Orange County

Chapel Hill council says Estes Drive project a good start, needs work


A Charlotte developer’s plan for apartments, offices and retail on the corner of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is good, but it could be better, Town Council members said Monday after reviewing the concept plan.

The plan shows a mix of two-, three- and four-story apartment and office buildings, with some ground-floor retail space and parking under buildings and in a deck. The 14.7-acre site is wooded and would require a rezoning to mixed-use village. Developer Caliber Partners hasn’t filed a formal application yet.

The project had been revised in the last month to have fewer apartments and less retail space but more office space. Scott Murray, a Chapel Hill-based land planner, said the original plan for a grocer did not pan out.

Council members encouraged Murray to be creative and address concerns about how cars, bikes and people would navigate the site and the already congested intersection. Left turns will be particularly difficult in the evenings, council member Ed Harrison said.

The plan includes right-in, right-out driveways on MLK Boulevard and Estes Drive, and a full-access intersection farther east on Estes Drive. The council asked if the developer could look into a traffic light or roundabout at that intersection.

Council members also raised concerns about rent prices and green space, which Murray estimated at about 12,000 square feet – similar to Weaver Street Market’s lawn. The developer could make 15 percent of the apartments affordable, town staff said.

The property marks the northern edge of the Central West planning area approved in 2013. That plan, now part of the town's 2020 comprehensive plan, guides how the area east of MLK Boulevard could be developed from just north of Estes Drive to south of the YMCA.

Council member Michael Parker, who co-chaired the Central West committee, said the proposal addresses parts of the plan. He suggested better street and trail connections, less-visible parking, and ways to attract people who don’t live or work there.

While recognizing the challenges, Parker said, “I think this now does kind of fail as a destination.”

Council member Maria Palmer encouraged reconsideration of a small grocer that could serve the neighborhood and reduce residents’ reliance on cars. Green space might work better beside the retail, instead of surrounded by streets, she said, and provide space for a splash park or farmer’s market.

“There’s no backup on Saturday morning between Estes and MLK, which is when the farmers market is, and if you have a parking deck for offices, they’re usually not full on a Saturday morning,” Palmer said. “So I want to say be creative and imaginative. It doesn’t have to be a lot of expensive stuff.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Project Stats

▪ Name: North Estes Mixed-Use Center

▪ Applicant: Scott Murray Land Planning

▪ Land owner: Caliber Partners of Charlotte

▪ Size: 327,535 square feet on 14.7 acres

▪ Proposed use: 12,600 square feet of retail, 69,400 square feet of office and 206 apartments

▪ Current zoning: Residential; airport hazard overlay zone

▪ Proposed zoning: Mixed-use village

▪ Recreation: gathering spaces, greenway

▪ Affordable housing: Under consideration

▪ Proposed parking: 602 under-building and surface spaces