Roger L. Stancil, Town Manager


J.B. Culpepper, Planning Director 

David Bonk, Long Range and Transportation Coordinator


Follow-up Report: Northern Area Alternative Actions


April 23, 2007



This memorandum provides additional information about the implications of:


It also outlines resource considerations for these actions.


We recommend consideration of enacting a moratorium to meet the Council’s objectives. A Public Hearing to consider a moratorium is scheduled for May 7, 2007.



On March 7, 2007, the Council held a work session to review development activity in the north and northwest areas of Chapel Hill.


On March 26, 2007, the Council considered a follow-up report outlining alternatives to address the issues raised at the work session. The Council took the following actions:




The following discussion addresses the advantages and disadvantages of downzoning or rezoning property along the corridors of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Weaver Dairy Road and Eubanks Road and/or of enacting a moratorium along these corridors to achieve this intent.


I. Moratoria

Given the time required to complete the procedures for enactment or amendment of development regulations or to rezone property, local governments sometimes enact moratoria on development to preserve the status quo while plans are made, management strategies are devised and reviewed, ordinances are revised, or other development management concerns are addressed.


The Council has called a public hearing for May 7, 2007, to consider the enactment of a moratorium in the northern area outside of the Joint Planning Transition Area (Map 3 Study Area, showing extent of moratorium).

Arguments in Support:

Development proposals are anticipated for several properties in the northern area of Town. The Council has identified a need to provide a more detailed vision for the future of undeveloped property and property which may be redeveloped in the northern area of the Town, in particular for the development nodes and transportation corridors in the study area. The Council wishes to provide guidance for and to put regulations in place to implement that vision. Time will be required to prepare, review and enact such regulations. 


The Council has resolved to appoint a Northern Area Task Force to:


The Council has requested that the Task Force complete its work by mid October, 2007. Enacting Ordinances or new guidelines to implement the Task Force recommendations would be a possible follow-up action. We believe that a moratorium is an appropriate action to maintain the development status quo during the time required for the Task Force to provide recommendations, and for the Council to consider and enact any changes to the Comprehensive Plan, the Design Guidelines and/or the Land Use Management Ordinance, which may result from the work of the Task Force. We believe that such a process could be completed by the end of January, 2008. Please see the tentative schedule provided in Attachment 1.


Unless vested rights have been established, or an application for development has been accepted prior to the call of the public hearing, or unless specifically exempted from the moratoria, all developments requiring permits and approvals would stop during a moratorium enacted for the area designated to be covered by the moratorium. The attached map (Map 3) shows the area proposed for the moratorium. A list providing the current status of developments exempt from a moratorium and development applications in the Northern Area is provided in Attachment 2.


The Town of Chapel Hill development process for conditional use zoning and Special Use Permits requires the Council’s prior consideration of a Concept Plan before the submittal of an application for development. The Concept Plan review provides developers an opportunity to get early feedback from the Council before making a formal development application. Concept Plan submittals would be allowed to proceed during a moratorium because they are a pre-application submittal.


We will address the specific statutory requirements for a moratorium in our memoranda for the May 7 public hearing. We believe that the justification for the moratorium will based on the time required to:


Arguments Against:

With appropriate consideration of the type of development applications subject to a moratorium, we were unable to identify arguments against enacting a moratorium. On May 7, 2007, we will provide a listing of various types of development applications that could be subject to a moratorium for consideration. For example, given the Council discussion to date, we do not recommend applying a moratorium to any permits associated with single family and two family homes.


II. Downzoning or other zoning changes in lieu of a moratorium:

The Council also asked us to report on the advantages of downzoning or other zoning changes in lieu of a moratorium.


A. Downzoning to Residential-1 (R-1)

Within the study area there are undeveloped properties or properties likely to be developed or redeveloped within a zoning classification other than Residential-1 (R-1). Residential-1 is the zoning district in the Land Use Management Ordinance which permits low density residential development density and some other uses.

Arguments in Support:

An action to downzone existing properties on the major transportation corridors would allow the Council to limit the scope of development without the Council first approving a rezoning. Any subsequent applications for conditional use zoning and Special Use Permit would need to be initiated by property owners, and undergo a full public review based on the Town’s Land Use Management Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan. As part of the conditional zoning and permit process, the owner would have the opportunity to offer considerations for achieving the Council’s objectives of the Comprehensive Plan, including affordable housing, energy efficiency, and providing higher density residential uses and mixed-used transit-oriented developments at activity nodes and along transportation corridors.

Arguments Against:

The owners of these properties, if they desire to develop at a higher density or with different uses, would need to apply for conditional use rezoning with an accompanying Special Use Permit application. We do not know how many of the affected property owners would apply to have their property rezoned to a higher density residential or mixed-use transit-oriented district in the future. The property could be developed at the rezoned lower density. If no or few rezoning proposals result, this action has the potential to produce a different result:  Lower density housing than what otherwise would have been built.


If the properties were to be developed under Residential-1 zoning, the initiative could result in higher housing prices and reduced housing choice.  Houses on larger lots, due to land and infrastructure costs, generally are more expensive than houses built on smaller lots. The anticipated difference, however, may be marginal when comparing the total number of houses that could be built under Residential-1 zoning (1/3-acre lots) compared with Residential-2 (1/4-acre lots) zoning. The difference would potentially be more significant on property currently zoned for mixed uses.


Subsequent rezoning to a higher density later would go through a full review and analysis in terms of the Land Use Management Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan.


