Loving the Loft

Town Council is ready to fall in love – with Shortbread Lofts. (You’ll only get the joke if you’re among the subset of council meeting viewers who flip channels to “The Bachelor” during some of the more tedious PowerPoint presentations. We won’t ask for a show of hands.)

The development team for Shortbread Lofts on West Rosemary Street came back Monday night to show their revisions. They had agreed to all of the Planning Department’s recommendations. They had addressed all of council members’ earlier concerns and had satisfied Franklin Street business owners anxious about a conflict over encroachment onto their rear parking areas. They had mustered support from such Chapel Hill legends as Lennie Rosenbluth (star of the undefeated UNC men’s basketball team of 1957) and Freddie Kiger (who has kept stats for subsequent teams and who writes about Chapel Hill history). Even the two people who brought up concerns about the project still said they supported it.

But as a caveat under the Be Careful What You Wish For category, the developers also had some alternatives to appease Matt Czajkowski’s contention that the mustard-yellow building was ugly. Part of their PowerPoint presentation had a computerized dramatization of how the building would look in different colors: green, beige and pink. Hot pink. The color of Penny Rich’s sweater that night, which is a good color for her but eye-catching in the extreme.

The apartments would charge market rate rents – about $724 per bedroom, the developer said – which is not the same as workforce housing, unless you’re a part of the workforce that earns very good tips.

Yet when it came time to vote yea or nay, all seven voting council members raised their right hand in favor of the rezoning and the special use permit. (Donna Bell was absent, and Laurin Easthom recused herself because her husband is a partner in the law firm that represents developer Larry Short, and if the law firm was to represent Short successfully, the firm, and by extension Easthom’s household, would benefit financially.)

Short expects to start construction in June.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Jason

     /  February 28, 2012

    Can someone tell me the make up of Shortbread units in terms of BR sizes? Based on the unit to parking spot ratios I assumed that most of these units had to be smaller. $724 a BR is not market rate. Across the street in Northside, you can easily rent a house with a yard, porch and parking for 600-650 per bedroom.

  2. Ed Harrison

     /  February 28, 2012

    The summary from the applicant was:
    “Shortbread Lofts is proposed to be an urban mixed use rental residential development in
    Downtown Chapel Hill. It will contain 85 rental units ranging in size from 800 square feet to 1700 square
    feet. It will contain 6,459 square feet of street level retail and commercial space and
    1,068 square feet of other space for services and entrance foyers for a total of 142,438
    square feet.”

    Here’s what the Council voted for:
    Land Use Intensity: This Special Use Permit authorizes the following:
    Use: Retail and Residential
    Total Maximum Floor Area Allowed 142,438 s.f.
    Vehicular Parking Spaces 121
    Bicycle Parking Spaces
    37 spaces, including 4 near the
    northwest corner of the building
    Impervious Surface 50,126 s.f.
    Recreation Space 6,841 s.f.

    Also, the maximum height, allowed by giving an exception to the limits in the Town Center-3 zone.

    Nothing about external color, interior design, etc.
    The Community Design Commission has that job.

  3. C K Hope

     /  February 29, 2012

    Shortbread Lofts has presented more detail information to staff and Council which wasn’t talked about Monday night. The rent of $724 per month includes utilities. A house rental in Northside for $600-$650 does not include water, electric and gas, which could easily cost another $100 per month year-round. Also in the staff material, Shortbread will offer a shared bedroom rate (bedrooms are generously sized at 12′ X 12′ and each has its own bathroom) of half the per bedroom rate which is affordable to someone making the minimum wage of $7.50 per hour. Most people living there won’t need a car, the parking ratio is .48 spaces per bedroom.

  4. If you followed most prudent budget guidelines and spent the maximum of 1/3rd your gross income on housing, a person would need to make about $13/hr to afford a 1 bedroom.

    The 1/2 bedroom rate plan just underlines how much this project is more like an off-campus dorm than workforce housing.

    This project will appeal to a different segment of the renting public than Northside’s homes in-spite of all the testimony to the contrary last Monday.

    Larry and crew did a good job working their project through the process. They also listened and responded well in dealing with some of the project’s more difficult design issues.

    That said, I liked the smaller footprint version of this project better than what was approved. I expect that its location in the dip on Rosemary St. will kind of even out its visual impact from nearby neighborhoods unlike the hulking Greenbridge.

    Hope they sort out the color scheme and design to be more in line with West End. Chapel Hill deserves a Downtown design paradigm that honors its unique place in North Carolina history. Shortbread’s architecture and style is a kind that says nothing about the place itself (like its brethren Warehouse).

    The way things are going, we’re turning Downtown into bland neo-urban landscapes, clones of what you find in Atlanta, Austin, etc. Kind of a shame to see us rushing towards Anywhere USA.

    With this approval and Council’s fairly enthusiastic acceptance of the University Square redevelopment project (and, of course, their own West140 boondoggle), I expect that its open season now on both sides of Rosemary St. from Carrboro to the historic district. Expect more student-oriented housing proposals to roll in over the next couple years.

    Is Rosemary St. going to become a bit of a concrete canyon lined with these type developments In the rush to cater to that segment? Will anyone care?

  5. DOM

     /  February 29, 2012

    …Will –
    “Is Rosemary St. going to become a bit of a concrete canyon lined with these type developments In the rush to cater to that segment?”

  6. Dude, I’m always chill.

  7. Joe

     /  February 29, 2012

    “The way things are going, we’re turning Downtown into bland neo-urban landscapes, clones of what you find in Atlanta, Austin, etc.”

    Chapel Hill isn’t a clone of any city that I can think of. I don’t know of any city in the United States with a similar sized population with such a thriving downtown.

    The alternative to building dense housing is skyrocketing property prices/rents.

    Chapel Hill is doing just fine.

  8. Jason

     /  February 29, 2012

    CK Hope – an average per person utility bill for gas, elec and water in Northside for a 4 BR house is about $50. $724/month will appeal to those students whose parents can afford it but to conclude that this is affordable housing is laughable. Pine Knolls is affordable student housing at $400-500/ BR. And do you think the tenants are simply going to live with half a parking spot per bedroom. Students are a resourceful lot and if they want a vehicle at school with them, they will find somewhere to park it. Maybe they’ll just park on the streets of Northside. Approval of the project was the right call, but let’s just call it what it is: High priced student rentals

  9. Linda Convissor

     /  February 29, 2012

    If you could design the project, what would you want to see there? Or generally in terms of housing and new development downtown?

  10. You mean if I could wave a magic wand?

  11. Linda Convissor

     /  March 1, 2012

    No magic wands allowed. I’m asking you for a reality-based answer to what you’d like to see in downtown generally and this site particularly. I’m sorry I didn’t make the “reality” part clear. I mean, you don’t need to run the numbers to make sure it’s financially viable etc. but I think you have a pretty good idea of the constraints all these projects are designed around. Those constraints are the reality I’m talking about.

  12. Linda, your request deserves a thoughtful and worked out response. Let me put together something and publish it on CitizenWill.org.

  13. John Kramer

     /  March 2, 2012

    I think if there was a yellow brick road leading to a development in Chapel Hill, SOMEONE would have a problem with it. Sheesh!