Supporting Leaders Who Listen

Charles Humble Letter to CDC

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October 21, 2017

Dear Chair and Members of the Community Design Committee,

Below please find our request that you deny the current request from RAM for exemption from the block size requirements in the Ephesus-Fordham (now “Blue Hill”) district. I plan to present the essentials of this letter at your meeting this Tuesday and look forward to seeing you at that time.

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We appreciate the work you and staff have done to try to improve the Fordham Boulevard Apartments project. Unfortunately, the applicant’s proposal does not meet any of the conditions outlined in the town ordinance for exemption from the FBC block size standards. We therefore ask that you deny the requested design alternative and that neither the Community Design Commission nor the Town Manger should issue a Certificate of Appropriateness for the project in its current form.

Based on our review of the plans, we offer the following comments for your consideration:

  1. The applicant should be required to adhere to district block standards.

The Plan does not comply with the block size standards the Town Council established for the district after extensive consultation with the varied stakeholders and with urban design professionals. Current ordinance sets a maximum block length of 450 ft., with an allowable 10% administrative adjustment. Maximum block length was raised from 400’—already viewed by many as undesirably long—on the advice of urban design consultant Tony Sease (Civitech) who wrote that the 450’ length was chosen “to better accommodate the range of constraints in the district…” The proposed building length is at least 520 feet. For reference, the length of the East 54 frontage is ~ 480’.

  1. The project does not warrant a design alternative or administrative adjustment to block length.
Town ordinance specifies the conditions that warrant administrative adjustments or design alternatives (see EF Ordinance Language, below). The proposed project does not meet ANY of these conditions.
  2. The project should be evaluated within the larger context of the town’s goals for achieving district place making, connectivity, walkability and mobility.

When the adjacent Mariakakis property (235’) is redeveloped the overwhelming visual impact will be compounded if modifications are allowed in this proposed project. Please ask the staff to provide you with information from the Mobility and Connectivity Plan to evaluate the project from the perspectives of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.

  1. The placement and design of the pass-thru does not create a visible, welcoming connection for the public.

Views in the diagrams the applicant has provided are taken from inside the motor court and, therefore, do not illustrate the fact that a transformer and landscaping will shield the opening from view. If the project is broken into two buildings with a pedestrian street, it would be consistent with the block length standards and no design alternative would need to be granted.

  1. Before deciding whether to issue a certificate of appropriateness, the CDC and staff should fully assess the likely impacts of building a below-grade parking deck—4 feet below—in the floodplain. 
During the most recent Ephesus-Fordham update to council, the Town Manager indicated that staff are conducting an evaluation of the consequences of building in the floodplain.
  2. More information should be provided about the overhead electrical lines and electrical poles that are running along the public walkway at the front of the project.
  3. The applicant should modify the plan to propose two separate buildings on the site rather than the single, 520+ foot building currently proposed.

On numerous occasions, council has directed staff to address the issue of “massing” in the code to avoid construction of another Alexan/Berkshire building. Recent amendments to the FBC have been undertaken with the specific intent of preventing construction of another undesirably large building. Granting the requested design alternative would contravene that intent.

In summary, the proposed project in its current form does not meet the requirements for receiving a Certificate of Appropriateness.

Respectfully submitted by,

Charles Humble, David Schwartz, Julie McClintock, Fred Lampe, Bruce Henschel, Tom Henkel, Joan Guilkey, Rudy Juliano, and Del Snow

 

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Supporting documentation:

Charge of the CDC

The charge of the Community Design Commission is to assist the council in guiding the town’s vision on aesthetics, character and function to focus community growth through advice, advocacy, and implementation of the council’s policies and review of proposed development in key areas of the community.

Executive Summary – Civitech (excerpt)

http://www.townofchapelhill.org/home/showdocument?id=35401

Page 3:

  1. Section 3.11.2

“Maximum block length allowed outright is adjusted to 450’, to provide better accommodation of the range of site constraints in the district and better clarify in the review and approval process. Administrative adjustments and options for design alternatives approved by the Community Design Commission remain. Clarifications have also been added for the enumerated conditions warranting such adjustments.

EF Ordinance Language: Conditions Warranting a Design Alternative

Where the Community Design Commission makes a finding that a proposed design alternative for block length will provide access and supports a walkable public realm consistent with the purpose and intent of Section 3.11.2.1.B. and where one or more of the site constraints listed below applies, the Community Design Commission may approve an alternatively designed block length up to 600 feet as part of a Certificate of Appropriateness;

  1. Proposed to protect sensitive natural areas or save healthy existing trees;
  2. Required to protect natural conditions, such as watercourses, riparian buffers, natural rock formations or topography;

iii.            Required based on some unusual aspect of the development site or the proposed development that is not shared by landowners generally within the Ephesus/ Fordham District (e.g., unusual lot size, configuration, or surrounding parcelization patterns);

  1.                             Required due to the presence of existing utilities or other easements;
  2. Required for traffic safety, site distance considerations, intersection spacing, or intersection alignment; or
  3. Proposed because there are no other options for ingress and egress.

 

 

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