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Ephesus Fordham Renewal: Rezoning

Post Date:04/11/2014

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This spring, the Town Council is considering the Ephesus-Fordham Renewal, a proposal to stimulate development in one of our oldest and largest commercial areas around the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and US 15-501 or Fordham, the northern gateway to Chapel Hill.

The proposal calls to renew an area well known for its confusing intersections, vast parking lots and traffic jams into a thriving walkable district with an urban character attractive to younger generations that will live and work in Chapel Hill. It hinges on adoption of a new zoning model to stimulate the development that will grow a tax base to fund about $10 million in transportation improvements -- and some stormwater benefits. Guided by the Ephesus Church Road-Fordham Small Area Plan, the proposal also includes an affordable housing development.

The area was identified in the Chapel Hill 2020 community comprehensive plan as a focus area that requires more study and visioning for the future. Future focus areas are portions of Chapel Hill most likely to change due to vacant land, underdeveloped sites, and their locations along transportation and transit corridors.

PHOTO Ephesus Fordham Traffic “The Ephesus-Fordham Renewal has been in the works for a number of years, and now we are seeing many of the components come together to potentially make this the next cool place to live, work and play in Chapel Hill,“ said Town Manager Roger Stancil. “It’s important that our residents have good information about this multi-disciplined, systemic planning opportunity.”

Toward that aim, the Town of Chapel Hill has prepared a series of stories on the following areas – Rezoning, Transportation, Stormwater, Affordable Housing and Expanding the Tax Base and Financing -- to assist our residents in understanding the proposal. For more, visit Questions? Contact Town staff at As always, the Chapel Hill Town Council wants to hear from you at


About Ephesus Fordham DistrictAfter Downtown and Glen Lennox, the Ephesus-Fordham area comprises our oldest shopping hubs – Eastgate in 1958, Village Plaza in 1974 and Rams Plaza in 1982. Of the 130 acres of shopping sprawl in this area, only about half an acre counts as green/parks space.

Of the total 190 acre area, the majority of land is commercial. But there has been scant new development or redevelopment in the past 10 years – in fact, only two development applications were received for the Starbucks at Eastgate and the Advance Auto Parts. Some of the issue is the lengthy and uncertain outcomes for major projects going through the Town’s development review process.

RENEWAL PROPOSAL “Retailers don’t make decisions in the time frame that is needed for a traditional Special Use Permit, which may require one to two years” said Dwight Bassett, the Town of Chapel Hill’s economic development officer. “Retailers are attracted to a 12-month development review cycle and make decisions in that time frame.”

In 2012, the Town began exploring “form-based codes,” a new zoning model that would help convert the area into a vibrant neighborhood and business district safe for walking, cycling or using public transit.

Using form-based codes the Council will set parameters for development including building height, setbacks and parking guidelines for each zone. With the parameters in place, individual developers will not need to bring proposed projects before the Council if they meet the established criteria. The Community Design Commission would approve building materials and architectural features once the staff approves technical elements of the development proposal.

Based on previous market studies and the district’s capacity, estimates of projected build-out over the next 20 years would include:
- 460,000 square feet of retail space
- 300,000 square feet of hotel space
- 150,000 square feet of office space
- 1,495 multifamily units

There would be a maximum building height of seven stories (90 feet) at the core of the district and tiers down to five stories (60 feet) and three stories (45 feet) on edges that abut adjacent districts. The community and Council continue to examine this draft and make adjustments. The district plan would be reexamined periodically to monitor what’s working well and what needs improving. 

About the Process

The Town of Chapel Hill has been working for several years on the renewal of this area. Following numerous public input sessions, the Council adopted the Ephesus Church Road-Fordham Small Area Plan in June 2011. In 2012, Town staff began to study and consider the use of form-based codes, an idea that evolved from the Chapel Hill 2020 visioning process and eventual comprehensive plan.

A collaborative team of staff members from planning, stormwater, engineering, traffic, transit, finance and economic development areas has moved the renewal proposal forward. Beyond the internal team, professional consultants are working on technical challenges. The team is also working closely with the Chapel Hill Carrboro Public Schools, Orange County, Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA), and Chapel Hill Transit on a cost/benefit analysis to better understand future impacts of the plan on the community.

In 2014, the renewal project was presented to the Chapel Hill Town Council on Jan. 22, and subsequently, public information meetings were held on Feb. 20 and Feb. 27. Council review continued at a work session on March 6, at a business meeting on March 24, and then at a joint meeting with the Orange County Board of Commissioners on March 27. There has been a high level of public interest and involvement throughout the planning process. With assistance from the Chapel Hill Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, the Town has contacted small business owners with information about the project.

Public information about the process is posted online at

What’s next? 

The Council will consider action on proposed rezonings at its next business meeting on May 12. After this, there are numerous checks and milestones that would need to occur for this multi-faceted project to move forward. Visit and click on the “Schedule” button to see where we are today in this process.

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