UNC Health is interested in expanding their buildings at 100-800 Eastowne Drive.
The group proposes the creation of 8 to 10 medical office buildings on the site over the period of several years.
The primary use for the development is outpatient healthcare and associated functions, as well as space for research and site-specific retail.
The existing campus development is UNC Eastowne Medical Office Building, which opened in March 2021. Located near 1-40 of 15-501, it is a six-story building with multiple clinical services, including allergy, cardiology and infectious diseases.
The Eastowne building has been successful, but UNC Health says they need more space.
“We need to be able to move and decompress outpatient services from the Medical Center – we can’t stress that enough,” said Simon George, the vice president of real estate and development at UNC Health Care, told the Chapel Hill Town Council at a Jan. 11 meeting.
George said by expanding the Eastowne campus, UNC Health will provide more outpatient space, which could lead to increased bed capacity at the Medical Center.
Additionally, George noted that UNC Health wants these services to remain local within the community, but have easier regional access from the interstate.
“Our home is Chapel Hill — we want to stay in Chapel Hill and continue to grow,” George said. “We want to keep it local. We want to continue to grow in this community.”
UNC Health has long held an interest in the Eastowne property. George said the health system had previously proposed the project to the Town Council, but each iteration failed to approve. This time, UNC Health is seeking to build 8 to 10 medical buildings with structured parking.
“The size itself, depending on each building, will be between 1.6 and 1.8 million square feet,” George said. “As we’ve mentioned in the past, it’s significantly smaller than what we’ve envisioned at various times — it was well in the direction of 3 million square feet, but we heard you, we heard the community and we’ve made it to that series linked.”
The development timeline is to create a second medical office building as soon as possible, one building every three to five years and a full build out in 25 or more years.
UNC Health said it hopes to get the go-ahead for the entire project by June and begin work by the second quarter of 2024. But Chapel Hill Town Council member Amy Ryan said she is dubious about the feasibility of the project’s accelerated timeline. Ryan said past large-scale accelerated projects have become difficult for the council to review after their proposal.
“The bigger picture of a bigger development, especially when it’s not very clearly defined, is problematic to me,” Ryan said.
Mayor Pam Hemminger agreed, saying she’s excited about UNC Health Care having better patient care, but wants planners to create a design that’s easier to visualize — and feasible for the space.
“I need to see a little more,” Hemminger says. “I can’t just theorize that you’re going to put 8 to 10 buildings and 4 to 7 parking decks and still have green space.”
Councilwoman Karen Stegman echoed other council members’ concerns about the scope and timeline of the project, but added she is ultimately optimistic about the concept.
“I’ve heard friends, families, colleagues say when they go to the new medical building, what an improvement it was compared to the medieval dungeon of Memorial Hospital,” Stegman said. “I support the vision you have with these services. As I get older and as people I know get older, I feel more acutely lucky to have you here in our community – what it means to so many people who even come from very far away to access these services.”
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