Who you gonna call?

What was the difference between The Cottages and Obey Creek? Both projects went before the Town Council Monday night. The Cottages would build 330 dwellings on 33 acres off Homestead Road. Obey Creek would put 1,200 dwellings and 570,000 square feet of retail/office space on 120 acres across the road from Southern Village.

Council members sat back and gazed favorably on the Obey Creek presentation, but they were openly critical of The Cottages. At issue was parking – The Cottages would put 1,175 parking spaces at its residents’ convenience. But given the scale of Obey Creek – almost four times as large acre-wise – there will be quite a few parking spaces built there, too.

So what was the difference? When you come right down to it, the difference was Roger Perry.

Perry’s development group, East West Partners, will handle the planning for Obey Creek. And what Roger Perry wants in this town, Roger Perry gets. He seems to be the guy who is behind all the massive developments hereabouts – think Meadowmont, East 54, Buckhorn Village.

And Obey Creek is massive. In addition to the acreage – enough to fit at least three The Cottages within its boundaries – Obey Creek’s preliminary plans call for eight-story buildings that will rival what we have in the UNC Hospitals complex. What the town would get if it approved Obey Creek would be another East 54-type development lining another road into town, unless someone on the council or in the planning department can convince Perry to set back the development.
The project will take another one to three years before it breaks ground, and then the planned build-out is 20 years.

Perry told the council “what we’re suggesting here is a pretty big deal.” He’s right about that. Too big for an entryway such as U.S. 15-501. Let’s hope the council learned something from East 54. Members who were up for election last year tried to distance themselves from that project because they caught so much grief from residents over the decision to approve. Will they remain true to their constituents and take a closer look at Obey Creek?

I’m with council member Donna Bell – I’d rather see tall buildings in downtown Chapel Hill, not in the suburbs.
–Don Evans

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
Previous Post
Next Post
Leave a comment


  1. Don, do you know who is doing the preliminary work for East/West on the Obey Creek development?

    Part of the SCVTF had pointed out that this area was ripe for development and given traffic, environmental, potential watershed issues (it does bridge both OWASA and Jordan Lake basins), one of the last iconic gateways to Town, etc. that it should be treated with care.

    Both Planning staff and two of the developer appointees pooh-poohed the idea that any substantial development would be placed there…

    I was concerned not just about the issues I mentioned before but that the Town didn’t have a decent plan for that side of Town, had not followed up on the original commitment to analyze Southern Village’s strengths/weakness and that other than the SCVTF, no other body seemed interested in sketching out the ground rules for moving forward.

    Some of the greatest weaknesses in the current Comprehensive Plan come into play when you look at that section of our community. But, as you noted, what Roger wants, Roger usually gets. Whether you like his developments (I generally don’t) or not, you have to admire how skillfully he’s played the Council the last decade – starting with Meadowmont, ending with East54 and beyond (Carolina North).

    This is the guy, if you recall, who pushed for 20+ story buildings along MLK, Jr. It would be a shame, given East/West’s track record on Hwy. 54, to see Council rollover once again for their type of urban blight (not to mention the predictable off-loading of infrastructure costs to our taxpayers).

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  May 20, 2010

    There was another mega-development proposed in this same area about 5 years ago. The council shut it down pretty quickly. Does anyone remember the name of that development/developer? I’d like to look up the council’s objections to it.

  3. Mark Marcoplos

     /  May 20, 2010

    I still can’t figure out what is wrong with East 54 – except for the fact that it looked strange when it was half-built. And, of course, the Chamber of Commerce endorsed pro-business slate – upon hearing grumblings – decided to exploit the issue despite the fact that it represents more commercial development, just what they were constantly repeating that we needed more of.

  4. Geoff Green

     /  May 20, 2010

    What Mark M. said. I still have some aesthetic issues with it — the hotel is too close to the road, though that has something to do with the layout of the site, and I wish they’d used nicer brick on the buildings, but it’s fine otherwise. It’s certainly better than having a deteriorating motel set far back from a large, empty field.

    I also don’t think there was such strident opposition to East 54 during the campaign or any running away from it by candidates. At one meeting during the campaign which I attended, Mark Kleinschmidt (you know, the anti-business mayoral candidate) was perfectly willing to defend East 54 and what it would add to the community.

    I too would love to have more tall buildings downtown instead of on the outskirts of town. But no one’s building them. The one who has built on there has been called racist, moneygrubbing, and irresponsible by a group of students and local residents. That’s not a real incentive to other developers. So what’s the answer there?

  5. js

     /  May 20, 2010

    Also, the living spaces inside the aforementioned tall building cost boatloads of money. The future LOT 5 apartments are also expensive and being marketed to alumni as football game party pads. Hopefully Obey Creek would provide housing in an affordable (as well as “Affordable”) price range to people who actually work in town.

  6. Mark Marcoplos

     /  May 20, 2010

    Good (intelligent?) design is key. I like the “Mayan pyramid” stepped design in higher buildings. It looks more like a hill than a sheer wall.

    Lots of natural features need to be blended in – trees, gardens, berms, etc.

    Our only choices shouldn’t be between Metropolis and Pleasantville.

  7. Bob

     /  May 20, 2010

    Mark, Yes, absolutely…….I don’t know if I like the pyramid thing personally, but some variety (choices) might well make us better off.

  8. Aesthetics aside, which is a matter of taste of course, the problem with East54 boils down to three major issues: does the project meet the objectives laid out in the Comprehensive Plan, is the cost of the development and support shared equitably by community and developer alike and does the project actually fulfill some part of the commitment (hype usually) used to sell it?

    Note, equitably doesn’t mean equally. Irrespective of the hyped commercial/residential tax benefits touted, this community has generally taken it in the gut the last two decades with these “mixed-use” village approaches. It would be nice if there was a better balance between community investment – tangibles like tax dollars for infrastructure improvements and less tangibles like dealing with the daily stress on infrastructure (increased traffic, noise, etc.) than there has been lately.

    East54 was approved using a SUP (special use permit) that was extraordinarily generous – height and density increases, setbacks, etc. – and within a greater context – the new UNC facility, hotel, possible Glen Lennox redevelopment – Council knew would make that corridor quite busy.

    Did the promise of East54 justify that extraordinary divergence from the existing zones conditions?

    As far affordable housing, quite possibly if Council hadn’t undercut the actual type and amount of footage by taking in lieu funds.

    As far as the LEEDs Platinum goobly gook, not even close (this standard can be achieved without significant carbon reductions or energy efficiencies). I know that the developer rejected overtures from the alternative energy community who wanted to help them make the project more energy sustainable.

    The original concept talked of integrating that part of 54 with the commercial and residential area across the road. The project was supposed to be “forward-facing”. Representations showed an integrative design that made that part of 54 not only look like an enticing walkable boulevard but also a worthy entry way to Chapel Hill. The project as implemented is not forward-facing, doesn’t create a worthy gateway, hasn’t opened that section of 54 as advertised.

    Again, that East/West sold one concept and delivered another is no surprise – look at Meadowmont. The issue is that the project was relieved of meeting the normal constraints of that zone because it was supposed to deliver value TO THE COMMUNITY above and beyond the basic requirements. Instead, the design allowed Roger to preserve the big ticket lots at the back of the property (near the golf course), so that East/West could maximize its profit.

    Finally, given that East54 creates costs that both spread out extensively beyond its property line and accumulates/compounds with other factors, is it of such merit to justify the many long-term costs pushed off onto the community’s shoulders? Clearly not.

    And, at least to me, I find it ugly – another blech design ala beltline USA – saying nothing about Chapel Hill – doubly worse in that it replaced a nearly iconic structure long associated with town.

  9. Mark Marcoplos

     /  May 20, 2010

    Certanly some good points, Will. But it is much easier to criticize afterwards than to attempt to take a giant step forward in terms of an alternative approach to development. The community consensus was that we needed to break with tradition and try some mixed-use, higher-rise buildings that shielded parking lots. It was hard to predict with certainty just how that would have turned out. Now we see it. It’s not a bad effort. We move on and learn from it as we evolve our approach.

    On LEED certification – absolutely right. In general it’s best to hire an architect/building team that can deliver true energy & resource efficient construction and invest the LEED certification money in something tangible (solar panels maybe?)

  10. Mark, some of these issues were foreseeable – and I did critique them at the beginning of the process. I agree we sometimes have to take a gamble but the risks should be somewhat in line with the promised reward.

    I just saw this from the NY Times on LEEDs ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/20/opinion/20Appelbaum.html ):

    The LEED program, which awards points for incorporating eco-friendly material and practices into buildings’ design and construction, has led to a sea change in the industry, introducing environmental awareness into everything from regulatory processes to rents.

    But while the standard is well-intentioned, it is also greatly misunderstood. Put simply, a building’s LEED rating is more like a snapshot taken at its opening, not a promise of performance. Unless local, state and federal agencies do their part to ensure long-term compliance with the program’s ideals, it could end up putting a shiny green stamp on a generation of unsustainable buildings.

    To be fair, the council never meant for its system to be a seal of green approval. Rather it was to be a set of guidelines for architects, engineers and others who want to make buildings less wasteful. However, developers quickly realized that its ratings — certified, silver, gold or platinum — were great marketing tools, allowing them to charge a premium on rents.

    Such market-driven motives wouldn’t matter — if LEED in fact measured energy performance. But it can’t: some certified buildings end up using much more energy than the evaluators predicted, because the buildings are more popular than expected or busy at different times than developers forecast, or because tenants ignore or misuse green features. Bike racks merely encourage cycling to work, and operable windows merely offer the opportunity to use less air-conditioning.

  11. Tom Field

     /  May 20, 2010

    Roger Perry always seems to get what he wants — and what he wants is to maximize profit (the town be damned) — not surprising — but the fact that he can build those ugly factory-like buildings (East 54) on a previously welcoming entryway in the face of a council supposedly sensitive to aesthetic and environmental concerns is alarming — what magic is this guy performing — is this just sheer power or something more sinister??

  12. Geoff Green

     /  May 20, 2010

    Will: “As far as the LEEDs Platinum goobly gook, not even close (this standard can be achieved without significant carbon reductions or energy efficiencies). I know that the developer rejected overtures from the alternative energy community who wanted to help them make the project more energy sustainable.”

    The mere fact that you have smaller living units without their own yards, etc, and close-in public transportation is a big advantage environmentally. If you spread the same number of people out on a typical subdivision, the environmental impact would be much greater.

    I’d be interested to glance at the initial concept plan you reference, Will, if it’s available on the internet anywhere.

    Mark: “Good (intelligent?) design is key. I like the “Mayan pyramid” stepped design in higher buildings. It looks more like a hill than a sheer wall.”

    Do you have other examples? The only one I know of is this — http://cambridge.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/index.jsp — and it’s not stepped back from the street. It looks reasonably ridiculous, though it’s entertaining in its own way.

  13. Geoff, elements of that plan went all the way to completion. As far as the elements that didn’t go through there might be some linked info over on CitizenWill.org.

    A casual analysis would lead one to believe that compact units without yards should have less impact but if you look at the overall picture – the “total cost of ownership” in sustainability terms so to speak – it becomes apparent that evaluating physical layout alone – compact without yards – is not a sufficient barometer.

    The difference between them being owned by folks as 2nd weekend homes or are RTP commuters and folks who work and travel locally (maybe even using our great bus system) is not negligible. Layer in that the carbon footprint associated with building the structures is not counterbalanced by a similar amount of green space or other similar factors and the environmental cost becomes a bit less easier to tease out. In other words, a real analysis would factor in the build cycle, the physical footprint, the supporting infrastructure and pattern of usage.

    Is it incumbent on either the developer or Council to do that analysis? Maybe not. I think, though, that when a project’s “sustainability” is touted in selling it, then it should at least pass a basic “sniff test”. In the case of East54, it was clear that the developer used a bit of greenwash to push it through. Same, though by no means as extensive, with Greenbridge (the geo-thermal component was touted every presentation, dropped days after approval).

  14. All

    I still question the “density will save our town “proposition. Granted some University employees might be able to afford some of the density units being built and proposed. Far more likely, they will be owned by commuters. Until CH/Carrboro have more jobs locally, high density strikes me as a potential detriment. I know this is a national trend however, I see many comparisons with other communities as apples to oranges (i.e. Madison to Chapel Hill) . We should be extremely careful with high rises in this community.

    I feel the town(s) should work harder at economic development and work much more closely with the University on down town development. We want a walkable community but it seems to me we refuse to acknowledge that folks need more than restaurants and bars nearby. They need jobs and food stores for instance.

  15. Another Steve – you hit the nail on the head! This was one of the arguments I made against rezoning RAM’s Grove Residences on Hillsborough St. RSSC. The “hype” was it was so close to Downtown that the folks living in the 365 mostly luxury townhomes would use Downtown for services, etc. This flew in the face of existing reality – no grocery store in walking distance for instance – and the usage pattern designed into the development – plenty of parking – up to 5 spaces I recall – for the units. The units were targeted to young professionals, who would most likely work outside of Town (like %50+ of residents do) and retirees.

    To suggest that building this 6-7 story tall, dense development near Downtown would change those folks dynamic didn’t make sense. Were a majority of retirees going to jump on the bus to go grocery shopping? Would a majority of the young professionals going to find a job Downtown? Were new pre-schools and other family-oriented services going to spring into existence because of the less than critical mass of young families who might live there?