Lower density (R-1) residential development is not consistent with the land use plan designations for many of these properties (Map 1 and Map 2). 


We believe rezoning to Residential-1 (R-1) in lieu of a moratorium may not result in significant progress towards addressing the Council’s concern about the type and design of development along the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Weaver Dairy Road and Eubanks Road corridors. We believe a preferred approach may be for the Council to consider the recommendations of the Northern Area Task Force to establish a vision for the area. The Council could then provide more specific guidance on the design of development within these corridors.


B. Rezoning to Other Existing Districts

The Land Use Management Ordinance includes various residential and non-residential use districts. We have two zoning districts, other than the Town Center zones that promote transit-oriented development. At the March 7, 2007 work session the Council discussed zoning that would facilitate mixed uses and higher densities.

Arguments in Support:

The Land Use Management Ordinance includes a Mixed-Use-Village (MU-V) zoning district which promotes vertical mixed-use development in a transit-oriented fashion (such as the East 54 Development recently approved). We are in the process of developing standards for our Transit-Oriented Development District (TOD). The Council traditionally has not zoned property prior to receiving an application for development. This has afforded the Council greater flexibility and leverage when considering conditional use rezoning with an accompanying Special Use Permit application.


Arguments Against:

With the exception of the Mixed Use-Village zoning district, and the Transit-Oriented Development district, we believe that the existing, residential and non-residential use districts contained in the Land Use Management Ordinance are unlikely to achieve the vision for higher intensity mixed-used and transit-oriented development outlined by the Council in its work session March, 2007. The Town is developing a Transit Oriented Development District as part of its work to prepare a Long Range Transit Master Plan for the Town. Recommendations for transit-oriented regulations will be available later this year. The recommendations could be applied to the development nodes and transportation corridors in the study area.


Please refer to Attachment 3 for a matrix which outlines these three options: Moratorium, downzoning, and rezoning to other districts.



The Planning Department administers the provisions of the Land Use Management Ordinance including processing and reviewing development permits and applications. The Department facilitates the work of the Planning Board, Board of Adjustment, Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, Community Design Commission, Historic District Commission and the Transportation Board. The Planning Department is engaged in the following additional services and projects arising from the Council Goals:


-         Metropolitan Planning Organization

-         Joint Planning with Orange County and Durham City/County

-         Housing and Community Development

-         Capital Improvements, Implementation of Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities and safety enhancements

Adhoc Committees and Task Forces:

-         Million Solar Roofs Committee (proposed Sustainability Committee)

-         Council SEE Committee

-         Rogers Road Small Area Plan Task Force

-         Go Chapel Hill Active Living by Design Committee

-         Affordable Housing Council Committee

-         Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness

-         High Density Development Steering Committee

-         Long Range Transit Plan Steering Committee

Specific Projects

-         Long Range Transit Master Plan

-         2035 Long Range Transportation Plan

-         Rogers Road Small Area Plan

-         Comprehensive Plan Update

-         Carbon Reduction Greenhouse Gas Initiative

-         Lot 5, Town as Owner Tasks

-         Go Chapel Hill Active Living by Design Program

-         2007 Data Book Publication

-         Inclusionary  Zoning

-         Mason Farm Road Neighborhood Conservation District

-         Coker Hills Neighborhood Conservation District

-         Changes to the Tree Ordinance

-         Development regulations for Carolina North


With the recent changes to moratorium law which provide for a simplified notification for a Moratorium, we believe that our recommendation to consider a Moratorium rather than downzoning or rezoning property in the northern area, will initially involve less administrative action. If the Council identifies the need for rezoning action at the end of the moratorium, an individual notification process would be required.


We believe that there will be an impact on the schedule of existing projects in particular on the update of the Comprehensive Plan and the Rogers Road Small Area Plan. This is because resources will need to be diverted to organize and facilitate the work of the new Task Force, also to prepare any resulting changes to guidelines and the Land Use Management Ordinance. In addition, we believe we will need to work with citizens, property owners, the Planning Board and the Council to prepare, justify and conduct any subsequent rezoning of property or other actions that may be recommended as an outcome of the work of the Task Force. We believe there may be a specific need for assistance to visualize development envisioned for the area.


We also note that the product of the Task Force may help to inform the Comprehensive Plan Update.


We believe that if the Moratorium is to end in January, 2008, public hearings to consider any proposed changes to the Land Use Management Ordinance would need to take place in November and December of 2007. Therefore the work of the Task Force must be completed by the end of September, 2007. A proposed schedule for the work of the Task Force and for the steps required to complete the procedures for adoption or amendment of development regulations or to rezone property, is provided as Attachment 1.



We recommend the Council proceed with a May 7, 2007 public hearing to consider enacting a moratorium. The moratorium if enacted will maintain a development status quo while the Task Force prepares advice and recommendations, and while any resulting design standards or other changes are adopted or enacted by the Town.


We believe that the moratorium, if it is considered following the public hearing should exclude permits for alterations to single family dwellings, sign permits and other similar permits.


  1. Tentative Schedule for Moratorium (p. 8).
  2. Status of Developments and Development Applications in the Northern Area (p. 9).
  3. Matrix of options (p. 10).


  1. Northern Study Area, showing existing zoning districts (p. 11).
  2. Northern Study Area, showing Land Use Plan designations (p. 12).
  3. Northern Study Area, showing Extent of Moratorium (p. 13).