City Council view Aura Blue Hill apartments, retail space
A developer will bring more designs to a meeting next month to show what an apartment and retail project could look like in the heart of the city’s Blue Hill neighborhood.
The Community Design Commission struggled to influence the size and style of the Aura Chapel Hill project on Tuesday. The project would put two six-story buildings on a 2.76-acre site near the intersection of Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road.
The Trinsic Home Group has come for feedback to complete more detailed drawings. But the commissioners wanted to see those kinds of details before making any suggestions, especially on the garage entrance for a new Legion Road expansion and how the buildings would blend into the changing landscape of the intersection.
The board of directors also asked the developer in September to provide these designs, said Commission Vice-President John Weis.
âThese are really important,â Weis said. “These are the things that give us an idea of ââhow you fit in this neighborhood, and at the moment we’re just guessing based on a (limited image).”
The board will continue its discussions in a virtual meeting on November 11, when the public will have another opportunity to comment. He must make a decision by January 21.
Aura project details
Aura Blue Hill, at 1289 Fordham Blvd., would replace a small house, Chapel Hill Bible Church, and a two-story brick building housing The UPS Store, Domino’s and other small businesses.
It would add 274 apartments and 23,083 square feet of retail space. A building would grow from six to four stories along Ephesus Church Road, with a roof terrace for events. Additional private terraces are planned on the Fordham Boulevard side.
Facilities could include a clubhouse, fitness center, swimming pool, and a seven-story, 409-space car park, in addition to pedestrian and bicycle links. The project could also complement the planned Legion Road extension between Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard and link with a roundabout in the Park at Chapel Hill apartments under construction next door.
Aura Blue Hill is said to be one of many new apartment buildings in the neighborhood, largely covering the area from Franklin Street to Fordham Boulevard, and Elliott Road to Legion Road. This would be Trinsic Residential Group’s second development in Chapel Hill.
In June, city council approved Aura Chapel Hill, with 419 apartments and townhouses and a smaller amount of commercial space planned for Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The city’s Blue Hill neighborhood is unique because of its form-based development code that describes the appearance of buildings and how they fit into their surroundings. The code also speeds up the approval process by sending projects to the Community Design Commission and the City Manager for hearings and approval. The city council does not examine projects in the neighborhood.
Commission President Susana Dancy, a Chapel Hill property developer on the Aura project team, was excused from Tuesday’s discussion.
Commission, feedback from the town planner
While there isn’t much to see, the Aura buildings could seem overwhelming to drivers coming from the north, Commissioner Susan Lyons said. She also questioned pedestrian access and how the services and spaces of the building could be managed, so that they do not feel like “a second thought”.
âThe point of Blue Hill is that it’s meant to be the spacing of destinations, to walk around, to be able to connect, not just on a sidewalk, but to be able to really feel and walk to places in this community that have meaning. “, she said.
Other comments related to:
âª Exceptions: The developer asked the commission to allow shorter, fewer trees due to requirements from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, utility companies and fire departments, and to let the parking lot be built closer to Legion Road Extension than allowed.
Commissioner Edward Hoskins suggested the developer consider more filtering at different heights for the ground floor apartments on Fordham Boulevard. The grouping of three or four trees could also meet district requirements and have a bigger impact, Weis said. It is difficult to know how to meet the demand for parking without more information, they said.
âª Arcade: Council also requested to see more images of a proposed two-story pedestrian arcade, or walkway, between Ephesus Church Road and the courtyard. Commissioner Megan Patnaik suggested clustering commercial spaces around the arcade, rather than scattering them across buildings, to create a pedestrian destination. Services or a destination restaurant might perform better than retail in that location, Weis said.
City planner Brian Peterson, who could attend the November meeting, submitted a report analyzing the project and offering suggestions, including:
âª Make the courses more welcoming to the public
âª Creation of a visually appealing covered walkway that could be used for cafe seating and other gathering places
âª Revise the sidewalk along the extension of Legion Road, which the project shares with Millennium to provide more public space to relax or for a food business
âª Careful screening of the parking lot from the street, possibly including using plants
âª Add art to the walkway or a crosswalk area in the middle of a block
âª Use materials that will make the exterior of each building look slightly different
This story was originally published October 28, 2021 at 5.45 am.