Chapel Hill passes controversial rezoning

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

At their July 10 meeting the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen unanimously approved, with little discussion, the first reading of a request to rezone 55 acres, located between Eagleville Pike and Stevens Road.

On Monday night, after a special called meeting attended by dozens of area residents and a work session on the issues raised, aldermen again voted 6-0 on the second and final reading to rezone the parcel.

“I’ve been on the board for almost 30 years and I’ve never tried to pass something that I didn’t think was good for the people of Chapel Hill,” said Alderman Horace Hill.

“I think this is a good thing. We’ve never had anything this nice presented to us before and I have to vote for it,” said Hill, before making the motion to vote on the issue.

Alderman Marion Joyce seconded the motion, leading to the unanimous vote.

A proposed development of as many as 159 single-family homes and another 100 townhomes on the property stirred opposition from residents both inside and outside of the town limits.

The second reading had been scheduled for a special called meeting on July 31, but after opponents of the proposal filled the one-hour public hearing period with concerns about the impact that such a development would have on the town’s infrastructure and character, aldermen delayed the vote.

A work session on growth was held on August 7 during which the aldermen looked at the town’s overall planning for growth inside the town.

During the 45 minutes of citizen’s comments at Monday’s meeting, concerned residents raised many of the same issues that they had during the public hearing before the July 31 special called meeting.

Traffic and the condition of the roads, the ability of the town’s water and sewer systems to deal with added capacity, and the perception that such a dense development was not compatible with the rural feel of Chapel Hill were all stressed.

Ultimately, the aldermen were not swayed from their original intention, and the rezoning passed.

While opponents were concerned that the town not begin growing until the infrastructure was in place, the position of the board seemed to lean more to the position that the town needed a financial infusion that such a development would provide in order to pay for the infrastructure work to be done.

Aldermen also passed an amendment to the zoning ordinance for residential areas zoned R-3. The change reduces the minimum allowable lot width from 75 feet to 65 feet.

Alderman Jan Darnell was the lone vote in opposition to the change.

Town Administrator Mark Graves updated the board on the financing for the project to replace the sewer line between the Morningside station and the waste water treatment plant.

The town received a grant of approximately $360,000 through a Community Development Block Grant for the project and is looking to finance the remaining $750,000 through the State Revolving Fund.

The SRF exists to assist municipalities with financing infrastructure projects and offers interest rates under 2 percent and up to 15 percent principal forgiveness.

The SRF conducts rate studies for utilities, as they recently did with Lewisburg Water as well, to make sure that cash flow is sufficient to repay the debt.

In Chapel Hill’s case, the SRF initially said that the town would have to increase sewer rates by $15 per month.

Graves said that he had asked if the rates could be raised $5 per month each year for the first three years but that the SRF said that would still leave them short the first two years.

He countered with the proposed development on Eagleville Pike and the additional customers that it would bring to the utility. The SRF said that if that project went forward the increase in the customer base would allow the $5 per month each year increase to work financially.

The resolution approving a rate change will appear on next month’s agenda.