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UNC owns 21 properties, some with historic value

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, the original version of this story misrepresented the history of UNC's property at 620 Park Place. The home at Park Place was built to house faculty returning from World War I. The story has been updated to reflect these changes.

Likely unknown to most residents of Chapel Hill, UNC owns 21 properties dotted around the county. Some of these properties have histories stretching back decades — others simply have interesting stories.

For example, 620 Park Place is a well-known town fixture. The home was built by the University in the 1920s to house faculty returning from World War I. Since then, it has housed various individuals closely associated with the town and the University, including Francis Bradshaw, the dean of students from 1920-25, and Edwin Lanier, who was the mayor of Chapel Hill from 1949-54.

The home on Park Place is the last of its kind. In the 1970s, the University tore down the other Park Place homes in the “Baby Hollow” neighborhood to build a parking lot, but after a battle between the Chapel Hill Preservation Society and the University in the 1980s, the house is still standing.

The current tenant, Fred Kiger, is a lecturer on the American Civil War for the UNC General Alumni Association. When he first noticed the house, he didn’t get the impression he would ever be able to live there, despite his interest.

“This place was a little bungalow that caught my eye many, many years ago, and I always immediately dismissed the possibility that someone might live there,” Kiger said.

Kiger said he later met Bruce Runberg, then the associate vice chancellor for facilities services, at one of his lectures. Runberg mentioned the house was owned by the University, and Kiger eventually contacted the property office and got his name on a list.

Six years later, he was contacted about his interest in the property and by the summer of 2012, he was a tenant.

Kiger said being in the house reminds him of the mountains of North Carolina, where he grew up.

“There’s kind of a professorial, collegiate feel when I’m here,” he said. “And being raised in the foothills of North Carolina, not far from Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock State Parks, I sit in my dining room and I look out those windows into these 93 acres of woods, and I feel like I am at home.”

Kiger said the feel and location of the house are perfect for him.

“I love being here, and feel quite proud and honored to have a chance to be a steward, if you will, looking after a place that has such fond memories and such longevity,” he said.

A rural home

Another University property, 6627 Maynard Farm Road, echoes the wooded tranquility of Kiger’s home about 10 miles west of Carrboro.

Former Carrboro ArtsCenter Executive Director Art Menius moved home to Orange County from Maryland in 2012. Menius said his wife asked him to find a house in the country with a screened-in porch.

After a short search, he ended up finding a four acre property with, in fact, a screened-in porch. He contacted the University and from there, the process was easy.

“They’ve been the most responsive landlord I’ve ever had,” Menius said.

Though the house was built in the late 1990s and has no historic value, Menius said the University first acquired the house after former homeowners complained that noise was coming from a nearby research animal storage facility.

The University expanded the storage facility, called the Bingham Facility, and consolidated a number of dogs there in 2008.

In 2009, a holding pond began leaking wastewater that eventually reached a tributary of Collins Creek. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued two violations to the University for the incident. In response to the complaints, the University offered the homeowners compensation for their property.

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Going back generations

Academic advisor Steve Dobbins has a familial connection with the University. He said in an email that his grandfather originally built the house at 218 Wilson St. in the 1930s. Dobbins’ father sold the house and an adjacent property to UNC in 2007 and Dobbins now lives there as a tenant.

Dobbins said the University uses the nearby property for the Carolina Campus Community Garden. The Community Garden is a collaborative effort that began in 2010 to provide fruit and vegetables to lower-wage University workers.

University staff, faculty, students and community members work there together to grow produce and learn valuable skills in a collaborative environment.

UNC Property Office Director Jeff Kidd said in an email UNC acquired properties in Orange County out of an interest in preparing for future needs of the University.

Though leasing the homes is not restricted to tenants with a job or other connection the University, their location close to campus tends to make them desirable to staff and faculty, Kidd said.