Unless something unexpected happens, tonight marks the final full meeting of the current Chapel Hill and Carrboro Town Councils. Mayors Pam Hemminger and Damon Seils, as well as council members Michael Parker, Tai Huynh, Sammy Slade, and Susan Romaine are all leaving their respective councils, all by choice. Next week, Carrboro’s new council will take office, while Chapel Hill’s transition won’t take place until Monday December 18.

But tonight’s meetings, which, for the first time in a while, take place on the same day (Carrboro usually meets on Tuesday), are not going to be sleepy affairs. The agendas in each town are jam packed. Here are a few things we’re watching:

Chapel Hill will build protected bike lanes on Cameron Avenue

We’ve known about this for some time, but tonight the council will formally approve the process to begin building protected bike lanes on Cameron Avenue. We’ve been advocating for this for a while, and are delighted to see it move forward. (We would still like to see the town pilot this, so we can have protected bike lanes a little sooner).

protected-bike-lanes

Carrboro will consider adding Bolin Creek Greenway Phase 3 and 4 to its priority funding list for regional transportation projects

This is a bit weedsy, but every two years or so our regional planning organization (DCHCMPO) asks municipalities to nominate their preferred transportation projects for federal and state funding. Getting on the priority list is a big deal, because it can make the difference between a project being considered for funding in the near future or not. Carrboro spent the last six months debating about the alignment for phases 3 and 4 of the Bolin Creek Greenway, and the council’s 6-1 vote to approve the creekside alignment means that there’s good reason to go forward with planning the project.

Chapel Hill is likely to approve the Longfellow wet lab

proposed site for wet lab

While most of the coverage of the Longfellow Real Estate Partners’s proposal to build a large wet lab office building on Franklin Street has focused on a single tenant—Purple Bowl, who will be moving to a new location this summer—the project is bigger than an overflowing acai bowl. It represents a significant investment in our downtown and will create a new public space that connects Franklin and Rosemary streets.

Chapel Hill will consider a 12-story building on Rosemary Street

Around this time last year, the Chapel Hill Town Council approved a text amendment that expedited review of projects that included 25 percent affordable housing, thinking that this would help non-profits who build affordable housing get their projects in Chapel Hill approved a little more quickly. (Typically, the town tries to get developers to set aside 15 percent of its homes for affordable housing).

So it was a surprise to everyone that the developer of 157 E. Rosemary, which has housed many businesses over the years (most recently The Gathering Place), decided to use this provision and propose a 12-story condo building, with 14 of its 56 for-sale condos reserved for people making eighty percent of the area’s median income.

157 E Rosemary (rendering)

This is a big deal, and if every project the town approved had 25 percent affordable housing, we’d be much closer to addressing our housing needs. Interestingly, earlier this month the town council received a study that argued that density bonuses, or allowing developers to build more units in exchange for making more of them affordable, would not work in Chapel Hill due to land and construction costs. This project suggests that density bonuses might work.

We first wrote about 157 E. Rosemary in October 2022, when it was just an eleven-story building, and since then the developer has made a bunch of welcome changes, including mixing in its affordable units with those that are unsubsidized, We’re also excited about the plans to incorporate a 3,000 square foot retail space on the ground floor, which is large enough to accommodate a restaurant or small grocery store.

The opposition to this project comes largely from one neighbor, the PhiMu sorority, whose alumnae have flooded the town’s public email in-box with letters critiquing the project’s height and lack of parking. (The Historic District Commission also weighed in on the project, despite the fact that it’s not in the historic district.) When the council discussed the project in October 2022, they were concerned about the height as well. While this will be a tall building, its height (157 feet) will be similar to that of the planned wet lab across the street (140 feet) that the council approved several years ago, which is the cornerstone of UNC’s new Innovation District.

This vote will be close, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the three council members who are leaving—Michael Parker, Tai Huynh, and mayor Pam Hemminger—cast the decisive votes on whether this project will go forward or not. If it does, it will be clear that the outgoing council prioritizes affordable housing and increasing density downtown over concerns about tall buildings. If it fails to approve this project, we hope that the next council makes it possible to build buildings like this without getting council permission. We need a vibrant downtown, including a few new tall buildings.

Martin Johnson lives in Chapel Hill. He teaches film studies courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a member of NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro and the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel...