Orange County

Chapel Hill drafting a future for West Rosemary Street community

Shortbread Lofts, a seven-story, student apartment building on West Rosemary Street, might not have been possible under the town’s draft development guidelines. The guidelines call for limiting buildings to four stories and halting student-oriented residential projects.
Shortbread Lofts, a seven-story, student apartment building on West Rosemary Street, might not have been possible under the town’s draft development guidelines. The guidelines call for limiting buildings to four stories and halting student-oriented residential projects. tgrubb@newsobserver.com

A draft plan will be discussed Monday (May 22) that attempts to preserve neighborhoods near West Rosemary Street, while growing economic, commercial and community opportunities in the corridor from Columbia Street to Merritt Mill Road.

Town officials, community members and business owners spent half a year refining the West Rosemary Street Development Guide.

The draft heading to the Town Council brings together common desires – about affordable housing, business opportunity, public spaces, and pedestrians and traffic – and the results of previous town studies.

Community members wanted a mix of housing for families and seniors, entrepreneurship and business opportunities, and cultural and public spaces. They rejected the multi-family and high-rise apartment buildings that have dotted West Franklin Street in recent years.

The guide is about telling the story of Rosemary Street and using that story to shape its unique character, said Stanford Harvey, a consultant with the Lord Aeck Sargent archictecture and design firm working on the plan.

“I think there’s an expectation in the community that there will be a community benefit in any project that comes,” Harvey said, “whether that’s a use, whether that’s a celebration of some cultural identity, whether that’s the provision of housing choice, whether that is encouragment of homeownership or protection and enhancement of existing homeowners who live in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

“I think it’s fair to say that there is a tremendous community concern over the predominance of student housing,” he added.

0520-chrosemary2
Northside is Chapel Hill’s historic African-American neighborhood lying directly north of West Rosemary Street. A wall depicting some of the community’s history stands at this corner of West Rosemary and North Roberson streets. Tammy Grubb tgrubb@newsobserver.com

The challenge, he said, is balancing desires and potential. A market analysis shows land values between $500,000 for an acre next to the Northside neighborhood and $4 million an acre for a corner lot on West Rosemary Street.

That conflict makes it important to use both public programs and private partnerships to meet the expectations, said Rae Buckley, assistant to the town manager for organizational and strategic initiatives.

Other details about the plan:

Community benefits

▪ Use history and culture to define character, create a cultural center

▪ Encourage community-based public art

▪ Provide affordable housing and homeownership for low- and moderate-income families and individuals

▪ Restrict housing to ages 21 and up, or 55 and older

▪ Add pedestrian connections to Franklin Street

▪ Improve pedestrian safety, control traffic, add parking

▪ Add trees, small community parks, public gathering spaces

Commercial opportunity

▪ Create spaces for entrepreneurs, small and minority-owned businesses

▪ Market study found limited retail potential largely attracting students and visitors

▪ Study noted potential demand for food and beverage services on high-visibility corners

▪ Lower lease rates would make it attractive for smaller, local businesses, but may require subsidies

▪ Office demand also lower but could improve with parking, cheaper rents

Building design

▪ Limit building heights to four stories, or up to 50 feet

▪ Reduce heights next to neighborhood homes

▪ Accentuate building corners and facades; no blank walls

▪ Open, inviting ground-floor uses that engage pedestrians

▪ Parking in rear or below buildings

Putting it into action

▪ Create a Cultural Resources Plan

▪ Study pedestrian connections, parks, underground utilities, public parking, residential parking permits

▪ Draft a community benefits agreement for housing, business and cultural needs

▪ More public projects to improve streetscape, lighting, safety

▪ The council would decide future projects once they are proposed

▪ Consider potential changes to current zoning rules

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

What’s next

The Town Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday (May 22) in Chapel Hill Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

  Comments