The Carrboro Board of Aldermen set the date on a public hearing on proposed changes to the townâ€™s land use ordinances that could ease the way forward for residential and mixed-use projects downtown.
The board is studying a revision that would swap requirements for open and recreational space for residential developments downtown for â€œurban amenitiesâ€ like public art, plazas, fountains and greenspace.
The way the rules are written, all residential developments are required to set aside 40 percent of the total land used for open space and recreation amenities. The requirement has made it difficult for several downtown projects to move forward because the inclusion of residential units in the developments triggers the open space rule.
Last fall, Jack Haggerty, who is working on the Alberta, a 46,000 square foot mixed-use development planned for the old farmerâ€™s market space on Roberson Street, submitted a proposed amendment to the rules to the town. He was joined in the effort by David Ripperton, who is planning housing and commercial space at the site of the former Andrews-Riggsbee Hardware store, and by Laura Van Sant, who is working on a major redevelopment along East Main Street that would create new spots for the ArtsCenter and Catâ€™s Cradle along with shops, offices and residences.
Haggerty said that he hopes the town will work quickly to make the changes. As long as the open space requirement is still there, he said, adding housing downtown will be at a standstill. â€œWe canâ€™t move on until that changes,â€ he said Tuesday night.
At the board meeting, town planner Kendal Brown presented the latest draft for new designation for downtown and a new set of rules to govern development in the area. Development in the proposed new Downtown Livability Area (DLA) would be required to provide urban amenities including public art, fountains or other water elements, bikeway connections, â€œpocket parks.â€ Under the proposed new rules, the town, in reviewing a project, would adopt a point scale to score the types of amenities, whether or not theyâ€™re landscaped and whether or not theyâ€™re accessible to the public. The point system would be tailored to encourage public access and greenspace, Brown said.
Brown also suggested that the board include a â€œsafety valvesâ€ that would allow developers with situations that would be difficult to fit into the rule to offer a payment in lieu or perhaps provide an amenity somewhere else downtown.
Board member Alex Zaffron said he favored the idea of a payment in lieu option in case he rules make it impossible for a project to work, even if the town wants to move it forward. â€œThere are occasions where it (the townâ€™s land use ordinance) doesnâ€™t apply and doesnâ€™t work,â€ he said. â€œI think we need to keep the safety valve for situations we might not have thought of,â€ he said.
Board member Jacquie Gist said she would agree to a payment-in-lieu option only if it was tightly drawn. â€œI want it to be a true safety valve and not an easy opt out.â€
The Board of Aldermen agreed to hold a pubic hearing on the matter April 24.
In other action, the board reviewed a proposed stormwater protection plan near Roberson Place as part of its ongoing effort to mitigate stormwater runoff ahead of new EPA rules requiring counties and towns to greatly reduce the amount of pollution sent downstream.
In presenting the plan Will Autry, the townâ€™s environmental planner, noted the bad news and the bad news. The small collection pond for the stream isnâ€™t going to be cost effective and itâ€™s just the tip of the iceberg of what they town will be required to do to meet new state water quality requirementsâ€”the so-called â€œJordan Rulesâ€ for the Upper New Hope watershed. Unlike the Lower New Hope Watershed, which drains into the southern part of Jordan Lake, runoff from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham flows into the northern half of the lake, which has much less flow thanks in part to the N.C. 751 bridge. â€œWe really have a mud puddle here,â€ Autry said pointing to a map of the lake.
So while counties and municipalities that send their stormwater to the lower half of the lake wonâ€™t have to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus from their runoff, the towns and counties flowing into the northern section will have to reduce their nitrogen and phosphorus by 35 and 5 percent respectively.
The total price tag of improving the water quality for the Jordan Lake area just from existing development is estimated at $403 million with Carrboroâ€™s portion of the cost likely to run more than $10 million. Autry said the town will have to work with other governments to draft a plan in which it may be possible to spread the cost out over ten or 20 years.
Board members reacted not so much from sticker shock as they did from the seeming unfairness.
â€œI think this should bother us a lot,â€ Mayor Mark Chilton said. The towns that have done the most to protect the water supply are going to be faced with the stiffest requirements.
A stormwater update is planned for the upcoming Assembly of Governments meeting.
On Tuesday the board also:
- Heard a report on ridership from Chapel Hill Transit chief Steve Slade. Slade said the transit system is still tops in the state by far in operating cost and ridership. Slade acknowledged some bugs with its new Next Bus system and said he hope to have the system working with greater accuracy soon. The system will also experiment with larger buses as well as improve its maintenance department and do a better job of getting information and schedules out to the pubic;
- Appointed Sharon Cook to the Planning Board and Jim Rabinowitz, Amy Jeroloman and Jay Bryan were appointed to the Northern Study Area Implementation Review Committee.