Orange County

Chapel Hill backs place where startups, high-tech companies can grow

High-tech and bio-tech startups are among the companies that could call Chapel Hill home as the Carolina Flex Park builds out its 405,000-square-foot campus on Millhouse Road over the next four years.
High-tech and bio-tech startups are among the companies that could call Chapel Hill home as the Carolina Flex Park builds out its 405,000-square-foot campus on Millhouse Road over the next four years. AFP/Getty Images

A business park north of town will create flexible space for UNC startups, researchers and light-manufacturing operations whose only choice until now was leaving for better options in Durham and Raleigh.

The Chapel Hill Town Council rezoned 12 acres Wednesday on both sides of Millhouse Road for the 405,000-square-foot Carolina Flex Park project. The site is around the corner from the 55-acre Carraway Village mixed-use development under construction on Eubanks Road.

Carolina Flex Park will be built in phases, project official Dan Jewell said. Besides industry and research, there could be room for 95,000 square feet of office and business space, 190,000 square feet of conditioned self-storage, indoor recreation, a supply yard for building and other light-industrial materials, and an assembly center with up to 2,000 seats.

The assembly center could share 580 proposed parking spaces with business tenants by hosting after-hours events, such as conferences, exhibits and weddings, he said. It would only take a minimum of 20,000 to 25,000 square feet to accommodate that many people, he said.

Carolina Flex Park map

Carolina Flex Park is the first project for the town’s 60-acre Millhouse Road Enterprise Zone approved in April. The district’s goal is to bring more jobs, tax revenues and industries that previously were not allowed to the town, such as high-tech and bio-tech startups, artists and craftspeople, and food producers, and service providers, such as plumbers, painters, carpenters and electricians.

District property owners can take advantage of a quicker approval process than in other parts of town. The council and Planning Board approve proposed land uses and rezoning applications. The property owner then submits detailed plans to town staff for final review and approval.

The council only had a few questions about Carolina Flex Park’s traffic and parking. The opportunities are exciting, Mayor Pam Hemminger said.

“We look forward to progression of this as it moves through the system and to see what kind of creative ideas we get out there,” she said.

Multiple buildings, up to 60 feet tall, could be built out by 2021, according to project documents. An initial traffic study found the project could add at least 3,750 trips a day, and advised a longer right-turn lane from Eubanks Road and a right-turn lane on Millhouse Road into the site.

An updated traffic study will be required when the first building plan goes to staff for review. Jewell, when asked about traffic by a neighbor, said he would look into the potential for more cars using Millhouse Road north of the site to reach the N.C. 86 intersection. While the park’s immediate neighbors including Chapel Hill Transit and the town’s Public Works center, Emerson Waldorf School, horse farms and homes lie farther north.

The property owner also will build a 10-foot-wide multi-use path along Millhouse Road – part of a planned town greenway linking the county’s future regional park land with Carraway Village – and an easement for a natural surface trail along Old Field Creek.

The town’s enterprise zone already has utilities, allows property owners to move quickly on an opportunity, is compatible with its neighbors, and responds to the community’s environmental and stormwater concerns, Jewell said.

“As I said, this is a great site in Chapel Hill,” he said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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