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Aydan Court still draws concerns

By Kirk Ross
Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL — The last time developer Carol Ann Zinn’s Aydan Court project was reviewed in a public hearing, she and then-Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy engaged in a heated colloquy after the mayor and council appeared ready to reject a rezoning request for the project.

Zinn castigated the council and said she had been misled by them during a preliminary review of the project. Foy, in an uncharacteristic display of anger, strongly disagreed.

On Monday night at Town Hall, a different mayor and council opened a public hearing on the latest iteration of the project, which is located on 5.8 acres off N.C. 54, across from the Downing Creek Parkway.

The new plan calls for 90 condominiums in three three-story buildings and 146 parking spaces.

Zinn and engineer Bruce Ballentine sought to assure the council that the new plan took into account longstanding worries about the development’s proximity to nearby Jordan Lake gamelands and the Upper Little Creek waterfowl impoundment, which is adjacent to the site.

Ballentine said it was a challenge to take into account concerns raised by the council in the previous plan but still make it economically viable. He stressed that although the project is far denser than the current zoning on the site allows, the design affords greater protections from stormwater runoff and other impacts than if the project were to be a cluster of about 15 large homes, as the zoning now allows.

Although the plan is new, objections raised during the hearing were familiar, part of that driven by a recent review of the property that puts most of it within a state natural heritage area because it is part of the area’s dwindling reserves of bottomland habitat.

Del Snow called the idea “misguided” and said the new design should not change the fact that the town’s natural areas need to be preserved.

“Mitigation of damage should not be considered protection,” she told the council.

Julie McClintock and Madeline Jefferson of Neighbors for Responsible Growth said the plan, which would require a change in zoning by the council, contemplates far more density than anticipated for the area throughout several long-range planning efforts. The site’s R-1 zoning, McClintock said, “is not a holding zone” and she asked that the council not change the zone nor grant a requested exception to the town’s steep-slope rules.

“An exemption should be for exceptional circumstances,” she said, “not for 90 condos on natural heritage land.”

Council member Ed Harrison said he was concerned that the project would add density along the N.C. 54 corridor but was too far away from a transit stop to be able to take advantage of commuter buses.

Zinn’s proposal also included a request to swap some or all of the project’s affordable-housing component for a payment in lieu.

Both Robert Dowling, executive director of Orange Community Housing, and Habitat for Humanity director Susan Levy urged the council to consider their organizations’ growing needs for maintenance funds as well as indications that state and federal housing money is likely to drop significantly this year.

Council member Matt Czajkowski agreed with an assessment by Dowling that the affordable condominium units that have come on line in the past few years are not as favored by families. He said the agencies need the funds more than more condos.

The council recessed the hearing until March 28.

In other action Monday night, the council reviewed a proposal driven by the town’s economic-development office that would allow 11 major commercial centers around town to increase the size of theirs signs as well as the information they contain.

Current rules limit the size of the signs to an overall area of 15 square feet and a height of 8 feet and limit information on the signs to 10 items (words, graphics and symbols) and the number of anchor tenants that can be listed to three.

The new proposal would remove the limits on information that can be displayed and increase the overall area to 216 feet, with the display area ranging from 50 square feet for centers on 35 mph roads and 72 square feet for centers on 45 mph roads. The height of the signs would also be raised to 10-12 feet depending on the speed limit of the adjacent street.

The proposal, which was drafted partly in response to a request from University Mall owner Madison Marquette as part of its upfit of the mall, took some council members aback.

Council member Sally Greene said the jump seemed extreme, noting that the 216-foot maximum was larger than Durham’s.

Chapel Hill Economic Development director Dwight Bassett said the sign change is needed because the current rules are far too inadequate.

“What you see with most shopping centers is signage that doesn’t identify the tenants,” he said.

The 11 commercial centers that would be allowed to take advantage of the proposed change include Chapel Hill North, East 54, Eastgate, Mark Properties on Elliot Road, Glenwood Square, Meadowmont, Rams Plaza, Southern Village, Timberlyne, University Mall and Village Plaza (Whole Foods).

  1. Elliot Baron

    The simplest cost / benefit analysis reveals what a poor decision it would be to rezone this property. The costs to natural environment, plus the additional burden it will place on intrastructure and services, far outweigh any negligible benefit it provides. The council needs to get away from the mindset that more is better. How many times will it have to make the mistake of East 54. If left as zoned there, the town could have gotten a moderately-sized commercial development that would have improved the tax base ratio. Instead, we got a hulking and unapproachable monolith and we’re still waiting for the final building to complete the wall along NC-54.