When Developers Think About Transportation: Grubb Properties

I tend to cover downtown (high-density) projects/issues on this blog. However, there is something to be said for examining medium and lower density areas as well. In a lot of ways, it's an even harder issue.

Given the sprawl we've created, what improvements are possible outside of a downtown core? It doesn't make sense to make EVERY place a downtown, so what kind of incremental development would do more good than harm? (side note: as always, I don't have the answers to these questions, I just want to explore them and hear what other people think!)

I had the opportunity to learn a little more about a project that is not in Durham, but nearby. Grubb Properties is working on a development in Chapel Hill called Glen Lennox.

History

Opened in 1950, Glen Lennox has been a development of mostly multifamily, single-story garden apartments. Each building has up to four units.

Example of a Glen Lennox apartment building
After World War II, there was a housing shortage in the region and these homes were meant to house returning veterans and their families, alleviating that shortage.

In 2008, Grubb Properties announced that they would be redeveloping Glen Lennox. After shelving the plans, but continuing to have discussions with the community, they rounded back and got put forth the current development plan in 2012. Phase I of the project is under construction now. Obviously, it has been a slow process, but in that time, Grubb has been able to be thoughtful about the project.

First of all, I think that it is impressive that the Chapel Hill Historical Society commends Grubb on their website, saying "Grubb Properties has worked with tenants, property owners, and the Town of Chapel Hill to create a development plan that will preserve some of the history and traits that distinguish the neighborhood."

I was able to speak to Tim Jezisek from Grubb Properties. Tim liked to talk about Grubb's reverence for the community. He told me that he has spoken to past and present residents, all of whom have memories and a connection with Glen Lennox. Personally, I have been thinking about lack of community recently, and having a shared connection to a place is important.

Development

The first phase of the project includes a larger multifamily apartment complex, a clubhouse with apartment amenities as well as office space. Future phases include more residential and office space with the addition of a retail center. The term "live, work, and play" sounds better than "live, work, and errands", but the latter is important for creating walkable, compact neighborhoods. Glen Lennox hopes to accomplish that goal.

Source: www.glenlennoxvision.com/our-story/transformation/

Source: www.glenlennoxvision.com/our-story/transformation/

Thinking About Transportation

What struck me the most about Grubb's plan was their focus and energy devoted to transportation options, both within the community as well as connecting the community to the outside world.

There is a lot of talk about "TOD" or Transit-Oriented Development. I worry that it is becoming a buzz word (e.g. a developer fixes up one bus stop and calls the project a TOD in its marketing material). However, Tim and Grubb have been working hard with the town, NCDOT, planners, advisors, and advocacy groups to figure out a transportation plan.

They even brought in Copenhagenize, a superstar planning and design firm based in Denmark, to consult on the development. Copenhagenize specializes in multi-modal transportation design that prioritizes bikes, walking, and transit.

Below are a few of solutions that they want to work into the mix:

Better bus stop facilities

Glen Lennox has bus stops within the development, but they are old. Grubb has been busy researching best practices for bus shelters. What designs will offer protection, a sense of safety, and ADA access to the busses to encourage ridership?

More modes

Currently, streets within Glen Lennox are wide and the roads widen even more at intersections (so cars don't have to slow down to make a sharp turn, meaning speeds are higher than they should be). Grubb is looking to calm traffic while also providing more sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes throughout.

Connectivity

If you know Chapel Hill, Glen Lennox is situated near the intersection of 15-501 and 54, two high-speed roads meant primarily (almost exclusively) for cars. How can you connect Glen Lennox residents with the separated bike trail nearby or UNC campus? Grubb has worked to solicit and develop plans for the start of a pedestrian and bicycle network that includes adding a new stop light to 15-501, with prioritized pedestrian and bike crossings. They also looking at pedestrian and bike facilities in neighboring areas in order to create a complete network. This level of effort to designing and researching streets that aren't adjacent to your own project seems rare, but it makes sense as it will benefit the desirability of the project.


All of this effort has meant that the project is taking time. However, it appears to still be financially feasible, even with a long development timeline. The project proves that taking the time to be thoughtful about your community as well as transit options is possible for a developer.

In Durham, we have some thoughtful developers ourselves, so I am optimistic that more can and will be done, especially with regards to transportation around here. Unfortunately, currently pedestrian and bicycle facilities on this side of the county line are still lacking, at least for now. I hope that we can make strides with help from both the public and private sectors.

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