Society management

Secret Society Vs. Red Ribbon: Zoning Oddity Means Gimghoul Castle Expansion Requires City Approval

Have you ever felt like the rules don’t apply to the rich, powerful, and elite?

Rest assured that is not the case here in Chapel Hill – not, at least, when it comes to zoning ordinances.

This is the challenge currently facing UNC’s notorious secret society, the legendary Order of Gimghoul.

The Order plans to build a 1,200 square foot addition to the back of its century-old stone castle surrounded by forest, which rests on the southern edge of Battle Park. They want to add handicap accessible bathrooms and other accessibility features, including ramps; the plan also includes a new outdoor terrace.

But thanks to a quirk in the city’s zoning rules, they can’t proceed legally – unless they get explicit approval from Chapel Hill City Council.

This is because the chateau is located on property that is zoned “Residential-1”, which is officially designated for single-family homes. Since the castle is not used for this purpose, it does not comply with the city’s zoning code.

In fact, it hasn’t been compliant for decades. According to the Gimghoul Corporation, the Order sold approximately 35 acres of adjacent land to finance the construction of the castle. This land eventually became the historic district of Gimghoul, and the entire area was eventually zoned as a single family residence – castle included.

And according to the Chapel Hill Land Use Management Ordinance, a building cannot be “expanded, enlarged or moved” unless it is used in accordance with its zone. (That’s to prevent, say, someone from buying a house on a quiet residential street and converting it into a hot jazz cabaret — but it also has unintended consequences, like this.)

So, in order to proceed with the renovation, the Order of Gimghoul must have the property rezoned – a process that requires the approval of several city councils as well as the city council itself.

Visit this link to download the rezoning application and other documents.

The project has already received approval from the city’s Historic District Commission, Planning Commission, Environmental Stewardship Advisory Council, and Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Council. (Unanimous approval on all counts, in case you were wondering.) Now all that’s left is the city council, which is expected to address the issue at its meeting this week.

“They [just] want to add washroom facilities,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger told 97.9 The Hill last week. “I feel bad that they have to go through the whole process just for this.”

How long does this process take? Among other things, the Order’s 83-page rezoning request includes details on bicycle parking (they want to add a rack for four bicycles), an analysis of the project’s impact on traffic and stormwater runoff. (minimal) and details of the number of trees that will need to be removed for the expansion (“a few”).

City Council will discuss the rezoning proposal at its virtual meeting on Wednesday, May 18; members of the public will also have the opportunity to intervene. Council members are unlikely to make a decision this week: the current plan is to continue the hearing until June 15 for a final vote.

In the meantime, Chapel Hillians can enjoy some little-known facts about Gimghoul Castle, thanks to the Order’s rezoning app:

  • Online sources (including Wikipedia) generally date the construction of the castle to 1922 or 1924, but according to the Gimghoul Corporation, the building was actually completed in 1926. (So much for Wikipedia!)
  • “For at least seventy years” the chateau has had a home caretaker, who resides in an accessory apartment on site.
  • And although entry inside the castle is usually restricted to members of the Order, you might be able to get inside if you’re lucky enough to live on Gimghoul Road. Residents of the Gimghoul neighborhood can use the castle for a neighborhood meeting once a year.

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The image shown is a map of the Gimghoul Corporation rezoning application. The existing building is brown; the proposed addition is in darker blue, with the outdoor terrace proposed in lighter blue.


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