Orange County

Chapel Hill Town Council has a few suggestions for UNC Health Care’s Eastowne project

An architect’s rendering shows how the proposed UNC Health Care office park redevelopment could look to a passerby at the corner of Eastowne Drive and U.S. 15-501 in Chapel Hill.
An architect’s rendering shows how the proposed UNC Health Care office park redevelopment could look to a passerby at the corner of Eastowne Drive and U.S. 15-501 in Chapel Hill. Contributed

UNC Health Care got more than a few suggestions this week for its planned redevelopment of the Eastowne office park on U.S. 15-501.

The concept plan would replace five decades-old buildings with two six-story, 150,000-square-foot office buildings and a 5.5-story, 1,100-space parking deck.

The 13-acre campus, located inside the Eastowne Drive loop near PineGate Apartments, is surrounded by apartments, medical clinics and offices. UNC Health Care would consolidate outpatient and clinic services there, creating a walkable, compact development.

Traffic could be a big concern, Council member Michael Parker said. He suggested UNC Health Care fast-track its traffic studies to coordinate with the Wegmans Food Market across the highway. The Wegmans traffic study is making changes to U.S. 15-501 and at the Eastowne intersections that don’t factor in the Eastowne plan, he said.

“It seems to me that then this is going to come along, and it’s going to need its own mitigation, and it just feels like a horribly uncoordinated approach,” Parker said.

How pedestrians interact with traffic also needs close attention, Mayor Pam Hemminger said, including how people get across Eastowne Drive and U.S. 15-501 to a future light-rail station, and how Chapel Hill Transit riders reach the bus stop.

Several council members asked for more information about what else might be planned. The project could be a good opportunity to address some of the town’s challenges, including more affordable housing, Council member Jessica Anderson said.

“UNC generates a lot of low-paid jobs, so I think it would be great for there to be opportunities for people to live near where they work instead of driving in from so far,” she said.

Others were curious about how the parking deck, planned next to Eastowne Drive at the entrance to the campus, would affect the view. Parker suggested they add another use to minimize the visual effects, such as a restaurant or a health center.

Eastowne Drive view
An architect’s rendering shows how two six-story buildings and a parking deck would look from Eastowne Drive, behind the UNC Health Care campus. UNC Health Care Contributed

The redevelopment project is the first phase of a long-term vision for the campus, and they don’t have a master plan yet for future projects, said Simon George, vice president for UNC Health Care System real estate development.

Health System Properties LLC owns roughly 49 acres inside the Eastowne loop and at the corner of U.S. 15-501 and Interstate 40.

The first building could open by 2020, George said. It’s important, in part, to give patients a better experience and access and to ease the pressure on UNC Hospitals’ main campus. It also will improve the environment while replacing decrepit buildings, he said.

“We spent a lot of time and effort at UNC Health Care over the last 18 months thinking about the long-term growth of medical office buildings in and around the Triangle,” George said. “We want a chance to grow here, we’re really excited to do this, but we have an immediate need and we need to do this fast.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb