Where is the Blue Hill District and what is happening there?
The Blue Hill District is located near the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard in northeast Chapel Hill and encompasses about 163 acres. Some notable landmarks in the District include Rams Plaza, Village Plaza, Europa Center, and Eastgate Mall.
Since 2010, the Council has been discussing policy alternatives for the Blue Hill District to facilitate positive changes to traffic patterns, stormwater management, affordable housing opportunities, land use management, and other community interests while simultaneously encouraging new reinvestment. The result has been a comprehensive package of ongoing improvements designed to renew the Blue Hill District. Some of these improvements include:
Implementation of a form-based code to manage private development
A pilot program to incentivize energy and water conservation
A pilot program to incentivize development of affordable housing throughout the District
Partnering with a local non-profit affordable housing developer to provide housing for seniors and families
Roadway improvements to improve connectivity and access for motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and buses
Upstream improvements to the Lower Booker Creek Watershed
Identifying opportunities for new recreation facilities
Implementation of a Municipal Services District
Development of new design guidelines
Development of new streetscape standards
Together, these projects are intended to advance the community goals outlined in the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan and address interests expressed in the Chapel Hill Community Survey. A tentative schedule of renewal actions is available online.
What is a form-based code?
Form-based code is a regulatory tool for managing private development in a way that emphasizes the importance of the way that buildings and features look from the public realm (i.e. streets and sidewalks). Form-based code is intended to be highly prescriptive so as to generate more predictable results for private property owners, members of the public, planners, and decision-makers alike.
Many commercial developments elsewhere in the Town of Chapel Hill are approved by the Town staff after the Town Council considers the terms of a proposed use within a given zoning district (i.e. a Special Use Permit). Because the Council established the terms of most proposed uses in the Blue Hill District when it initially adopted the Blue Hill District form-based code, most proposed development do not require a separate Special Use Permit to permit land uses.
What topics are addressed within the Blue Hill District form-based code?
As a portion of the Town’s Land Use Management Ordinance, the Blue Hill District form-based code addresses a range of zoning topics. These topics include:
Street frontage types,
Site lighting, and
While not directly addressed by the form-based code, the Town is engaged in developing tools to make improvements to other key considerations, such as traffic, affordable housing, and energy management.
How is the Town addressing affordable housing in the District?
The Town is utilizing local resources to address a need for affordable housing in the Blue Hill District. By partnering with Raleigh-based nonprofit developer DHIC to construct affordable rental units on Town-owned land within the District, the Town is providing new housing opportunities for seniors and families. By coordinating with Town staff, DHIC continues its pursuit of low income housing tax credit financing to construct the units.
Additionally, Town staff has been meeting with representatives from the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI) since the fall of 2014 to explore incentives for the development of affordable housing. Established in 2011, DFI assists North Carolina communities with goals related to community development, downtown revitalization, economic development, neighborhood redevelopment and small business finance. DFI specializes in the coordination of private investment for transformative projects.
Throughout the summer, the Town staff will continue conversations with DFI and other development professionals to determine what level of incentives could effectively create affordable housing opportunities. Specifically, the Town staff will use this time to:
Better understand the development potential of the properties in these areas;
Identify the challenges and risks that a private developer would encounter with the redevelopment of the areas;
Analyze the best economic use of these properties that incorporates public interests and minimizes public investment;
Identify potential partners with relevant experience to carry out a proposed project; and,
Consider whether some of the best practices discussed during our Come Learn with Us Series could be implemented within the district and/or throughout Town.
As requested by the Council, staff will provide a status update on September 19, 2015.
Will development and redevelopment in the District improve stormwater quality and quantity?
Development in the Blue Hill District is subject to comprehensive stormwater regulations that prescribe both quality and quantity standards at the parcel level. As a result of these regulations, development proposals will be required to engineer solutions that address both stormwater quality and flow. Additionally, the Town is in the process of implementing subwatershed studies throughout the Town. The studies will identify drainage problems, assess flooding and water quality issues, and identify opportunities for stormwater infrastructure projects and water quality improvements. The Council has prioritized the Booker Creek Subwatershed for study, which is expected to commence in the summer of 2015.
How is the Town working to improve traffic conditions in the District?
To encourage reinvestment in properties within the Blue Hill District, the Town plans to invest about $8.8 million in transportation improvements. Additionally, the North Carolina Department of Transportation will pay up to $2.17 million toward the road projects. These projects, which will include access improvements, connectivity improvements, pedestrian crossings, bike facilities, amenity spaces, greenways, and trails, will be implemented in three phases and focus on the following areas:
The intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard (Phase I)
Fordham Boulevard at Rams Plaza (Phase I)
Fordham Boulevard at the superstreet intersection (Phase I)
The Elliott Road extension (Phase II)
The Legion Road extension (Phase III)
The Town is currently working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to approve the Phase I plans. If approved, bids for the Phase I improvements are expected to begin in the summer of 2015.
Will the Blue Hill District foster new connections for pedestrians and bicyclists?
Yes. The Blue Hill District regulations include provisions which are designed to create active street fronts and walkable environments. The use of Type A/Type B frontages and a build-to zone (where a building sits in relation to the street) are a fundamental way in which buildings, streets and streetscapes can work together to provide a walkable environment under the form-based code. The majority of the rezoned areas in the district allow for a mixture of uses, which can contribute to an active street front. With the Village Plaza Apartments project, for example, first floor retail is planned, including outdoor seating. The Regulating Plan shows where these frontages apply.
The regulations also have provisions for greenways, and the Town staff is working with the Council to identify options for safe crossings for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Will new buildings meet energy and water conservation standards?
Currently, North Carolina state law does not allow municipalities to require building standards more stringent than the state building code. To support Chapel Hill’s environmental stewardship goals outlined in the Town’s Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan, the Council has implemented a pilot rebate program to incentivize sustainable building design in the District. This program authorizes a 35% rebate on permitting fees associated with the construction or renovation of qualifying development proposals. Qualified proposals must achieve an ENERGY STAR 1-100 score of 75 and meet the State’s water performance standard for public buildings.
Will the community receive regular updates about the progress of improvements in the Blue Hill District?
Yes. In May 2014, the Council passed a resolution calling for biannual reports on the progress of work in the Blue Hill District twice yearly through 2016 and once yearly from 2017 to 2025.Town staff will deliver these reports during Council meetings. You can view all these progress reports online. You can also go online get the latest updates by visiting the Blue Hill story map page and view all of the proposed development applications that the Town receives.