Town Council approves rezoning request for Bicycle Apartments

After a lengthy and contentious public hearing, the Chapel Hill Town Council approved Wednesday night a rezoning request and special use permit for a housing development geared toward students.

The Bicycle Apartments, which will be located at 602 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., will be a four- to six-story building with 194 units and 241 parking spaces.

At Wednesday’s meeting, more than 30 residents and council members voiced concerns that the by-design student housing complex might have negative effects on the historically black and low-income Northside area.

Councilman Jim Ward said that while he supports the proposed development, he worries about student housing affecting historical districts.

“We have historic neighborhoods that are suffering,” he said. “The fabric of many of those communities is being torn apart.”

But Travis Vencel, the developer for the project, said the developing company has already taken steps to protect these neighborhoods.

Vencel said he has reworked the property design to shift the building southwest and increased the buffer zone in order to minimize the effects on neighbors.

Chapel Hill resident Deborah Finn said while she isn’t opposed to students living near long-term residents, she is concerned about the size of the proposal.

“There seems to be an impression that the neighborhood doesn’t want them,” she said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a matter of quantity and balance.”

Residents also raised concerns about the level of noise associated with student renters, as well as safety in such a large complex.

“It would take an army to patrol for safety in a building of this size,” said Chapel Hill resident Elizabeth Okun. “Unfortunately, it will probably be needed and not available.”

But others argued that the proposal would benefit the area.

“We can decrease the demand for more and more single-family homes downtown,” said Kate Connelly, a Chapel Hill resident and former UNC student.

Several residents said the project will only worsen the lack of workforce housing in town.

In response, Trinitas, the developing company, committed to giving the building’s 13 employees a 20 percent discount on their rent, and pledged $120,000 toward affordable housing.

Several residents and council members raised questions as to whether developments of this kind were in line with the town’s vision for the area.

But Councilman Lee Storrow said he felt like there was a strong need for more student housing in Chapel Hill.

“I don’t think this project is the perfect fit, but I think it’s part of the fit.”

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