A plan for a new residence hall at Elon University will soon face its final exam, as the members of Elon’s town council prepare to make a decision on this potential addition to the university’s campus.
The six-member council had a number of questions about this proposed new facility when the project was formally presented to them during a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday. These inquiries were, by and large, concerned with the town’s public infrastructure – and, in particular, the pedestrian accommodations in the building’s immediate vicinity.
This three-story residence hall, which has been tentatively dubbed East University Commons, is proposed to go up on a 11.2-acre tract at 500 East College Avenue that’s currently home to three dormitories, tennis courts, and multiple parking lots. If approved by the council, the new building would occupy a portion of this tract near the southwest corner of East Haggard and North Oak avenues, where it would displace an existing parking lot with a capacity for 45 vehicles.
According to the university’s plans for this project, the new residence hall would contain 52 dorm rooms with an estimated capacity for about 90 students. The building would also feature “flex space,” study rooms, and an office. It would, moreover, be accompanied by four new parking spaces, a new sidewalk on the building’s west side, and a mid-block crosswalk across East Haggard Avenue.
The plans for this project came to the council on Tuesday with a unanimous endorsement from the town’s planning board as well as an all-clear from a staff-level technical review committee, which reviewed the university’s proposal in August.
During the council’s meeting on Tuesday, Lori Oakley, the town’s planning director, conceded that some questions arose during the technical review process about the potential net loss of 41 parking spaces which this project entails. Oakley added that the university’s representatives put these questions to bed by pointing to the ample parking capacity which already exists on Elon’s campus.
“They actually exceed the parking requirements by over 1,000 spaces,” the town’s planning director acknowledged, “even after removing the existing parking lot.”
Oakley went on to recommend the project’s approval based on its consistency with the town’s own land use plans.
In the meantime, the prospect of this additional residence hall sparked some deeper consideration among the council about the town’s existing pedestrian accommodations.
For councilman Monti Allison, the construction of this new dormitory seemed like an ideal opportunity for the town to improve some of the neighborhood’s existing sidewalks.
“You’re going to build a nice building,” Allison went on to tell the rest of the council, “but then you have a passageway that’s not up to standard.”
Allison also spoke up in favor of the university’s plans to develop a new crosswalk across Haggard Avenue as part of this project. His support for this particular feature was nevertheless countered by Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe, who recalled previous discussions in which the council second-guessed other mid-block pedestrian crossings. Sharpe pointed out that this same block of East Haggard Avenue already boasts two other crosswalks.
“Is this really necessary?” the mayor went on to inquire rhetorically. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about mid-block crossings that we weren’t supportive of. And now we are!?”
The council ultimately deferred any final decision about the university’s plans until an upcoming meeting. Oakley informed the council that, because this project doesn’t demand any changes in zoning, its members aren’t obligated to hold a public hearing before they bring the matter up for a vote. Oakley added, however, that she has notified neighboring property owners about the proposed residence hall and heard back from two of them – including one who asked to review the university’s plans.
Brad Moore, an in-house architect for Elon University, noted that he and his colleagues intend to break ground on the building next spring if their plans meet with the council’s approval. He went on to predict a 14-month timetable for the project’s completion.