Orange County

Chapel Hill may negotiate with developers proposing seven-story Amity Station project

The Town Council might use a development agreement to work out details of the proposed Amity Station mixed-use project at 322 W. Rosemary St., near downtown Chapel Hill.
The Town Council might use a development agreement to work out details of the proposed Amity Station mixed-use project at 322 W. Rosemary St., near downtown Chapel Hill. Contributed

The developers proposing a seven-story project to replace Breadman’s restaurant and apartments on West Rosemary Street may be headed to negotiations with the Chapel Hill Town Council.

Town staff will bring details of how that might work to a future meeting.

Breadman’s owners Roy and Bill Piscitello and developer Larry Short are behind the 2.2-acre Amity Station project. They have not filed a formal application but brought a third concept plan to the council Monday night for a review.

The proposed 243,693 square-foot project lies in the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District and would require a rezoning to be as tall and dense as the developers want. It also exceeds the four-story limit proposed in the West Rosemary Street development guide the council will consider Monday (May 22).

If they can’t get a rezoning, the developers are preparing five alternate site plans based on the current zoning. Each plan proposes a four-story, 20,000 square-foot building that could include commercial space, apartments, or both, said Jared Martinson, architect with MHAworks.

‘The same things’

The latest version of Amity Station is similar to the last, with over 20,000 square feet of office and commercial space; 204 apartments, including 35 affordable units in a separate building; and about 300 parking spaces. The plan sets aside roughly 1,000 square feet for local businesses.

It also restricts the housing to residents age 21 and older. The developers would donate the land for the affordable apartments, pay the design and town fees, and install utilities. They would sell the building for the price of construction materials to a local nonprofit housing provider, officials said.

Neighbors said they are frustrated by how little has changed after several community meetings over two years.

“At this point, we’re not convinced that this developer is truly willing to work with our community,” Northside resident Kathy Atwater said. “We’re tired of saying the same things, and we feel truly apprehensive about the developer’s commitment to promises going forward.”

Many residents were unable to attend Monday’s meeting, said Hudson Vaughan, senior director of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center. The affordable housing is just “icing to cover the same stale cake,” he said, reading from a letter signed by 77 residents and supporters.

The letter asked for a shorter project, restricted to residents age 22 and older, and with more retail and commercial spaces to engage passers-by on the street.

Middle ground

Council members, some of whom attended the meetings, acknowledged those frustrations. Council member George Cianciolo suggested using a development agreement to find common ground. Other members backed the idea, but Council member Jessica Anderson said she’s wary when there’s little progress so far.

“This, to me, feels like we’re seeing the same thing over and over again,” she said. “That, I think, is problematic, and ... I encourage the applicant to think about what you’re bringing, because I don’t know why you would expect a different answer when this is same council as last time.”

It’s the council’s job to find the middle ground, said Council member Donna Bell, who lives in Northside.

“We are dealing with two groups that don’t have shared interests,” she said, “and so it’s our job as a council to make those things come together.”

Mayor Pam Hemminger mentioned the alternative plans near the end of the meeting, after many speakers had left. Those plans would not need council approval and could include student rentals, project officials said. The downside is much less affordable housing and fewer community benefits, they said.

Why seek a development agreement if there’s a backup plan, Cianciolo asked.

“You can’t have it both ways, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “You certainly have the right to do this, but you’re asking us to spend time and energy of staff and council, so I think you either have to say we’ll put these plans on hold until we see (the development agreement) or just move forward with that.”

The developer wouldn’t dedicate the money or the time without intending to work toward a better project, said Dan Jewell, president of Coulter Jewell Thames.

“These five site plans that were submitted were simply something put in to give him some fall-back position if nothing else could be built on the property that had to go through a special-use permit or development agreement process,” he said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb