Be our guest

Business investors have figured it out before some of the rest of us: Chapel Hill is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here.

When Town Council meets next on Wednesday (the regular Monday night meeting has been shifted due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday), members will consider a new upscale hotel proposed for a 1.7-acre parcel next to The Ballet School, on1609 E. Franklin St. The developer, HPW Properties, has proposed a five-story, 110-bed hotel.

In October, council approved a 112-room hotel on the edge of Southern Village. And in recent years we’ve welcomed the arrival of Aloft, near 54 East; The Franklin Hotel downtown; The Siena, a little farther east on Franklin. And all of those are in addition to The Sheraton, The Carolina Inn, Courtyard Marriott, Chapel Hill University Inn, Days Inn, Quality Inn and Residence Inn.

HPW Properties assured the Community Design Commission that a demand for another upscale hotel existed in Chapel Hill. If that’s the case, what brings people to Chapel Hill to spend the night? Sporting events on campus and the occasional wedding, but other than that?

And more important, are those hotel guests riding our buses and using our library for free?
— Nancy Oates

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  1. Bonnie

     /  January 20, 2014

    Nancy – don’t forget the students, parents and other visitors to the University. And other visitors that we are trying to attract.

    It’s important to think of the town (and the county) as a destination for visitors. Visitors don’t require schools, but they spend money in our restaurants, stores and other places that produce sales taxes.

    I’m curious about what’s driving the hoteliers –who do they expect to be spending the night and why?

  2. Scott

     /  January 20, 2014

    A number of years ago – mid 90’s perhaps – on one of my mother’s 4 or 5 annual trips to Chapel Hill to visit my daughter and me – she said “Chapel Hill sure seems like a good place to live, but I sure don’t see a good reason to visit.” She was right on point about 20 years ago. Since then, UNC and the Hospital have expanded in almost all measurable ways and today attract many visitors year round that have a significant positive impact on the financial condition of our businesses and public institutions via sales tax, occupancy tax, etc. These visitors may use our library on occasion and I certainly hope they use our bus system instead of driving, yet they do buy quite a bit while in town. I think a better topic for discussion might be one that spends less time disparaging “outsiders and visitors” and their needs but is one that seriously examines what this town would be if all the visitors stayed overnight and bought their meals and goods in Durham County? OH, wait a minute – I forgot that due to the past desires of some town isolationists the spending of money on goods and services in Durham is our job. A balanced community is just like a balanced diet, many things in moderation and nothing in excess. We have a limited number of goods and services in town, but an excess of demands for government services and processes that continue to create a year round population of economically elite residents. The Council and Manager have done an amazing job of cutting services (apparently at taxpayer insistence) rather than raising taxes – even a little – on property owners. I would argue that because of those actions, we are in for a long slide before services are returned to the level desired by most residents. So, back to the impertinent question raised in the blog. What the heck do we need increased hotel space for in Chapel Hill? We need it and other growth in non-residential development to become a balanced community. However, as to the specific proposal on East Franklin Street that the Council will see – it is horrible and probably can not be developed under any of our current standards and ordinances. It is the wrong thing, in the wrong place, with a bad design and I am sure the council will let the applicant know.

  3. To Scott: Which are the gov’t services and processes that create year-round, economically elite residents?

    What are economically elite residents?

    And why is the specific proposal for a hotel on Franklin Street a horrible idea?

  4. many

     /  January 21, 2014

    I think there are some hoteliers proposing new faclities in anticipation of the expanded UNC public-private partnership at Carolina North. If business is going to be done, employees will need places to stay, meeting spaces etc.

    I think the trick the town has to manage is the same as with any speculation; the temptation to over do it,

  5. anonymous

     /  January 22, 2014

    outside of the law school and maybe housing
    I think a lot of the other parts of carolina north may not happen

  6. Bruce Springsteen

     /  January 23, 2014

    Hey ., that is a great name, I wish I thought of it.

    As far as what economically elite residents are, it sounds to me like that means rich folks. I can’t speak definitively for the other person but since he hasn’t answered here’s my take. The sentence was

    “We have a limited number of goods and services in town, but an excess of demands for government services and processes that continue to create a year round population of economically elite residents.”

    A limited number of goods and services in town means less tax money from goods and services sold in town, which means a greater portion of the tax burden falls on residential property tax. And then an excess of demands for government services means the overall tax burden is higher.

    So a higher overall tax burden plus a greater portion of that tax burden falling on residential property tax equals more economically elite residents since they’re more likely to be able to afford to live here. Right? It seems sensible to me.

    It’s not any one thing, rather it’s the sum of every little thing. Drip, drip, drip.

  7. What are the services and “processes”? How does, say, free busing, or a library, or shelters, or housing for lower income families, create year-round economically elite residents? Who are they? Do we want them to leave so that there won’t be elites in Chapel Hill?

    The theme of this blog article is “Nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live in Chapel Hill”. Whom do you want to leave? Who should not move in?

  8. DOM

     /  January 23, 2014

    “Whom do you want to leave? Who should not move in?”

    Those who do not belong.

  9. Bruce Springsteen

     /  January 25, 2014

    Well, ., I don’t want to speak for the main theme of the thread or the person that wrote it. I was just noting that the sum total of many things that aren’t a big deal by themselves can amount to results that lead to many economically elite residents. My initial inclination in responding to this was to start listing things that cause the cost of living to be so high but the list would be long and is there really any doubt anyway? I get the impression people don’t want to read really long posts.

    I just looked on, just to pick a realty website that will probably yield the same results as any other, and there are over 20 condos…not houses in general but just condos…selling for over $500 K within about 2 miles of the UNC campus. It might come as a shock to some readers but to most people in this country $500 K is an extremely high amount of money to pay for a condo.

    If you look at the photos of these places it’s not that they’re normal places that happen to cost that much solely because of their location. Instead they’re clearly marketed for an upscale audience.

    Meanwhile, a large number of UNC employees live 10 or 20 or 30 miles away from their work. Do these people just enjoy driving long distances twice each work day or is the cost of housing here too high for them?

    BTW, the next time someone talks about how we’re walkable and keeping our CO2 footprint down can someone else please mention all the daily commuting to and from UNC by all these people that is a direct result of our development policies? If a car drives on a highway on its way to UNC and nobody in Chapel Hill or Carrboro sees it does it make a CO2 contribution? Answer: Yes.

  10. Del Snow

     /  January 26, 2014

    Just to get back to the original thread- more hotels are being proposed at The Edge, Walgreen’s at MLK/WDR, Ephesus-Fordham, Obey Creek, and Vilcom had its Master Land Use Plan changed to allow a hotel as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one proposed at Glen Lennox as well. I would guess that all of them will not be built, but it is food for thought.
    As of right now, according to the Town’s Development Activity report, there is over 2 million square feet of retail/hotel space in the pipeline. (I have not counted all completed projects) I’d be interested in knowing if people think that we can successfully support it all.

  11. many

     /  January 28, 2014

    Hi Del,

    Based on the fact that Carolina North is proceeding slowly, i would check to see when these Hotels are projected to come on line. speculation is not only risky for the investors, but in opportunity cost for the town as well.

    How much input does the planning board get from UNC? Are you privy to any public/private partnerships that might materialize? What about closing Horace Williams Airport?

  12. DOM

     /  January 30, 2014

    “What about closing Horace Williams Airport?”

    And deprive a few wealthy UNC donors from using it to fly in for game days? How dare you?

  13. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 30, 2014

    Planning Board gets no extra input from UNC.

    Chapel Hill town’s planning department sets the PB agenda, with various projects large or small scheduled for each meeting. Sometimes it’s a series of small property owners (for example, requesting an exception to the 4-cars-per-yard rule for an in-town rental property, or a proposed house construction, or a minor subdivision of a property). The owners submit plans or requests to the town’s planning department, and the PB reviews it on schedule. In this way the PB takes some of the time burden off Council for small projects, and catches some of the flack that could otherwise be directed their way. Remember the men’s shelter? PB reviewed that project like any other and served as a lightning conductor, saving Council grief and many hours. We can give our opinions, which is sent to Council, and then Mayor+Council decide the outcome.

    So, making a short story long, PB doesn’t get feedback from UNC, which doesn’t have to request permits from the town for projects on its own properties. An exception was the 2011 presentation for an expansion of the Finley clubhouse, as a formality.

  14. many

     /  January 30, 2014

    Thank you Deborah,

    So, PB input is from somewhat of a contextual vacuum, although I would guess that staff has the information you do not. That is too bad. I would think that advisement could benefit from that knowledge. Not to relieve the TC of the burden, nor to attempt to restrict UNC, but to provide more input on surrounding projects (like hotels) from those who might be affected.

    I asked a friend who works in UNC planning and development about Horace Williams the other day and all I got was a wistful rolling of the eyes.

  15. DOM

     /  January 30, 2014

    “I asked a friend who works in UNC planning and development about Horace Williams the other day…”

    The closure of the airport would not only be an economic driver for UNC, but also for the town — the Central West area offers great potential opportunity for the area.

  16. Bruce Springsteen

     /  February 3, 2014

    This is related to my earlier posts and it’s not directly on topic but this thread is old and dying anyway so maybe I’m not really hijacking anything. But anyway, I’m making it because I’m genuinely curious about the issue.

    I was watching WRAL the other night and they reported on a house burning down in Carrboro. And they said it was Holman Lane which they said is “a dirt road stretching into the woods.” So out of curiosity I looked it up since naturally when a house burns down in your general vicinity you wonder where it is.

    It turns out that Holman Lane is about three miles as the crow flies or four miles by road from UNC. And not only is it “a dirt road stretching into the woods,” it’s also a dead end dirt road stretching into the woods.

    So here is the thing. I often hear about how Carrboro (and Chapel Hill too for that matter) is hot on keeping cars off the road and keeping carbon down. How is it then that we have a major employer at UNC and we have a large number of UNC employees commuting from 10, 20 or 30 miles to UNC for work each day and meanwhile we have
    a dead end road stretching into the woods four miles from UNC with that road sitting in a town that is strongly dedicated to keeping cars off the road?

    And if it was the only dead end road stretching into the wood in that area then it would be no big thing but if you travel that area, as I have, the whole area is nothing but dead end roads stretching into the woods.

    I looked on the Internet and I see that area is a “rural buffer” of Carrboro. What is it a buffer against? Short commutes?

    I’m not simply railing, rather I am genuinely curious. How can a place so overtly and so strongly against cars on the road develop in a way that, it seems to me, puts so many cars on the road? Are they missing something? Am I missing something? What? I am truly mystified.

  17. many

     /  February 3, 2014


    Good questions, I applaud the thread you draw through local issues.

    A couple of points;

    1) I posit Holman Lane is private. The family that was burned out family name is Holman and I suspect this might be land that is a family farm. Many folks do not want to sell family land under any circumstances. The old saw is that farmers die wealthy. Holman Lane is not in the town as you point out, Holman Lane is in the “Rural Buffer” which is a legal/jurisdictional construct designed to protect the town from sprawl, but has the side effect of reducing elected representation on issues that directly affect the residents and landowners. In many cases the “Rural Buffer” is a living example of the tyranny of the majority.

    2) Looking at the location, I believe it is in the University Lake protected Watershed “critical area”, one of the most restrictive watersheds in the state. Impervious surface ordinance requirements in that watershed currently restrict development insuring extremely low density.

    3) On top of having restrictive local ordinances, nothing perks. Google “Triassic Basin”. In order to achieve the required density, water & sewer would likely need to be extended. Call OWASA and ask them when that will happen.

    In order to build the density you seem to be suggesting, a developer would need to overcome the above impedance, as well as local opposition which would likely be strong.

    Generically though, I think you are correct. There is dissonance apparent between words and actions in a lot of areas locally.

  18. Name Withheld By Request

     /  February 3, 2014

    ““What about closing Horace Williams Airport? And deprive a few wealthy UNC donors from using it to fly in for game days? How dare you?”

    This is yet another example of UNC athletics interests overpowering those of academic interests.