The Chapel Hill Town Council wants to create an affordable place to live, but some Chapel Hill residents are worried this means there won’t be room left for the shrinking cemetery.
In 2013, the council voted to sell nine acres of town-owned land off of Legion Road to DHIC Inc., a nonprofit organization that renovates and builds affordable apartment homes. The first phase of the project will create 80 housing units for working families, and a second phase will create rental housing for seniors.
The project was selected to receive federal tax credits to finance its construction on Aug. 17. Chapel Hill's executive director of the office of housing and community, Loryn Clark, said construction is scheduled to begin sometime in 2016.
Long before the town’s involvement with DHIC Inc., the town council promised the land, which is adjacent to the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery, would become space for Chapel Hill residents to rest in peace, said longtime resident and retired realtor Eunice Brock. This was about 20 years ago, she said.
“Most of the people in the town, especially if they’ve had family buried out there, expect it to just continue along on the side,” Brock said.
Brock has already reserved plots in the cemetery for her herself, her husband and their children and grandchildren, but she said she’s worried about other Chapel Hill residents. There are 53 plots left, and Debra Lane, the cemetery's administrative assistant, estimates they’ll be gone in about a year.
A plot in the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery costs $750. In addition to church cemeteries, another option is the Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens, located in Hillsborough, which has 86 spaces available. These plots are $750 for Hillsborough residents and $1200 for Chapel Hill and non-Hillsborough residents, according to the website.
“That’s not what I’d call inexpensive,” Brock said.
Town council member Maria Palmer said she doesn’t think expanding the cemetery is the best use of the town’s land when there are people who work in Chapel Hill that can’t afford to live there.
“I don’t think people realize how much it costs to expand the cemetery and how it affects everyone,” Palmer said. “Their children and grandkids are going to have less options for affordable housing.”
Palmer said the town is planning to build a columbarium to store ashes near the cemetery. She said she realizes some people would rather be buried in the ground, but encouraged people to look into other options.
“The more options we have, the longer the plots will last,” she said. “We’re running out of land.”