Council approves University Square redevelopment

Feb. 11, 2013 @ 11:07 PM

The Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a rezoning of venerable University Square that promises to transform 123 West Franklin Street in to a transformative mix of retail, housing and office space.
The property is owned by the Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings and is being leased and developed by Atlanta-based developer Cousins Properties.
The council granted the developer’s request to rezone approximately 7 acres of the 12.9-acre site from Town Center-2 to Town Center-3 Conditional.
The rezoning request was accompanied by two special use permits, both of which were also approved by council.
One special use permit paves the way for the developer to build three buildings containing, 300 apartments, 210,000 square feet of office space and 75,000 square feet of space for retail and restaurants on the northern part of the site.
The second special use permit for the south portion of the site allows a new access point on Cameron Avenue.
It has been controversial with neighbors complaining that such an access point would create additional traffic problems.
The redevelopment would cost between $75 million and $100 million.
Plans call for razing five existing buildings and replacing them with three taller buildings. UNC’s Granville Towers Residence Hall will remain.
Town leaders believe the project will help to transform downtown.
UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said the rental property will be the first the university has built for adult students that is within walking distance of the campus.
And he reminded the council that because the Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holding is a private entity, the property will remain on the tax rolls.
When the project came before the council in November, some members complained that the project’s proposed 300 rental units did not help the town meet its affordable housing goals.
Instead of providing affordable housing, not a requirement when the residential component of a project is rental, the developer, Cousin Properties Inc., initially offered a gift of $60,000, but increased that amount to $90,000.
Again, several council members took issue with the amount of the gift.
“This project has to do better,” said Councilman Jim Ward. “This project would address a lot of our needs and priorities, but I can’t sit by and give it a pass on affordable housing,”
Ward said he thought $90,000 over the next five years would be a more appropriate amount.
Later in the meeting, Thorp returned with a counter offer $50,000 a year over the next five years for a total of $250,000, which the council accepted.
Several downtown business leaders expressed support for the project.
Meg McGurk, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said the benefits of having a major mixed-use project downtown will be enormous.
“It’s the complete package we’ve wanted for downtown,” McGurk said.
Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said the project will help the town retain its young talent pool, which is currently leaving for other towns.
“This has the opportunity to be our American Tobacco,” said Nelson, referring to the popular mix-used development in Durham.
In other business, the council heard from postal officials about plans to close its Timberlyne Post Office a 1129 Weaver Dairy Road and move to a location yet to be determined but within the town’s 27514 ZIP Code.
Officials said the proposed move is being made to “right size” the operation as the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service attempts to cut costs.
An optimization study has called for carriers to be relocated to the Carrboro Main Office at 1500 W. Main St.