Designed by women, built by women. What’s next for Chapel Hill’s Meadowmont Village?

CHAPEL HILL

BY TAMMY GRUBB

DECEMBER 05, 2019 05:30 AM 

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/counties/orange-county/article237030394.html

Bella Vista developer Mariana Molina is married to Craig Davis, owner of Craig Davis Properties and developer of the Meadowmont Village Center. Meadowmont was built in the 1990s by Chapel Hill-based developer East West Partners. FILE PHOTO

Mariana Molina has two goals for her first project: Erect a new mixed-use building in Meadowmont’s Village Center and give a hand up to other women working in development and construction.

“So far, it’s pretty remarkable,” said Molina, founder of Bella Vista Development Group LLC. “Everybody from the architects to the civil engineers, the structural engineers, and mechanical, electrical, plumbing, our general contractor, our marketing efforts — it is all being done with women, and it has been a fantastic experience.”

The Bella Vista team also is working with Craig Davis Properties, which built the Village Center, and with Meadowmont developer East West Partners Management Co. Molina also is general counsel for Craig Davis Properties, founded by her husband Craig Davis.

The concept plan submitted to the town in October calls for a 150,000-square-foot office, retail and residential building on roughly two acres off West Barbee Chapel Road. The proposed site is now a parking lot between the Harris Teeter grocery, UNC Health Care and other Meadowmont Village businesses.

The Town Council could review the concept plan in January. It does not vote on concept plans, which let the council and community give developers feedback before they submit official applications.

The council would have to rezone the lot to allow for office space and a taller building.

OFFICE SPACE, RETAIL BOOST

Meadowmont was built according to a 1995 master land-use plan that laid out the maximum amount of square footage for office, retail and residential development, and how each building should look and relate to its surroundings. Theplan calls for construction on the proposed site.

The concept envisions a six- or seven-story building with affordable entrepreneurial space, as well as a restaurant and some retail. Along West Barbee Chapel Road, it would be only two stories, echoing two- and three-story buildings in the Village Center, said architects Nicole Young, with SEPI Engineering and Construction, and Kristen Hess, with HH Architecture.

The design could incorporate glass and canopies, Hess said, and step back the upper stories, to break up the building’s wall surface and create visual interest for pedestrians. The restaurant could have a rooftop amenity, she said, “so that people can enjoy sitting outside.”

“We want some amenity at the ground level, too, for a plaza or sense of arrival, but also some tucked away discovery spaces that are outside when you’re up in the building,” Hess said. “We think those could be really nice amenities for people who are visiting the restaurant or working in the building.”

A development company is planning a new office building with room for a restaurant and potentially more retail at Meadowmont Village Center. The site is now a large parking lot between West Barbee Chapel Road and existing shops and restaurants (show in pink). Bella Vista Development Group LLC/Google Earth CONTRIBUTED

Project goals include bringing new investment to the 25-year-old village, Young said, and giving “a shot in the arm to some of the businesses that already are there or might want to be there.”

The small businesses that could fill the retail space primarily would serve the new building’s tenants, team members said in response to concerns from the town’s Community Design Commission. Members noted other mixed-use projects in town that have had trouble filling their small retail spaces.

“To me, that screams that if we as a community want to see these businesses succeed, the only way to do that is to bring foot traffic,” Molina said. “That’s the only way those existing businesses will do well.”

CDC members also asked about parking, traffic, and whether a building twice as tall as those around it would be compatible. They suggested also looking more closely at how pedestrians get around the area and how to make West Barbee Chapel Road, where drivers often exceed the 25 mph speed limit, safer.

Construction will affect parking in the Village Center, the team said, but planning is underway for temporary parking and to replace the parking that would be taken up with the new building. Whether underground parking could be built, as well as surface parking under the building, depends on how much rock they find on site.

Traffic and stormwater studies — a large stormwater pond is next to the site — will be completed as part of an official application. An underground cistern could be built to provide water for flushing toilets and irrigating landscaping.

The building also could have a green roof, Hess said. CDC members suggested adding solar panels.

“One sustainable feature is not putting it on a greenfield site,” Hess said. “We’re putting it on a parking lot, so we’re not taking away the stand of trees and the stream buffer. We’re retaining all that. We will be taking out a few parking lot trees, but all those would be replaced with new street trees.”

WOMEN COLLABORATING

Molina’s core team includes roughly a dozen women who meet weekly to discuss the project and how to meet community interests.

“I think that is one concrete way that this has been a different, more collaborative process, as opposed to there being one person — whether it’s the developer or the architect or engineer — that’s dictating,” Molina said. “It’s not a one-man show, it’s a group effort, and so far, it has worked really well.”

Although their numbers have fallen since the 2007-09 recession, federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data show roughly 971,000 women working in the U.S. construction industry — about 9% of the total industry workforce. Just over a quarter of those women work in production, including plumbers, electricians and laborers, while the rest fill managerial, administrative and professional roles.

But women are working their way up the ladder, data shows, with the number of women classified as construction managers rising from 5.9% in 2003 to 7.7% in 2018.

A recent New York Times story about the trend of female-led development projects noted that institutional sexism and fewer role models and mentors were big factors keeping women out of the industry. The story also noted a need for more work-life balance.

Women in the industry have gotten used to being “not listened to or not treated fairly or not taken seriously,” Molina said. However, the reaction to the Bella Vista project — from both women and men — has been positive, she said.

“A lot of the men I speak to about this and who have heard through the grapevine about this project think that it’s pretty cool and that it’s about time,” Molina said. “I’m not trying to make waves in the industry. I think that there’s enough for all of us, and there’s no reason why it should be so male dominated.”

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