Orange County

UNC Health Care sees room for a compact medical campus on the edge of Chapel Hill

By Tammy Grubb

tgrubb@heraldsun.com

January 22, 2018 06:00 AM

CHAPEL HILL

UNC Health Care is planning a “clean, sophisticated and striking commercial development” to replace its longtime Eastowne office complex off U.S. 15-501.

A concept plan for roughly 11 acres, located inside the Eastowne Drive loop near Pinegate Apartments, was submitted in late December. It seeks to demolish five of six buildings constructed in the 1970s and 1980s before U.S. 15-501 became a commercial and residential corridor.

The existing complex was built around an existing two-acre pond and is surrounded by apartments, medical clinics and offices. UNC Health Care would add two six-story, 150,000-square-foot office buildings and a 5.5-story parking deck with 1,100 spaces.

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The goal is to reduce the office park’s footprint, creating a walkable, compact development with more open space and landscaping buffers, the plan states.

“The initial project will consolidate a significant amount of services that are scattered throughout the healthcare system in Chapel Hill while simultaneously upgrading the buildings and improving patient access,” system officials wrote in the proposal.

The town’s Community Design Commission will review the plan Tuesday, Jan. 23, followed by a Town Council review on Wednesday, Jan. 31. Both meetings are designed to offer feedback that UNC Health Care can use to revise the plan before submitting an official application.

Long-term plans

One building and the parking deck can be built under a previously approved master plan with only a zoning compliance permit from town staff. UNC officials want to start building those pieces this summer, and if all goes as planned, open the first building by 2020.

The second office building would require the council to approve a special-use permit.

Health System Properties LLC owns five lots – roughly 29 acres – inside the Eastowne loop and another 20 acres at the southwestern corner of U.S. 15-501 and Interstate 40. County records show it paid just over $344,610 in property taxes on all six parcels last year.

While steep slopes and wetlands would limit construction on the 20-acre parcel, UNC Health Care officials have a long-term vision for the Eastowne properties that could be rolled into a new master site plan. However, the focus at this time is on delivering the first medical office building, said Simon George I, vice president for UNC Health Care System real estate development.

“We have some high-level concept ideas, but do not yet have a formal plan,” George said. “We anticipate beginning formal work on the master site plan later this year.”

Growing corridor

The U.S. 15-501 corridor between Chapel Hill and Durham already is undergoing significant change, and the Eastowne redevelopment would be the first of multiple, large projects anticipated along the Orange-Durham county line.

Future U.S. 15-501 corridor development could include new retail, offices and apartments at the proposed Gateway station near I-40 on the Durham-Orange light-rail transit line, and new buildings for the former Blue Cross campus, now owned by the State Employees Credit Union. The iconic Blue Cross building was constructed opposite the Eastowne campus in 1973.

Chapel Hill officials have talked with regional partners and the N.C. Department of Transportation for some time about increasing traffic in the already congested highway corridor. The regional Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization will study the highway – from Ephesus Church Road in Chapel Hill to University Drive in Durham – starting in mid-February, Town Manager Roger Stancil said.

The study could be completed by mid-2019 and “take a much more comprehensive look at the corridor and consider road infrastructure, multimodal connections, land uses, future light rail alignment and station areas, and environmental constraints,” Stancil said in an email to council members.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

What’s next

The Community Design Commission and Chapel Hill Town Council will offer UNC Health Care feedback on its concept plan for redeveloping the Eastowne Office Park.

The CDC meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, in the Town Hall council chamber, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The council meets in the chamber at 7 p.m. Jan. 31.