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The Daily Tar Heel

University, Town Officials Question Housing Proposal

The town's original proposal, which University officials turned down during a workshop with the Chapel Hill Town Council last week, would have used bond money to build a new complex at 440 W. Franklin St. Because the building was one that UNC earmarked for renovations, the money would have come from UNC's share of the $3.1 billion higher education bond, which was passed last year.

The new complex, which would be built on the land where a building now houses the University's budget office, would include rent-controlled housing, office space for UNC employees, shops, a grocery store and parking.

The rent-controlled housing is intended to help create affordable housing for UNC and town employees.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf, Nancy Suttenfield, vice chancellor for finance and administration, stated that UNC officials are concerned the town's proposal focuses too much on the office space and not enough on the residential areas. The letter suggested a meeting so the different parties could "explore alternative means to promote downtown economic development."

Suttenfield said that although the University rejected the proposal, she thought both UNC and the town were interested in promoting affordable housing. "We're both disappointed that this particular proposal does not seem feasible," she said.

Waldorf said the rejected proposal would be revised and would be discussed again with UNC officials. "The information that I've gotten consistently from Nancy Suttenfield is they want that area to be in the downtown," she said.

Suttenfield said UNC's only real problem was the business end of the deal. "We're still very much interested in trying to find a solution for 440," she said. "We'd much rather demolish that and put up a new building, along with the capability of providing affordable housing. I think everyone agrees that there is a need for a grocery store in that area."

"The concept we think is a very solid concept, we just need to find a financial model that will make it possible"

Bob Knight, assistant vice chancellor for finance and administration, said both sides are trying to ameliorate the dilemma quickly. "People on all sides feel very strongly about this," he said. "It's clearly very important to the mayor and the council members. It's also important to us at Chapel Hill. We know that there is not enough affordable housing here."

Chancellor James Moeser has adopted the attitude of his predecessor, the late Michael Hooker, expressing concern that without employer-employee housing, local employees would struggle with finding an affordable place to stay.

Chris Berndt, long-range planning coordinator for Chapel Hill, said the town staff tentatively was scheduled to bring the agenda item back to the Chapel Hill Town Council on Sept. 24.

Berndt said the staff would focus primarily on including public input on the potential plan.

"What we're supposed to do is return with a proposed process for the council's consideration and that process would include options for citizen involvement and an opportunity to comment on the proposal."

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