Ken Larsen's web site - Legion Road Property issues


(2016-December 17) Great news:  The Town of Chapel Hill will buy the Legion Road Property for $ 7.9 million.  Cheers to Mayor Pam Hemminger for driving this deal!


As of September 2016 there exists the possibility that a 400 unit apartment complex may be built a mile from my house.  Nearby residents are concerned about flooding and traffic issues.  I'm using this web page to document a few of their concerns.


This is a flood zone map of the 36.2 acre American Legion property (outlined in yellow) and surrounding area.  In October 2015 it was valued at $ 4.8 million if left at its current zoning; $ 10.3 million if rezoned to allow a mixed used development. [details]

Blue represents a 100 year flood zone.  Flooding affects both sides of Ephesus Church Road.

X marks 1547 Ephesus Church Road.  The third picture on this web page shows flooding at that property which occurred in 2013.

S marks Ephesus Elementary School.  It experiences flooding problems occasionally.

The wooded area between S and X drops to as low as 10 feet below Ephesus Church Road and has a creek and a trail that children use to walk to school.

The Legion Road property is currently zoned as R-2 which is 4 residential units/acre.  That would permit the building of 140 homes.

A potential developer (Woodfield Acquisitions LLC) wishes to build 400 apartment units with parking and a road which connects to Ephesus Church Road.  That road would pass through a park that borders the school on its east side.  That would diminish the size of the park.

Colony Woods neighbors objected to an early 2016 plan to connect to Fountain Ridge Road, because it would increase traffic to that quiet section of their neighborhood. 

No plan or permit application has yet been officially submitted to the Town.

Citizens would like the property to become a park, some kind of a data or server center, or facilities for start-up companies.  They do not want any more high-end, dense, luxury apartments.  There are already too many of those in the currently approved  development pipeline.

Here's an article that the INDY published on January 20, 2016:  "Chapel Hill passes on potential parkland to let a developer do his thing"

Here's a CHALT article on this issue:

This is picture of the area between S and X in the previous picture.  It shows a creek bisecting the area, and the level of the creek is approximately ten feet below Ephesus Church Road.  Building a new road through this wet hilly area will be a significant challenge and would likely increase the risk of flooding. 
This is a picture of 1547 Ephesus Church Road on June 30, 2013.  See the X in the first picture.

Building a nearby 400 unit apartment complex will significantly add to impervious surface and increase the likelihood of future flood damage.
(September 2016) This is the developer's concept plan.
Results of January 13, 2016 meeting of the developers with local residents:   
  • The developer will abandon their plans to build a road to connect to Fountain Ridge Road.  Instead they now wish to build a road to go southward and connect to Ephesus Church Road.  Citizens don't like that either, because it will cut down many trees and add to the flooding problem.  February 16, 2016:  I walked the land where this new road would be built.  It has a creek and some parts are ten feet below the level of Ephesus Church Road.  Building a road there would not be easy.  I conclude that connecting to Fountain Ridge Road would be the better option, but neither is attractive to neighbors. 
  • It will also interfere with wooded trails that children take to walk to Ephesus Elementary School.  Ephesus Elementary School already has flooding problems.  This development will exacerbate that problem.
  • The developer refused to divulge information about what the apartments would rent for.
  • They also refused to divulge how much impervious surface the developed property would have.  From my own calculations using Google Earth, the current property has 2.6 acres of impervious surface which is 7.2%.

For some history on this property, see

For a WCHL commentary by Scott Madry on this issue, hear

In my opinion, development should not be allowed unless the developer can assure that downstream flooding will not be aggravated.  If they build and flood damage ensues, they should be held liable.  



(February 25, 2016) Bruce Henschel sent the following email to the Mayor and Town Council:

Dear Mayor and Town Council Members,


I understand that the Council and Town Staff are giving serious consideration to significant up-zoning of the American Legion’s 36.2-acre parcel on Legion Road, and giving away Town property to the Legion to increase this acreage, so that the Legion can sell their property to a developer who will build up to 600 high-rise luxury apartments in high-rise buildings.  THIS MUST NOT HAPPEN.


The Legion’s parcel is an integral part of what I estimate to be 1,100 acres or more of fully built-out low density residential development, including Colony Woods, Briarcliff, Ridgefield, The Oaks, and other adjoining neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods have evolved over the decades with a corresponding low density road infrastructure which – because the area is fully built out – is not amenable to the widening or other expansion that would likely be required to accommodate the 1200+ additional car-trips per day that would likely result from 600 additional apartments.  Ephesus and Legion roads are already going to be hard-pressed by the added traffic that is expected from the adjoining Ephesus-Fordham development district.  Such high-density development in a large, low-density residential district, consisting entirely of single-family detached homes and small apartment/condo complexes, without direct access to major road arteries such as Fordham Blvd., is inappropriate.


One specific road issue of particular concern is the apparent plan to build a new road on donated Town land, extending Churchill Drive northwards to the new development, immediately beside the Ephesus School entrance road and playground.  This new Ephesus-Churchill intersection – which will likely find its heaviest usage by the apartment dwellers at exactly the same time that children from Colony Woods and Briarcliff will be crossing the street to get to school, or will be arriving on buses or in cars via the school’s “kiss-and-go” lane – is inherently unsafe and undesirable.  This Churchill extension is needed solely for the purposes of this large new development, to provide the second entrance/exit required by code.  Attempts by Town staff to characterize this highly undesirable road (which no member of the public wants) as some sort of “public amenity” contributed by the developer, is patently ludicrous.


