UNC Begins Plans to Redevelop Historically Rich Property

Former UNC Professor Herman G. Baity sold most of his land to the University more than 25 years ago. Soon, the University may accomplish a Master Plan goal by breaking ground on the Baity property and making space for a new married-student housing complex. In a wooded, park-like setting, the Baity property is located on a hill just off Mason Farm Road. It is a secluded area, featuring the Baity estate, with the Smith Center just visible through the trees.

Much of the land was sold to the University in 1974 by Baity and his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Chesley Baity.

H.G. Baity and His Property

H.G. Baity was a 1917 graduate of UNC, a renowned scholar and a former associate editor of The Daily Tar Heel.

He was the recipient of the first Ph.D. in sanitary engineering in the United States. In 1928, while working on a doctorate at Harvard Engineering School, Baity won the Clemons Herschel Prize for the most outstanding work done in America in the field of sanitation. He was invited to join the Harvard faculty, but chose to return to Chapel Hill instead. ?He was a man who loved the University,? said Daniel Okun, who replaced Baity as the head of UNC?s Department of Sanitary Engineering. ?He was a big power in the University for a long time.? Baity served on the faculty at UNC until 1955. He was later appointed chief engineer and director of sanitary engineering in the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Helen Martikainen, who served as chief of health education in the WHO with Baity, remembers the parties the Baitys would have at their home abroad and in Chapel Hill.

?It wasn?t just older people who attended, it was young students, too ? it was like a small community party,? she said. ?They were very generous with their hospitality.?

Martikainen said the home provided a pleasant setting for the parties and gatherings. ?When you drove on the road out to the house, you enjoyed the beauty of birds and trees and flowers,? she said. ?In a few minutes you were in a country setting. It was beautiful.? The land Baity owned and the house he built also had an ideal location on the southeastern border of campus. The University saw advantages in the land and thought it might solve expansion needs in its long-term future. Baity long ago had dreams for how his land might be used. ?I want it to be as nearly as possible an ideal, high-class residential community, enjoying solitude, and with a subdivision plan that will take the best advantage of the interesting topography,? Baity wrote in a Feb. 10, 1960, letter. ?Its location within walking distance of the University should give it additional attractiveness.? He wanted to donate the land to his beloved university, but later was financially unable to do so.

In July 1974, after years of negotiating its price and land use, the Baitys sold 44.9 acres to the University for $500,000. They kept their house and nine acres that surround it. But Baity died just a year later, survived by his wife and two sons, William and Philip.

Several years after acquiring the land, the University announced its intentions to build a Student Athletic Center on property it had acquired from the Baitys.

Mrs. Baity wasn?t pleased with this proposal. ?I am deeply concerned over the proposed use of the land,? Mrs. Baity said in a March 29, 1978 letter. ?Our first question upon opening negotiations concerned its possible use for the coliseum. Had we not been assured that this was not in the picture, we might not have been reluctant to turn down offers for twice as much per acre.? But a few weeks later, the University submitted a rezoning proposal to the town that would allow them to develop the South Campus area.

?There was a falling out,? Okun said. ?She was very unhappy about the way things were handled. Mrs. Baity claimed there was an agreement that they would protect part of the land.? But the land was rezoned and the Smith Center was built in 1986.

Mrs. Baity died on Oct. 7, 1989 and the University acquired the house and remaining nine acres of the Baity property in March 1991.

Looking Toward the Future

As part of the Master Plan, UNC wants to build a new married-student housing complex on the Baity property. These units will eventually replace the Odum Village apartments and enable more undergraduate housing to be built. ?We will preserve as much as we can of the park-like setting that exists,? said Special Assistant to the Chancellor Jonathan Howes.

The Baity house will be kept and used as a centerpiece for the family housing community. Howes is unsure what capacity the house will serve, however. ?We haven?t begun design on the property yet,? he said. The University submitted a development plan to the Town Council that includes general plans for its expansion. The University cannot begin construction until the plan is passed, however. The town is scheduled to vote on the development plan in early October. University officials said there was careful consideration to retain many of the trees and landscapes that characterize the property.

?When the Master Planners were looking at the area for development, there was an idea that we put 500 units out there,? said Bruce Runberg, vice chancellor for facility services. ?But they found that damaged the terrain.? The complex will contain eight new three-story student family housing buildings. Construction could begin in spring 2003 and be completed by spring 2005.

The Baity property contains a rich history, but it?s one that has not been void of controversy. It is clear, though, that H.G. Baity wished for his property to be used in any way that would benefit the advancement of his cherished alma mater. ?He had a great love for the University,? Okun said. ?When he was alive, he would have done anything for the University.?

Matt Viser can be reached at viser@email.unc.edu.

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