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The Daily Tar Heel

Residential Occupancy Guidelines Nearly Set

Plan changes limits on unrelated renters.

The final draft of the land-use management ordinance, which officials hope to adopt in December or January, must be passed before the limits go into effect.

The council voted 8-1 last week in favor of the increased occupancy limits, with council member Mark Kleinschmidt the lone dissenter.

The existing ordinance allows for only two unrelated people per residence, or four in an entire duplex structure. The move largely formalizes existing practice, bringing the ordinance in line with the interpretation of the law held by town officials until earlier this year.

Supporters of the occupancy limits -- most notably longtime town residents -- argue that traffic, noise and garbage problems caused largely by student renters are detrimental to neighborhood environments.

The brunt of opposition toward the limits has come from students and landlords worried that off-campus students would be pushed to the outer limits of Chapel Hill or Carrboro.

But Kleinschmidt argued that other groups -- including ethnic and sexual minorities -- are being targeted with restrictions that limit the number of unrelated persons allowed to reside in one dwelling. "A lot of people are treated unfairly because of this," he said.

Kleinschmidt also contends that the occupancy limits are largely useless. "I think unenforceable laws are an insult to ... citizens," he said. "It's asinine."

But Mayor Kevin Foy said that while the limits are not enforceable, they still aim to "ensure that neighborhoods are respected."

"We're not going to inquire into people's relationships," he said.

Council member Edith Wiggins said that property owners must certify with the local renters association but that little else can be done to ensure that limits are respected. "We expect people to tell us the truth," she said.

Kleinschmidt said using occupancy as a measure to limit other problems in town makes little sense.

"The connection is too tenuous," he said. "The cause is irresponsibility. ... It's clearly not all students."

Council member Pat Evans said she does not agree with Kleinschmidt's concerns over discrimination.

"If we'd seen it in the past ... then we would be uncomfortable with this," she said. "But we haven't."

Evans said that while officials do not want to hurt town housing options, resident concerns have made the issue important to address.

"If a lot of people are packed in there, I think that it can be detrimental to a neighborhood."

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