By Susan Dickson
CHAPEL HILL â€“Â On Tuesday, for the second time, Charterwood, a mixed-use development proposed for Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, won a majority of approval votes by the Chapel Hill Town Council. But the project wonâ€™t yet move forward.
The six-building, 278,000-square-foot project is proposed to include up to 154 residential units â€“ nine townhomes and 145 apartments â€“ and up to 73,000 square feet of office and retail space on 9.3 acres of a 15.7-acre property at 1641 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., just south of Weaver Dairy Road.
In January, the council voted 5-3 to approve the project, but because neighbors had submitted a valid protest petition, supermajority approval was required. However, the developer, WCA Partners LLC, has redrawn the lines of the rezoning request such that the protest petition is no longer valid.
Under state law, when a protest petition signed by owners of at least 5 percent of the property within 100 feet of a proposed rezoning is filed, approval by a three-quarters majority is required.
On Tuesday, the council voted 5-4 to approve the project, but because first readings of rezoning ordinances also require supermajority approval, it will come back before the council at their Sept. 5 meeting, at which point approval will only require a simple majority. Council members Matt Czajkowski, Laurin Easthom, Ed Harrison and Lee Storrow voted against the proposal.
Czajkowski had previously voted in favor of this project, but on Tuesday he cited concerns regarding legal issues raised by an attorney representing neighbors of the property in Northwoods V.
â€œI would plead that we find a way to do this in a more manageable way,â€ he said. â€œThere may be time pressures on the applicant, and they may be very severe and real, but that is not a reason for us to rush through this process with more loose ends than Iâ€™ve certainly seen since Iâ€™ve been on the council in this whole process.â€
A number of residents of Northwoods V, which neighbors the property, have expressed opposition to the project, citing concerns about buffers, building heights and flooding.
Robin Currin, an attorney representing Northwoods V residents, has argued that the rezoning was effectively denied when it did not receive supermajority approval, which would mean that under a town ordinance the project could not come back to the town for another year. Currin said approval would be in violation of the ordinance, and thus subject to legal challenge.
According to town staff, no action was taken on the rezoning since it did not receive enough votes for either approval or denial, so the waiting period does not apply.
Council member Lee Storrow said he was concerned that this project would set a precedent regarding the protest-petition process in Chapel Hill, opening the door for developers to circumvent that process.
Other council members said they supported the project, noting concessions made by the developer throughout the process.
â€œI think that while it will be a big change, I think that once completed it will be a good neighbor for the existing neighborhood,â€ council member Jim Ward said, adding that he was pleased that the developer made efforts to save a number of older trees on the property.