property is located. We are confident the Town government, the land owners and third parties together will be able to craft a plan for the property that better meets both the financial needs of the American Legion membership and the Town’s need for expanded parkland and recreation opportunities… Before that can happen, however, the Town Council needs to communicate clearly to Woodfield during the concept plan review process that proposals to build apartments on the American Legion property are not likely to be approved.”
Next step for the project is a review at the town’s Community Design Commission, scheduled for Tuesday, August 23, at 6:30 p.m. in town council chambers. The tentative date for the council to review Woodfield’s plan is September 19.