As a student living in Chapel Hill, moving off campus can be an exciting endeavor. It is a marker of increasing independence and a chance to explore a new space to call home, at least temporarily.
Developers in Chapel Hill recognize that students are a profitable market. But the Chapel Hill community is not, and has never been, limited to students. There are residents who have called this town home for years, and who will continue to call Chapel Hill home long after this year’s leases end.
With the Chapel Hill Town Council’s recent unanimous approval of Shortbread Lofts on West Rosemary Street, future UNC students will have even more options for their short-term residence. The proposed complex would stand seven stories high and is to be built on a lot directly adjacent to the Northside community.
At this juncture, we as a community need to remember that the residents of the Northside neighborhood are integral to the very fabric and history of Chapel Hill.
Unfortunately, they are consistently left out of the conversation about downtown development. Convenience for future student tenants and profitability for investors should not be privileged above long-term ramifications for Chapel Hill’s long-term residents.
In their rezoning application, Shortbread said they hoped to “preserve, protect and enhance the Northside neighborhood.” But they have yet to make a serious effort to incorporate Northside community concerns into the development process.
Some argue that Shortbread will decrease the demand on student housing rentals in Northside. But there is no guarantee that this assumption will prove accurate, given the significant cost difference between student rental homes in Northside and Shortbread’s new apartments.
Because Shortbread Lofts will only offer rentals, it will not be bound by the Town Council regulations that require 10 to 15 percent of permanent residence units in new developments to be set at prices affordable for low- to moderate-income households.
The developers recently donated $25,000 to EmPOWERment Inc., an organization which, among other things, works to expand affordable housing in the areas. But compared to the profit Shortbread Lofts would likely make (assuming the current market rate of more than $700 per bedroom), I feel compelled to ask the question: Who really stands to benefit from new housing developments in Chapel Hill?
Developers often speak of creating a vibrant downtown, but they seem to have overlooked the vibrancy and vitality already present in Northside. The neighborhood offers a family-friendly environment that would translate into a productive partnership if Chapel Hill developers were to sincerely invest in an alliance.
It is imperative that moving forward, Shortbread’s developers make a point of reaching out to Northside community members. Moreover, they must follow through and actually integrate these community members’ visions into their projects.
We as a town should pursue growth that is compatible with the concerns, ideas and dreams of a wider cross-section of the residents who have long called this place home.
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