We are among the biggest fans of Purple Bowl. One of the blog blogging households is one of their biggest customers, and is grateful for their variety of delicious lunches and smoothies that were served to hospital employees during the pandemic. To say we love Purple Bowl would be an understatement — we spend a lot of time and cash at this downtown Chapel Hill acai joint.

And, as we have written, we’re very hopeful that the owner of Purple Bowl, Purple Bowl’s new landlord, and the Town can figure out a way to move forward with putting more jobs in much-needed economic development in downtown, while preserving a business that in a short time has become a much-loved Chapel Hill institution — as the buckets of emails to Town Council demonstrate.

But there’s one small thing we need to discuss.


House of the rising sun

A common thread in many of the recent Purple Bowl-related emails is that the proposed new wet lab will block the sun, Mr. Burns style.

Soak up the sun

TBB’s already written a lot about the situation about what can be done to save a favorite local eatery, but one portion of claims in this campaign caught our eye:

Blocks sunlight?  Isn’t the building in question on the north side of Franklin Street?

We are fortunate to live in a town housing one of America’s premier universities which has a top-flight astronomy department. Along with their teaching responsibilities, members of the department do research that investigates the history of our universe, exploring events back before the founding of our solar system to the very beginnings of space and time at the Big Bang. 

Sunshine on my shoulders

We considered reaching out to the department to determine whether the proposed wet lab would turn Franklin Street into a sunless cavern, like the bottom of the Grand Canyon but without the Colorado River, or the ancient rocks. But we thought that, with our own UNC degrees and some Newtonian physics, we could probably figure this out ourselves.

So we did our own research and consulted some of the latest textbooks. In this, we learned a couple of things:

  1. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, every single day.
  2. The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a giant nuclear furnace, where hydrogen is built into helium, at a temperature of millions of degrees. [Updated: Please see the correction below]
  3. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun shines from the south.

Therefore, we were hard pressed to understand how a taller building on the north side of Franklin would block the sunlight.

Walking on Sunshine

But we went even further. We could calculate the exact position of the sun by doing a bunch of math… or we could rely on TBB’s new Solar Correspondent, Alex! Alex recently started working with TBB and was chosen as our first solar correspondent by virtue of previously having dropped $8 on this handy app for obsessing over planning a new front yard garden.

Here comes the sun

Here’s a recording of Alex standing in front of the building and using the app to trace the sun arc for the day’s date (May 2nd). The dashed yellow line shows where the sun will be at different hours of the day.  You can see that in the early evening the sun would go behind a tall building in the same location, but the rest of the day it’s clear.

The worst day for shade from a building on the northern side of the street would be on the summer solstice.  This year it’s on the 21st of June and with a few button taps in the app we can see that the arc is just a bit higher with no major change.

In the winter the sun is much lower in the sky and spends most of its time hanging out over the Graduate Hotel and the Chipotle across the street.

So there will be little sunlight blocked on Franklin Street should a taller building eventually live there. Most of the buildings on the north side of the 100 East Franklin block are 100 years old and expensive to renovate, which means this is a conversation that’s going to come up time and time again.

People LOVE the buildings as they existed when they themselves went to college. They’re nostalgic. They’re reminiscent of a great time in our lives. But they’re getting to the point where they are not worth remodeling. The very building that part of Purple Bowl is located in (the building has a newer extension closer to Franklin Street) was flagged as having a dangerous roof when Blue Dogwood made renovations to it.

As we’ve said repeatedly, we don’t want Purple Bowl to go anywhere. Read the letters that have come into council and it’s clear how much people love this funky local spot.

We’d like to see a solution that keeps Purple Bowl in place or close by, and a new wet lab. And maybe catch some rays outside.

Alex Mellnik co-wrote this post.

Correction: In fact, the sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma. The sun’s not simply made out of gas, no, no, no. TBB regrets the error.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Geoff Green, AICP lives in Chapel Hill. In his day job he's a practicing urban planner; in his spare time he rides his electric bike around town and advocates for improved facilities so that everyone can...