Ken Larsen's web site - Form Based Code (FBC) used in Chapel Hill, NC


A version of Form Based Code (FBC) was adopted by the 2014 Town Council for the Ephesus-Fordham District, but it differs significantly from that adopted by other towns.  The version adopted by Chapel Hill is all pro-developers and anti-citizen.  For example, the Chapel Hill FBC:


  1. Skimps on parking.  The parking formula allows developers to provide as little as 1.25 parking spaces for a 2 bedroom apartment.  In a town where students may live off campus and double up to save money ... each having a car  ... this is woefully inadequate.  [more info]

  2. Doesn’t permit shared parking between adjacent properties

  3. Gives the Town Manager (Roger Stancil) exclusive right to approve or reject development request.  There is no more public review.

  4. No affordable housing

  5. Minimal walkability

  6. No provisions for green building/energy efficiency

  7. Inadequate green space

  8. No stormwater control

  9. Inadequate traffic handling

  10. Inadequate transit

If you want to see an example of the damage that FBC has done, go visit the Bershire Apartment building on Elliott Road.  It is a massive structure that has very greenery, no affordable housing [rents are as high as $ 2710/month], and an inadequate amount of parking.  Currently, only a small number of the apartments have been rented.  [details]  Per the FBC, the entire Ephesus-Fordham could be built to mirror Berkshire apartments.  In my opinion, that would cause massive downstream flooding because of the high percentage of impervious surface.


(August 30, 2017) Email from Beth Mueller, a Briarcliff resident:


It is very difficult to watch all of this go by without commenting. I am sorry to have to ask you to indulge me a bit.

I was on the CDC a couple of years before the Ephesus Fordum and form based code was a thing. We had the developer of the Colony apartments come to us ( it was around the time of  the flood). They had planned a new high rise apartments. This was before the publiclly assisted apartments were thought about that are now being built on the town land beside the cemetery. It was a friendly design crit as we had the habit of doing for anyone that asked us because they were interested in what the CDC was thinking. At that time we asked them where all of the people that lived in the Colony woods apartments would go if they built the apartments they wanted to build? This is some of the most affordable housing we had in Chapel Hill. The flood came up to the backdoors of some of the apartments. I went and took pictures. I can't remember if they actually had water damage. 

They had not thought of the current residents. Those residents would not be able to all be housed in the new apartments as they would not be able to afford them. No matter what, all the new council members that want to be on the town council that advocate for affordable housing will have to accept we will lose these more affordable apartments, (but perhaps they fall into the realm of being just above the mark to be called affordable housing becaue I am finding that the term 'affordable' has different meanings depending on who you are talking to- but considering the official version....) The developer is required to have a percentage of affordable housing, but on the whole, Chapel Hill would be losing affordable housing apartments if they decided to put up a new building. We told them we would not be in favor of Chapel Hill losing these more affordable units. These tenants would have to move out of Chapel Hill.

Those units, by the way, have some interesting storage to them. There is storage for yard work people to have space for their mowers for those that are in that business. That storage would also go away, and the yard businesses run out of them. 

We also said that part of the land may be in the flood plan and if the land were developed, the footprint might not be able to extend as far as it does now as some of these units are close to, if not in the flood plane. They had acquired the property and had only looked at the property from above on a map. I imagine it looked like a good investment and now they have to deliver to their investors. Chapel Hill happened to have the CDC at the time that had a great deal of control over what was built. Nobody else in NC had a CDC as we had. I think it was a surprise to them. 

Then the next thing that was discussed was having just that area (no other in Chapel Hill) have a form based code which allowed developers to build high. We found out that a developer had warmed the couch of the mayor to find out what could be done to develop the area. (The words of the mayor was that he had had developers sit on his couch. I was there when he said it) I suppose the developer found the CDC not welcoming the type of development they wanted.

I spoke against the adoption of the form based code and the fact that the CDC was NOT included in the planning of the form based code. At the time we had just approved the Walgreens at Weaver Dairy and MLK so you cannot say the CDC was too old fashioned and was not interested in commercial property going forward or that we hindered the process of responsible development. We had also just approved Shortbread lofts downtown so you cannot say the CDC was not interested in higher buildings where they made sense. 

My thought is that the form based code was pushed by the developers that did not think they could get what they wanted built within the then current system of CDC review. (Berkshire)
There is A LOT of money at stake. 

Before the CVS was built, I went on the developer website (now closed to the public) as I got into the place for the for the investors to look at the marketing at how much money could be made with a visible CVS on that corner. They had the demographic of the people that lived close by all the way into Durham. Argus development wanted a visible CVS. I think that was one reason the form based code was passed. And if they had wanted a two story building there, they could have had it as the form based code would have allowed it. Argus didn't want that. They wanted a visible CVS. If the ideas behind the form based code had been followed, the second floor above the CVS could have had another business in it. The old CDC might not have approved a blatant commercial CVS as Chapel Hill had a precedent of keeping obvious typical commercial looking buildings out. The thought was supposed to give the area more charm and more of a feeling of home grown businesses that made up Chapel Hill. Years ago the CDC had the power to ask the Red Roof Inn not to have the iconic Red Roof as they did not want the area of Chapel Hill to be over run with icons of businesses. When the Red Roof Inn was built, the thought was to try to give the area a feeling of being in the woods with business there, but more hidden. Trees were very important at that time.

So now, it does not surprise me that the chamber of commerce of the businesses in Ephesus Fordum had the town council rebrand the area. It is another tactic. The CDC was not informed. The CDC is a group of designers and has a history of looking at Chapel Hill develop. One would think the council would take advantage of that group of talented volunteers (free) to brainstorm with. I don't think this idea of rebranding came from the Town Council, I think it came from the developers.

What would be interesting is if UNC had the money to have some sort of residential maker space type of business incubator in the area of colony woods apartments. A place where residences of people that wanted to start businesses in Chapel Hill could live and work ideas off of each other. One great need is to have a place where the businesses that are started in Chapel Hill can stay in Chapel Hill while they get off the ground. It is a known fact that they cannot stay in Chapel Hill as there is no space for that and it is cheaper to find space outside of Chapel Hill. They also cannot afford to live in Chapel Hill. Hence we lose that revenue of taxes when the businesses take off.

Unfortunately something like that would not happen. There is SO MUCH money to be made off of this tiny piece of land that we would have to have a very strong and forward thinking council to not bow to the commercial landowners. I am now waiting for the climate 2020 that the town council wants the new buildings to follow to also go by the wayside in this Blue Hill Development. That forward type of thinking demands that developers step forward with some real design work in that direction. It is interesting the CDC now has people on it that have histories of knowing buildings that do follow 2020. One would think the Town Council would take advantage of the knowledge on the CDC rather than hold the developers accountable to a form based code. If the Council would free the CDC back up to help the developers design to the climate 2020, we could have some really interesting things happen. - but we won't. The people leading the town council are still the developers. 

The community lost their advocate in the CDC when form based code was passed. The CDC had had the power to ask what a developer was going to give the communtity when say...the community lost the ability to walk from one side of the shopping center to the other side of the shopping center. Before we could have asked the developer what the developer would give the community in return. We also could have asked the public be allowed to have access to courtyards. To have community living rooms was something I advocated in projects when it made sense when I was on the CDC as that type of coffee house meeting space was taking the place of having someone over for coffee in one's own living space. How truely lovely it would have been for the public to have gained an architecturally interesting outdoor courtyard get-a-cup-of-coffee meeting space out of the Berkshire in return for their freedom to go from one side of the shopping center to the other...ah...but that was the CDC before form based code. One cannot put that type of bargaining into a form based code.

When I tried my best to convince the new ABC store to put a green roof on their new building over at MLK at the shopping center near 40 they basically told me that it came down to having an expense that they did not have to take on. Even though it would be helpful to the environment and they could do was not required. I now sit back and watch a town council that wants the climate 2020 but I don't think will follow through with leading developers in that direction because they accept the story the developers say about how much it takes to build and how much revenue they get from the building, that the margin is so tight they cannot build to 2020 (which is not true, everyone is going to have to go that way). We would have to have a strong council that leads/demands of developers and the history of the town council is in a different direction from that.




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