On Wednesday, February 27th, Town Council voted to approve a rezoning (7-0 vote) and Special Use Permit (6-1 vote – Ed Harrison dissenting) for the Bicycle Apartments ‘by-design student housing’ development at 602 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. This development will house 608 students in 194 apartments and have parking for 241 cars. It is intended as a bikeable, walkable student community in close proximity to town, providing all the amenities that students today are looking for…pool, volleyball, gym, lounge, sponsored social activities, private bed and bathrooms, kitchen and living room. The price, while competitive with other apartments in the area, is nonetheless, not cheap, ranging from $600-$737 per bed. The buildings will range in height from 4- to 6-stories, with the closest 4-story section 147’ to the Historic District. The construction is all wood, a safety concern for a young population. A height variance was granted to allow the mean height above grade to exceed the zone by 5 feet. However, due to the topography of the site, the tallest section of the building will be 95 feet high.
The Planning Board voted against this by 7-0 and 6-1 votes, stating that this use, student housing, is too dense and intense a use so close to the neighbors in the Historic District. It lacks adequate transition and buffer. Light and noise pollution from this effectively unsupervised dormitory will negatively impact the quality of live and ‘quiet enjoyment’ that neighbors are entitled to. Adjacent neighbors successfully advanced a protest petition, that requires a super-majority (7 votes) of Council for the project to proceed. Many citizens spoke against this project in two public hearing sessions before Council.
Here are some of the objections:
Inconsistent with the 2020 Comprehensive Plan:
- fails to engage the University and town in meaningful discussions as to the reasonable number of students in neighborhoods
- does not allow for the Focus Area 3 discussion, prescribed in the Comprehensive Plan, that would determine the best uses and forms for this neighborhood.
- displaces affordable housing in a location that would be ideal for an increase in workforce housing
- fails to protect neighborhoods. The 5-fold increase in students will create noise- and light-pollution and both vehicular and foot traffic, especially through Cobb Terrace, that will adversely impact the quality of life in adjacent neighborhoods.
- fails to protect the Historic District – a treasure the Town has pledged to maintain
- does not increase net tax revenues as the cost of services provided will offset increased taxes from the property
- will not increase business with area merchants, as students already reside in town and in proximity to campus, and there will be no increase in UNC’s student enrollment in the foreseeable future.
- will not alleviate student pressure on Northside as students living in houses with cars will not desire a move to a dorm-like setting with limited parking
At the close of the public hearing on February 27th, Mayor Kleinschmidt gave the citizens a lesson in zoning in Chapel Hill that was certainly enlightening.
You can find the video from the meeting here http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=958. Starting at 3:36:20 of the video. His words are transcribed below:
Mark K: – “I can remember passing the LUMO and then the question came to us – now it’s time to do a new zoning map – and we deliberately said ‘no we’re not.’ We are deliberately NOT rezoning the town to have it look like what we say we want it to look like and that was just after the Comprehensive Plan had been adopted in 2000 because for one important reason, we wanted the LEVERAGE. And, we purposely gave up the predictability, we purposely, as a community said, ‘we don’t want zones to tell people what they might be living next to. We want them to be down-zoned so we can leverage it for other uses.’ And those are specific words that came out of specific council members mouths and that was the specific intention of the Council. And, we all know that. And that’s why every project we have (except one I think on Eubank’s Road that didn’t) comes with a rezoning application. It was designed that way. That’s how we got the Affordable Housing Program to begin with. That’s how we extract anything that we’ve ever asked from developers. We say [holding his hand as if dangling a treat] ‘Oh, zone. You want it? Jump higher.’ Because we can’t do that with a Special Use Permit. And so that’s just the way it’s been and I’m not telling anybody anything they don’t know.” [emphasis added to reflect what was actually said]
Such statements call into question the efforts of so many citizens that worked hard to develop the 2020 Comprehensive Plan. Now we are currently engaged in the Design 2020 Focus Area studies that are intended flesh out the details of the Plan and layout future uses and forms for zoning areas targeted for development or redevelopment. If all zoning is subject to the whim of Council, then any effort citizens devote to defining what fits and what doesn’t is wasted.