The Chapel Hill Town Council has been getting an earful lately from citizens about density in town. There is also a perception that the Council is on a spree of approving dense, mixed use developments more than ever before, and people are worried about when the next huge condo building is going to go in their neighborhood, or dominate their view as they drive down a major road.
Council is in fact getting more development applications that are large and dense, and these definitely get reported in the newspaper. We obviously get smaller applications, as well, but they’re seldom written about. One could argue that these smaller applications are not newsworthy because they don’t affect many people, but that is not always the case. An example is the smaller Fraley project on Homestead Road that would be a dramatic change to the area with its commercial/dense condos set within existing neighborhoods.
I do not feel the council is on some quest to turn the village into a city. We are trying to balance what comes from developers and what is best for the Town. If the Town never accepted more homes/units, then the county and region could see more sprawl. Sprawl destroys natural open space and contributes to significant traffic from everyone driving in and out of town for work or services.
The smart way to accept density in some places is to balance. I do not see a future of large dense projects lined up next to each other all up and down Martin Luther King Blvd or Raleigh Road, for example, just because the council might accept density on major corridors or downtown. I think there is great value in preserving landscape and trees on parcels that have to abut denser buildings. The vista should be balanced with green at every opportunity. I hear a lot about East 54 and how that has really transformed the look and feel of the area. What would happen if Glen Lennox across the street developed similarly? Visitors to Chapel Hill who hadn’t been here in a while might have thought they were lost when coming down that road. I accept density with great caution and feel the smartest way to accept any further density is to have an environmentally balanced vision.