The Chapel Hill Town Council is considering amending its existing Development Ordinance to allow developers the right to fund affordable housing without actually building the structures on their properties.
The council decided Monday night to refer two proposed amendments to its existing Development Ordinance to staff for clarification.
Changes to the existing ordinance might be used a guideline for establishing a new ordinance -- something the council plans to do by Sept. 18.
The amendments were proposed by Carol Ann Zinn, a developer looking to construct the LarkSpur Cluster Subdivision in northern Chapel Hill.
Zinn's proposed amendments seek to enable developers to bypass the town's requirement that 25 percent of the houses in new developments be below a certain square footage.
The amendments would make it so that -- instead of meeting the requirement -- either 15 percent of the houses in a development would have to be affordable or a payment would be made by developers to the town to subsidize affordable housing. The payment averages $35,000 a unit.
The Chapel Hill Planning Board recommended that the payment option be used only in extreme situations.
Zinn's proposal was heard because she is one of four developers whose project was approved by the planning board prior to the council's Jan. 28 decision to halt all new town development.
The council originally heard Zinn's proposed amendments Jan. 14, but members asked for time to clarify language.
Robert Dowling, executive director of the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust, said the amendments would aid the town's affordable housing goals.
"We believe this amendment will help the town to realize its stated goal of increasing the number of affordable housing units produced in all new residential developments," Dowling said.
A confused council discussed the implications of the planning board's recommendation to allow developers a payment option. Council member Mark Kleinschmidt said he is concerned the proposed amendments violate the original spirit of the Development Ordinance.
"I think it undermines the intent of the original ordinance," Kleinschmidt said. "We want to incorporate affordable housing everywhere."
Mayor Kevin Foy seemed to echo council members' concerns and requested a clearer example of the proposed amendments application. "When (the proposed amendment) comes back, there needs to be a specific example of where it applies and if it is a good idea," Foy said.
A hearing is set for Feb. 25 to consider the recommendations.
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