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The Daily Tar Heel

Town, UNC Consider Housing Project

The development, called the Employer-Employee Housing Project, might help alleviate the demand for low-cost housing for UNC and town employees in Chapel Hill.

Mike Curzan, a consultant for UniDev LLC Consultants, reported that development could be supported by commercial office space. A town-run, nonprofit group would redistribute commercial revenue and pass lower costs on to residents.

"What we've suggested is that you are receiving money back and then make decisions about what to do with that money," Curzan said of the developments' tax-free, nonprofit status.

Curzan identified three potential development sites: 440 West, which is a Franklin Street building and parking lot, lot No. 5 on the corner of Church and Franklin streets and lot No. 2 on Columbia and Rosemary streets.

Searches for potential sites began when town, University and UNC Hospital officials formed a committee to initiate discussions about an employee housing project, called Employer-Employee Housing, in 1999.

The committee hired a consultant and worked for eight months until progress faltered after the death of former Chancellor Michael Hooker.

Curzan said now that a chancellor has been selected, discussions likely will progress.

"We think we're back to three entities with good will, interested in doing something very important with downtown," he said.

Curzan also said UNC Chancellor James Moeser seemed enthusiastic about the plans after an earlier presentation.

Curzan said a similar development at the University of California at Ervine attracted 80 percent of all new faculty members. "We know that one of the highest priorities (of UNC) is recruiting young faculty," he said.

But council member Flicka Bateman said she is worried that overwhelming demands by faculty might displace other potential residents like town and hospital employees.

Curzan said the town could enter into the development process with plans that address the issue of having a sufficient representation of residents from each sector involved in the agreement.

But no specific plans, such as the number of townhomes or square feet of office space, can be made until the three entities are in agreement.

"University and (UNC) Hospitals decide what they want, and then we'll have a joint discussion," Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf said.

Curzan said that after an agreement is reached, a land planner and housing architect will be hired to create more specific designs.

Council members, in accordance with advice from Waldorf, referred the report on the project plan to town staff to further analyze the development policy.

"We'll take a look at the (estimates) about expenditures and how costs would be paid," said Town Manager Cal Horton.

Curzan, who is scheduled to make a presentation to the chancellor's Cabinet and a work group consisting of staff, elected officials and residents today, told the town that Chapel Hill is one of the first towns to approach low-cost, commercially subsidized housing.

"You really are working in a fast-breaking process -- one that's really cutting edge."

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