Orange County

Chapel Hill creates new zoning district for industry, research

A new zoning district created Wednesday could make it easier to attract industrial, research and commercial uses to land north of town off Eubanks Road.

The Chapel Hill Town Council expects the Millhouse Road district to spur jobs and tax revenues from uses not allowed in other parts of town, including wet lab and light research, food processing and manufacturing operations.

Climate-controlled self-storage for personal items also would be allowed with special approval but could not be on a building’s first floor or take up more than half of its square footage. Storage that is part of an already permitted use, such as for a business inventory, would not require additional approval.

“Our ability to respond to some of these requests we’re getting for new space, more space, office space, flex space, we’re not able to react fast enough for some of these projects that we would most likely like to have,” Mayor Pam Hemminger said. “So having a defined area like this ... is going to be helpful.”

The Town Council unanimously approved the pilot district after a yearlong discussion. A developer could go from project submission to approval in about five months, town staff said.

The zoning applies to 60 acres on Millhouse Road and would require property owners to seek council approval to rezone the land and build a project. The town sees the potential for $30 million to $60 million in additional property value.

The council will review the zoning district’s progress next year and consider whether to expand it.

The district is next to the 55-acre Carraway Village mixed-use development now under construction; the Chapel Hill Industrial Park and UPS on Eubanks Road; and Chapel Hill Transit and the town’s Public Works Department on Millhouse Road.

A concept plan for the first project – Carolina Flex Park – was submitted last year for 12 acres at 7000 Millhouse Road. A formal application has not been submitted, but the project could have at least 300,000 square feet of affordable and flexible storage, office, wet lab, manufacturing and assembly space.

Carolina Flex Park developers prepared a sample site plan for the town to show how the zoning district would work and attended Wednesday’s meeting.

Developer Chris Ehrenfeld said allowing storage on upper floors is helpful because it creates more square footage but doesn’t require more parking.

“I think the current criteria is very good, and I think it’s very workable and economically viable,” Ehrenfeld said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb