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American Legion Property

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Update September 2016

Woodfield Llc has submitted to the Town of Chapel Hill a new concept plan for the American Legion property.  Many members of the public who attended a Community Design Commission meeting and  spoke objecting to the new plan do not see a lot of difference from the old one.  Read about the August 23 public meeting in Tammy Grubb’s article, Residents Pan Legion Road Apartments.

Background. Woodfield signed a contract with the American Legion property owners last year to build 600 apartments and negotiated with the Town Council behind closed doors thus denying the public a chance to weigh in at the earliest stage for input on a community vision to meet Town needs.  In January the developer presented a development concept to a full house at the American Legion for 600 apartments.  The concept was opposed by neighbors and many living throughout town.  Read the Indy for a comprehensive report of the meeting and our background report here.

Mayor Hemminger asked her colleagues to supply their ideas about how to plan for the future of this important piece of property.  The council approved principles for the goals they would like future development to meet.

Woodfield site planWhat’s new?  This week Woodfield proposed a modified concept to build a development with a mix of uses to potentially include 400 apartments, a 50,000 sf office building and a second 50,000 sf office, civic or flex space building. In order to redevelop the site, the two existing buildings would be demolished and the pond removed and replaced with a stormwater facility that would be built to current standards. Woodfield has also agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with the Town to build a road connection, alignment to be worked out with the Town, to Ephesus Church Road along with a trail system to enhance the current park facilities adjacent to this site. See the Town webpage.

CHALT finds that Woodfield’s slightly altered proposal to build 200 fewer apartments on the American Legion property is still not a good fit for the town’s needs nor does it meet the principles outlined by the Council.  Specifically it does not meet the principle of serving a variety of housing needs nor protecting the quality of life of surrounding neighborhoods.  Roads in the area are already over capacity and Chapel Hill transit is financially unable to increase service routes.

Most important, Chapel Hill has a more than adequate supply of new market rate housing units—over 6,000 at last count—already approved or in the development pipeline.

Conversely, Chapel Hill has a shortage of public park land and recreational facilities, particularly in the part of town where the American Legion property is located.  We feel confident that the Town government, the land owners and third party developers together will be able to craft a plan for the property that better meets both the financial needs of the American Legion membership and the Town’s need for expanded parkland and recreation opportunities.

Before that can happen, however, the Town Council needs to communicate clearly to Woodfield during the concept plan review process that proposals to build apartments on the American Legion property are not likely to be approved.

The town’s Parks, Greenways and Recreation Commission has unanimously recommended that the town acquire some or all of the American Legion property to expand Ephesus Park. The action taken by the previous Council in closed session removed the opportunity to include a town park in the recent bond issue. But a future plan could provide for a much needed park.

The proposed site plan shows that much of the site will be transformed into paved parking lots and stormwater retention ponds. Far from expanding the amount of public parkland in the vicinity, the plan envisions reducing the amount of parkland because a paved road would be built through the existing 10-acre Ephesus Park.

The concept plan put a new road on the town-owned park land for the convenience of the developer which would greatly inconvenience the neighborhoods adjacent to the school by cutting off walking routes to the school and dumping even more congestion onto Ephesus Church Rd. The plan changes
the location of the retention pond which would require cutting down large sections of forest.

The Community Design Commission members, appointed volunteers chosen by the Town Council, will discuss the concept proposal on August 23rd at 6:30 pm at Town Hall.  The meeting is open to the public and citizens can address comments to the Commission at that time.

August 14 Chapel Hill News article
American Legion Process, 
Michael Parker

http://www.townofchapelhill.org/home/showdocument?id=32759http://www.townofchapelhill.org/home/showdocument?id=32771

Closed nature of meeting draws concern, Durham Herald

 

…Update May 2016–What is happening with the American Legion Property? what are the options that the Town can consider

CHALT’s efforts have been directed toward “hitting the reset button” and encouraging new ideas for this important tract of land – the largest privately-owned undeveloped property remaining inside city limits.

Woodfield Acquisitions LLC has a contract with the American Legion to purchase the property if they obtain permission from the Town to build at least 400 luxury apartments on the site. But they have not yet filed an application with the Town. So what happens now? The Town needs to continue the public discussion Mayor Hemminger has initiated, plan for the area, and invite alternative proposals that will address Town needs.

We congratulate the Mayor and Council for opening up the process since the closed session held last year. In February the Mayor requested suggestions from the public about how best to use the 36.2 acre tract at 1714 Legion Road. On March 16, the Mayor and Council held a public work session on this topic to discuss their reaction to more than 120 letters town residents submitted offering ideas for the future of the property. Over 100 individuals also signed a petition asking the Council to reconsider the decision the previous Council made in closed session last November to forgo purchasing the land and asked the elected officials to re-open the process to the public.

The most frequently suggested uses are for the Town to acquire some or all of the property for an expansion of Ephesus Park, which abuts the Legion land, and for construction of an indoor athletic facility that would include a swimming pool, sports courts, gymnasium, etc. Many letter-writers suggested the Legion land could provide a permanent location for the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market, and several writers suggested constructing some retail or office space or providing affordable housing for disadvantaged veterans and others. To pursue any of these options, the Town would need to work out financing for the project.

It is unclear whether Woodfield Acquisitions will alter or withdraw their plans. This company only builds high-end apartments and amenities to accompany them. It appears that a majority of council members envision something different for this important property.

In April The Chapel Hill News reported that Woodfield representative, Scott Underwood, has expressed continued interest in “working with the town and community to develop a fantastic project.” However, no concept plan has been submitted to the town.

Roger Stancil, Town Manager, stated to The Chapel Hill News that any project submitted likely would require a rezoning and that the responses to Woodfield’s initial proposal have not been favorable. Preliminary study of the tract shows that only roughly 20 acres out of the 36 can be developed due to significant flood plain limitations and an existing Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) governing part of the tract.

If the Legion or Woodfield terminates their contract and the land again becomes available for purchase, the Town should act expeditiously to acquire the property.

Ways to finance the acquisition include:

1)Redistributing how the $8 million in approved bond referendum money for Parks and Recreation is used. Perhaps changing the timing for how some of these funds are used could allow combining part of the bond with other borrowed money. This would accelerate the process.

2) Holding a second bond referendum specifically targeting the Legion property.

3) Launching a fundraising campaign in the larger community.

4) Entering a partnership with one or more private individuals or firms. At least two serious proposals for such a partnership have been received.

 

Thanks to the efforts of Mayor Hemminger, the new Council, and many Town residents, Chapel Hill may still be able to acquire the Legion property to address the shortage of parkland and recreation facilities. But much work remains. If you have ideas for what you would like to see happen with this property, or wish to voice support for one of the above approaches, now is the time to share your thoughts with the Mayor and Council. CHALT will continue to promote citizen engagement during the Mayor’s and Councils’ deliberations.

 

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March 2016.  Woodfield Acquisitions wants to build 600 luxury apartments on the American legion property; they hosted a standing room only “information meeting” at the American Legion Hall.  Read about the vigorous discussion about their proposal here.

Here is what has happened so far in a nutshell.

1.  The American Legion Post 6, owner of this 36.2-acre parcel on Legion Road, has decided for various reasons that they need to sell this property.  They have every right to do so.

2.  In 2005, the Legion and the Town (through manager Cal Horton) had agreed that, whenever that unique parcel of fields and woodlands were sold, the Town would be given the right of first refusal to buy the land.

3.  In the Spring of 2015, the Legion advised the Town of their plans to sell.  The Town then appraised the parcel and, as it stands today — with its current zoning — it was appraised at $2.4 million.

4.  The Legion then solicited offers from private developers.  With the apparent encouragement of the town Chapel Hill, Woodfield responded with a bid of $9 million if the Town allows them to build a 400-unit upscale apartment complex on the land, and $10 million if the Town allows 600 apartments.  (Since about 5,500 upscale apartments have already been approved in other locations — Ephesus Fordham, Obey Creek, and many others — which is probably enough to satisfy demand for a couple decades, one might legitimately ask how the Town would benefit from another 600.)

5.  The Legion asked the Town to buy the property at 9 million or to release them from the 2005 right of first refusal.

6.  Woodfield’s offer to the Legion is contingent upon several Town concessions.  First, the Town must re-zone the parcel to enable them to build 400 or 600 apartments on the property.  (That would not be allowed under current zoning.)  Second, the Town must give the developer access to adjoining Town property so that the developer could build trails and a road from the Legion property to Ephesus Road, immediately beside Ephesus School and the tennis courts/park beside the school.  This road (and a bike trail) is promoted as a “public amenity” donated to the Town by the developer, although the only beneficiary would be the developer.  See a concept map found on the last page of the September 2015 letter to Stancil. Many think these “concessions” are inadequate compensation for the additional traffic and service costs to the town caused by the proposed high density development. They were negotiated in secret with no input from the public.

7.  Several council members who participated in the decision to let the right of refusal go, and agreed to sign a contract with Woodfields say they did so because the town did not have 9 million dollars. That is not the point because the 9 million is only a real number if Woodfields gets a permit and a rezoning from the town to build at least 400 units.  A study of the timeline released by the town reveals that despite the town’s 2020 plan to identify the need for parkland in this area and to consider the American Legion property for such a use, the town manager did not contact the Parks and Recreation Department.  Nor did the council and staff consider identifying this tract for purchase as part of the Chapel Hill bond package which was finalized in May. If the issue had been brought up in open public session these salient factors would have been considered.

8.  What should have been a public discussion in April 2015, was instead a secret negotiation between the town staff with a developer and landowner, with the blessing of the Council.  At the Town Council work session in January 2016, in answer to a question from council member Maria Palmer, the town attorney said that the council could have asked for this important policy issue be made public.

9. Right now there is an 11-20-2015 Agreement on record that Manager Roger Stancil signed. It won’t happen if Council members decide to consider other options, Woodfields leaves the scene, or the council decides to reject the permit request.  No application has been submitted.  Mayor Hemminger has invited everyone to share their ideas with the council.

Please write to mayorandcouncil@townofchapelhill.org with a brief statement about what you would like to see happen to this last undeveloped tract in Chapel Hill.

Please encourage the council to begin an open public process about the best use for the town of the American Legion property before considering any zoning change. Possibilities would include public amenities such as parks, new retail, or permanently affordable housing for public employees. We do not need more market rate housing as has been proposed.

On January 7, the Town manager  Stancil released this account of the events surrounding the two closed sessions.  See this page to see the closed meeting minutes and the summary document.

Other documents released from closed session:

September 2015 letter to Stancil
2005 Right of First Refusal
11-20-2015 Agreement To Forego Right of First Refusal
Chapel Hill News Story, December 25, 2014,  Tammy Grubb

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