By Susan Dickson
CHAPEL HILL â€“Â Marking the fourth vote on Charterwood of 2012, the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday voted 5-4 to approve the project, a mixed-use development proposed for Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
With no discussion, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and council members Donna Bell, Gene Pease, Penny Rich and Jim Ward voted in favor of the project, with council members Matt Czajkowski, Laurin Easthom, Ed Harrison and Lee Storrow voting against.
The lack of discussion Monday is certainly not representative of the nearly five-year process leading up to the projectâ€™s approval.
â€œIt surprised me that it just kept going and going and going,â€ said developer Bill Christian of WCA Partners LLC, adding that he felt that some council members were â€œvoting in a political way, not in the manner of doing what the comprehensive plan says.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t have anything else to go on other than what the townâ€™s comprehensive plan says, and we did exactly what the plan says,â€ he continued.
The six-building, 278,000-square-foot project is proposed to include up to 154 residential units â€“Â nine townhomes and 145 apartments â€“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.
The councilâ€™s votes on Charterwood began in January, when the council voted 5-3 in favor of the project. However, the development did not win approval because a supermajority was required, as neighbors had submitted a valid protest petition.
Following the vote, WCA Partners redrew the lines of the rezoning request such that the protest petition was no longer valid.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.
A number of residents of the Northwoods V neighborhood, which abuts the property, have come out strongly against Charterwood, citing concerns about buffers, building heights and flooding. Following the changes to the rezoning request, Robin Currin, an attorney representing Northwoods V residents, 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 in January since it did not receive enough votes for either approval or denial, so the waiting period does not apply.
In June, the council voted 5-4 to approve the project, but because first readings of rezoning ordinances require supermajority approval, it had to come back before the council for a second reading, at which point it required only a simple majority. When Charterwood came back before the council earlier this month, members voted 4-4, with Pease absent from the meeting.
Given the lengthy development process for Charterwood, Christian said he would think twice about development in Chapel Hill.
â€œIt would certainly change the way we would approach building here,â€ he said. â€œI thought just doing a good project was going to be looked upon favorably. That didnâ€™t turn out to be the way it worked out.â€