Chapel Hill taps brakes on development

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen agreed to a measure that would slow the pace of development in town, while solutions to guarantee sufficient water for the town are developed.

Aldermen unanimously approved a similarly unanimous recommendation from the town planning commission to temporarily halt the subdivision of existing property for construction.

Possible construction on the approximately 100 lots of record currently existing on town property maps would not be impacted, only the subdivision of those lots for denser development.

Planning Commission member Isaac Zimmerle explained the reasoning for the recommendation.

With the town water system’s existing 700-odd taps in use and another approximately 400 taps already approved for developers added to the 100 taps for lots of record, the total number of additional water taps available is estimated at 100 remaining.

The planning commission faced a situation where plats submitted for development and meeting the town’s guidelines had to be approved, without consideration of the overall water supply impact.

“We don’t want to use up every single tap we have for rooftops if a commercial user comes along,” said Zimmerle.

The measure is intended to be temporary, open to reconsideration as often as every six months.

Also recommended is a definitive study of the current water systems capacity and flow in order to provide real data with which both the planning commission and the board of aldermen can base development decisions.

Projects to ease water issues are underway already, with the main issue being how much water can be pushed to the northern part of the county through existing lines.

The main line running along Highway 31A is already being replaced with larger diameter pipes, allowing more flow to ease the problem of supply.

Aldermen approved the first reading of the town’s proposed budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Alderman Marion Joyce characterized it as a fairly basic budget, overall, with the exception of funds budgeted to purchase the current First Commerce Bank building.

The bank is building a new branch building across the road and, as the town is outgrowing its current town hall facility, the bank’s current location is under consideration as a cost-effective solution for a new, larger town hall.

Town Administrator Mark Graves said that the proposed purchase represented “a good investment” for the town.

“It’s as low cost today as it’s ever going to be,” he said.

One proposal for the existing town hall building is to convert it to a museum and archive for the town, with the possible relocation of the Marshall County Memorial Library branch from the community building as well, provided the plan moves forward.

The board heard a presentation on converting the town’s streetlights and buildings to LED lights.

The proposal to switch the 309 streetlights from sodium to LED bulbs would save the town approximately $25,000 per year in electricity costs.

“This is a good project,” said Graves. “This will make a big difference in the town.”

Other parts of the plan would also switch out lighting in town-owned buildings, would cover the installation of lighting in Depot Park, and would add additional street lights to the Sunnyside, Crestview, and Morningside neighborhoods.

Cost for all of the various parts of the plan is estimated at $578,000, which could be funded over 20 years. Payments on the note would be offset by the savings in electricity costs.

The board will examine the proposal in more detail before deciding to move forward, specifically wanting to examine the costs and savings from the various components of the plan separately instead of as one project.