Adding insult to injury, 600 new upscale apartments at this location are totally unnecessary.  There are already enough upscale apartments recently built but not yet occupied (as at East 54), or under construction (as on Elliott Road), or in the pipeline (or soon to be in the pipeline, at EF and elsewhere), to satisfy Chapel Hill’s demand for such housing for many years to come.  Why shoe-horn a totally unnecessary huge development into our low-density residential area.


I want to emphasize my high regard for veterans and for the American Legion.  I know members of that Legion post.  They have every right to sell their property for the best price that they can get for it.  But they can only sell what’s theirs – 36.2 acres of land zoned R-2.  They cannot sell what’s not theirs – acres of Town land for an inappropriate road cheek-by-jowl beside busy Ephesus School playgrounds and entrance roads, Town land for part of the new retention pond that the developer wants to build, and a massive up-zoning of the property.


The prospective developer, Woodfield, has offered the Legion $9 to $10 million for the property, if the donated Town land and the required up-zoning are provided.  Since the Town was promised right-of-first-refusal to buy the land a decade ago, the Legion offered the property to the Town for $9 million, an amount that the Town said it couldn’t afford, leading the Town to forfeit its right-of-first-refusal.  This is absolutely ridiculous!  I would guess that perhaps $6.5 MM of that $9 MM asking price results from something that the Town already owns – Town land for the road by the school, Town land for part of the retention pond, and the all-important up-zoning, which is at the discretion of Council.  The Town is bidding against itself!  Can there be any question why the citizenry looks upon its government as, well, mismanaged?


IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THE TOWN LAND NOT BE DONATED TO THE LEGION, AND THAT THE LEGION PROPERTY NOT BE UPZONED.  And this decision needs to be made as soon as possible, and Woodfield promptly be advised of this decision, before the company invests any more of its resources in developing an application.


Finally, I know that various citizens have proposed various alternatives for use of the property.  It would be great it if the Town acquired the property for ultimate use as a park or as some other source of recreation for its citizens, off-setting the total lack of publicly accessible green space in the Ephesus-Fordham district.  I hope that this can be done.  However, if the Town truly cannot afford the land even if its price drops closer to the appraised value of $2.4 MM, I would rather see the property sold to a developer who is willing to develop it under the appropriate R-2 zoning (no more than 4 housing units per acre) than have it converted into 600-unit high-rises.


Thank you for hearing me out.  I sincerely hope that you evaluate these comments seriously.


Bruce Henschel

Resident of Briarcliff

(March 17, 2016) Colony Woods resident Tom Blue sent this email to the Mayor and Town Council:

Mayor and Members of Council,
Thank you for adding the discussion of the Legion property to your work session agenda yesterday evening (March 16, 2016). 
During that discussion, there were several comments about “Connectivity,” including at least one expression of a desire to see the neighborhoods around the Legion property “connected together.”  I write to express my concern about that.  
In the absence of a specific context, “Connectivity” sounds like a way to bring people and ideas together.  My understanding, however, is that the term, as being used by Council, means turning neighborhood roads into through streets.  In particular, during last night’s discussion, it sounded as though some members of Council want the quiet, unconnected roads in the neighborhoods of Colony Lake, Colony Woods and The Meadows to be available to handle part of the existing traffic flow on Ephesus Church Road, Legion Road, and 15-501.  It seemed as though some members of Council were interested in such an approach irrespective of what type of development, if any, proceeds on the Legion property. 
Connecting the neighborhood roads of Colony Lake, Colony Woods, and The Meadows together to form through streets is a not a healthy idea.  The quiet roads of those neighborhoods are part of their appeal and unique character. It is part of what attracted many of us to those communities initially and part of the reason why we chose to make our homes there.  Connecting those roads in order to create through streets, streets which inevitably will be used to bypass the main thoroughfares on the east side of town, will adversely affect that unique character.  Changing the traffic pattern to create through streets creates a problem for neighborhoods not equipped for it.  In economic terms, it is a classic externality:  some of the costs (in this case, traffic) would be foisted upon parties that did not choose to incur those costs. 
Moreover, this approach does not truly address the nature of the problem in any meaningful way.  While it might mitigate the amount of traffic on the main thoroughfares to some minor degree, it creates entirely new problems in areas that did not have them previously.  By way of analogy, Council certainly would not consider addressing the flooding problem in Chapel Hill by diverting some of the runoff during storms onto properties that are normally high and dry and well above of the flood plain.  The same logic applies to diverting traffic through currently quiet neighborhood roads; on balance, it just doesn't make sense.   
According to the Mayor’s summary of the e-mails to Council, 50% of the folks who wrote about the Legion property also stated that they did not want any vehicle connection to Colony Woods from a future development there.  In addition, earlier this year, on very short notice, about 120 people gathered to express that same sentiment; attached is another copy of that photo.  I encourage you to heed those sentiments and not establish through streets in Colony Lake, Colony Woods and The Meadows.  Thank you. 
Tom Blue
1540 Fountain Ridge


Council member Donna Bell responded with this rebuttal:

Mr Blue,

I am one of the council members who is a strong advocate for connectivity.  Your neighborhoods were designed to be connected. Where no connection was anticipated cul du sacs were built. At points where future points of connection existed street cuts were created.  The intent was to create connectivity between all the developments on that large design plat which as developed out of greenfield. Connectivity helps our police and fire forces. It allows neighbors to get from point a to point be without having to go onto legion or Ephesus. I see better connectivity to the park and the school. I do not believe that same level of connectivity is reasonable for all projects that might come to the American Legion property. 

With development on that property, there will be some impacts to your neighborhood. It is going to change from the way it exists right this moment. But as a citizen of Chapel Hill who loves in a neighborhood she cherishes, I will try to protect as much of the things about your neighborhood you love while also acknowledging the change.

I hope this is useful in helping you understand my thinking, even if we do not agree.

Donna Bell


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