TO: Mayor and Town Council
FROM: W. Calvin Horton, Town Manager
SUBJECT: Response to Petition Regarding Streetscape Improvements to Rosemary Street
DATE: May 28, 2003
At its April 28 meeting, the Council received the attached petition (Attachment 1) from Mr. Nicholas Paliouras, a Chapel Hill Downtown Commission board member, requesting that the staff assess the Streetscape along Rosemary Street and consider future improvements in this area. This report provides information on Streetscape improvements recommended for Rosemary Street in the Town’s Downtown Streetscape Master Plan and discusses issues, notably the need to acquire public right-of-way and/or public uses easements, that would affect implementation of the recommended improvements.
The Council adopted the Downtown Streetscape Master Plan on November 22, 1993. The master plan included recommendations for improvements to sidewalks, lighting, site furnishings and plantings along Franklin Street, Rosemary Street and the connecting cross streets in the area shown on the attached map (Attachment 2). As indicated on the map, the study area was divided into six districts, including two encompassing Rosemary Street. In the master plan, detailed site assessments were made and conceptual Streetscape designs provided for each of the designated districts. Attachment 3 is a section of the master plan that provides an analysis and design recommendations for the two Rosemary Street districts that include the areas referred to in Mr. Paliouras’ petition.
The recommended improvements for the Rosemary Street districts generally include 5’ wide concrete sidewalks, new light fixtures and trash receptacles and, where space is available, planting strips behind the sidewalk area. In several locations the master plan also anticipated that retaining walls would be needed to accommodate the significant grade changes between the street and adjacent lots. In most locations along Rosemary Street, the space available for public improvements is likely to be very limited, and therefore the master plan did not recommend the widespread use of planters, benches, kiosks and other site furnishings recommended for use on Franklin and Columbia Streets.
As discussed in the master plan, there is a significant need for Streetscape improvements along many sections of Rosemary Street. Most importantly there is a need to complete construction of a continuous sidewalk throughout the study area, and where possible, provide planting strips to screen the street and sidewalk from parked cars in sections where there are adjacent on-grade parking lots.
Since the master plan was adopted, Streetscape improvements have been completed in a number of downtown locations as shown in Attachment 4. Along Rosemary Street these completed sections include the Streetscape in front of the Fountains, the Warehouse, Breadmen’s, and Mama Dips on the north side of the street and the Streetscape adjacent to the First Baptist Church on the south side. These sections were required improvements of permit applications for improvements on these properties that also involved the dedication of additional right-of-way to accommodate the newly constructed sidewalks.
There are two primary reasons that additional sections of Streetscape along Rosemary Street have not been constructed to date. They include the lack of public right-of-way in which to construct the improvements and the limited amount of funds available.
Lack of Public Right-of-Way:
Unlike the consistent 100’ public rights-of-way on Franklin Street and Columbia Street, the rights-of-way on Rosemary Street and the smaller cross streets are narrow and vary from one lot to the next. With the exception of recently permitted projects where right-of-way dedications have been required, most properties along Rosemary Street include little or no public right-of-way behind the curb. As a result, it is necessary for the Town to acquire public right-of-way or public use easements from individual property owners before Streetscape improvements could be constructed. To date, efforts by Town staff to acquire these necessary rights-of-way and/or easements from affected property owners have met with mixed success.
An example of this is the section of proposed sidewalk on the north side of Rosemary Street between Church Street and the Interfaith Council. In this area, where there is less than one foot of public right-of-way behind the curb, there are six separate properties where additional right-of-way or public use easements will be needed before a continuous sidewalk can be constructed. In this case, the owners of three of these properties have voluntarily offered to provide the necessary easements, while the owners of two of the properties have indicated that no easements will be provided under any circumstances, and one property owner has indicated that an easement will only be provided if and when the remaining five easements are in place. As a result, this sidewalk project, which was intended to be funded using a part of the Town’s sidewalk Capital Improvements Project budget, cannot be constructed without the Town’s use of eminent domain to acquire the necessary property rights involuntarily.
When the Streetscape Master Plan was approved in 1993, the estimated cost to construct all of the proposed improvements throughout the study area was $4,000,000. Since that time $1,000,000 has been available through the 1996 Streetscape bond, of which approximately $828,000 has been spent or encumbered on projects along Franklin Street and Columbia Street. The remaining balance of approximately $172,000 is available for future projects. This fall, Town staff will provide options for consideration by the Town Council for using these remaining funds for construction projects in 2004. We could include options for Streetscape improvements for Rosemary Street at that time, but note that the cost of possible land acquisition would reduce the length of the improved section. If additional sources of funding become available, more projects, including those that may require condemnation costs, would be possible.
Town staff is currently in the process of completing a comprehensive lot by lot survey of Rosemary Street to determine the exact sizes and locations of needed right-of way dedications and/or easements in order to proceed with future Streetscape improvements. Simultaneously, the staff is negotiating with the affected property owners to determine where voluntary easements may be available to permit Streetscape construction as funding becomes available. Once these easements have been recorded, the staff will include these locations on future project lists to be considered by the Town Council for funding.