CHAPEL HILL, NC-The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill began planning five years ago to build its own residential/research park on university property. University officials are concerned about the lack of space in this college town for companies that get started as a result of campus research.

Although Chapel Hill town committees and university panels have been working with consultants for years to create development guidelines for the research park, many town officials complain they haven’t been aware of such a plan. Early next year, planners at the university hope to present a proposal to university trustees for a campus that would employ up to 25,000 people.

The campus would also have residential facilities to accommodate 3,000 residents who would live in a village setting within the town of Chapel Hill. Offices, research labs, and neighborhood stores and services are also part of the proposal. An interim master plan stating the park would contain eight million sf of building space and over 25,000 parking spaces has been presented to UNC administrators. UNC’s main campus currently has about 13 million sf of building space.

Financing the project is only one of the challenges the university faces. One proposal is to use state money to construct the buildings and then lease the space to recoup those investments. Another expense would be cleaning up an old landfill and chemical-waste deposits on the eastern edge of the property. Administrators say the cost of cleaning up those sites could easily cost over $30 million.

Existing zoning only allows for residential construction. The town has tried for the past two years to get special permission from the General Assembly to zone the tract for mixed-use. The university has paid Baltimore architects Ayers Saint Gross about $300,000 to help design and develop a master plan that hinges on the town’s zoning proposal.

If the project is approved, construction would not begin before 2005 and would take more than 20 years to complete.

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