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Council shuns Carolina Flats

By Susan Dickson
Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL – A student-housing development proposed for the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and North Estes Drive got an icy reception from the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday night.

Carolina Flats is the third student-housing development proposal that the council has heard since February, not including the Shortbread Lofts project planned for Rosemary Street, which the council approved in March. The developer, Orlando, Fla.-based Progressive Capital, proposes 189 residential apartments in seven three-story buildings, 532 parking spaces and a four-story, 125- to 145-room hotel on 16.2 acres.

The property proposed for development is across from the planned Carolina North project, which is in the early stages of construction. In addition, the property is in an area that has been identified by the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive planning process as an area for future study.

The council heard the proposal in a concept plan review, and no application has been received at this point. For the project to be constructed, the council would have to approve a rezoning and likely a special-use permit.

Council members were critical of the project, noting traffic problems and questioning the amount of parking provided.

“To put a dense development like this on the books for a very problematic road to begin with is just a complete nightmare,” council member Laurin Easthom said.

“I think the biggest problem I have with building properties like this now is the amount of cars,” council member Penny Rich said, adding, “For every student to have a car with them – and there’s, I guess, two spaces for each apartment – I just have a big problem with that.”

Council member Gene Pease noted that the Chapel Hill 2020 process is examining the area proposed for development and criticized, among other things, the amount of impervious surface proposed in the plan.

“Your timing’s lousy,” he said, adding, “This plan doesn’t come close to … what I’d like to see in this part of Chapel Hill.”

Council member Lee Storrow said he thought that the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard corridor was a good place to explore student housing, given that Chapel Hill Transit provides significant bus service to the area, but said he wasn’t sure whether this particular development makes sense right now.

A number of residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the property spoke out against the proposal, citing concerns with increased traffic on an already-burdened intersection, runoff from the project’s impervious surfaces and the safety of children walking or riding bikes to and from nearby Estes Hills Elementary and Phillips Middle schools.

“Our most serious concern is this proposal would seriously jeopardize the efficiency of this poor intersection,” said Jill Blackburn, representing residents of Coker Hills, Coker Woods, Coker Hills West and Huntington Somerset.

“This would certainly compromise the public safety on Estes Drive.”

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