    When Liz Parham took over the Downtown Partnership she and I discussed Downtown’s job landscape. To her credit, she did the first survey of non-service industry commercial activity in the Downtown and started to put in place a plan to help increase the number of employers Downtown – like the one I worked at – generating the kinds of jobs with salaries that support $450k+ residences. I believe Economic Development Director Dwight Bassett and Downtown Partnership Director Jim Neal are going to pickup where she left off but I don’t see the Council, as of yet, pressing for the kind of economic development Downtown that will make that a reality.

  16. Geoff Green

     /  May 20, 2010

    Isn’t one of the proposals for University Square to add some sort of a food store? Not that it’s going to happen, but I think the townfolk are aware that walkable access to groceries are a critical component of a walkable neighborhood. I realize that where I used to live, I was sort of absurdly lucky to live a 5-minute walk from a standard grocery store and a 10-minute walk from a Whole Foods (and a short train ride from a Trader Joe’s, for that matter), but I’d expect the downtown area could support at least one small grocery store, particularly with Greenbridge and if the Lot 5 project ever gets built.

  17. Frank

     /  May 20, 2010

    AnotherSteve: “high density strikes me as a potential detriment.”
    “We want a walkable community”

    You can’t have walkable without some serious density. Walkable isn’t possible in suburbia where every family lives in a house on a .25 acre lot. Walkable = dense = tall buildings

  18. Frank

    Thanks for the walkable equation. While we are at it let us try this one:

    Walkable with no neighboring jobs and accessible services = auto traffic = no parking = burning carbon fuels = a shame term created to maximize the sale of real estate.

    I do not oppose density but caution that it is not a panacea that suddenly makes a community walkable.

  19. Mark Marcoplos

     /  May 22, 2010

    Another Steve – these concepts are not necessarily shams created by the real estate sector, rather they are good concepts, not always easily implemented, which are co-opted by the eral estate sector. Similar to “green building” and the Home Builders Association.

  20. Frank

     /  May 22, 2010

    “I do not oppose density but caution that it is not a panacea that suddenly makes a community walkable.”

    I agree that it’s not a panacea, but it’s also impossible to have a walkable community without significantly more density than we have now. Even Carrboro is only “walkable” for a few hundred people who live within walking distance of downtown.

  21. Another Steve

     /  May 23, 2010

    I question your definition of walkable. Unless there are significant jobs and accessible services there is no “walkable” community for a dense population. Density does not equal a walkable community. Density without jobs and services nearby becomes congestion equal to suburbia going vertical. That is assuming there will be no nearby jobs or services so folks drive autos to get to the needed places. If the argument is chicken and egg or build it and the jobs and services will follow, I am dubious of the logic.

  22. Frank

     /  May 23, 2010

    Jobs and accessible services follow people. They always do. The government can’t mandate that a particular business or kind of business open in any particular place.

  23. js

     /  May 24, 2010

    Right, except for the price of a small condo in a new building within walking distance of downtown employers (say, UNC for example) you could have an elegant ranch with plenty of space and a yard and much lower taxes elsewhere in the county, or in Durham, Chatham, or somewhere else. Until any new housing (vertical or otherwise) in the ‘walkable’ CH area is priced at something un-outrageous, the only ‘walkable’ community that’s being fostered is students of wealthy parents, walking to the bars.

  24. Geoff Green

     /  May 24, 2010

    js — true. On the flip side, the high prices imply that people *want* to live there, meaning there is potential. It doesn’t help that the really walkable area is, aside from the university, quite small — the small expanse of decent sidewalks in the downtown area is very inadequate.

  25. Frank

     /  May 24, 2010

    “Until any new housing (vertical or otherwise) in the ‘walkable’ CH area is priced at something un-outrageous,…”

    Agreed. But again, part of the problem is that a municipality artificially dictating prices also doesn’t work. The real estate market does work, but prices in our area won’t come down, and developers won’t build cheaper housing intul our supply/demand is a bit more in balance. Right now, living “downtown” is a novelty, so of course prices are high. If high rise development accelerates, then eventually, housing prices in the entire area will stabilize. Right now, there’s not enough room for everybody who wants to live in town, so of course, the wealthy are going to have more options.

  26. Nancy Oates

     /  May 24, 2010

    Real estate prices will come down if the percentage of public school kids who do well on end-of-grade exams and other academic performance measures goes down. Durham has some really nice houses and really nice neighborhoods, but people with children will pay more to live in less as long as it is within the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district.