Why a potential redevelopment of Tar Heel Mobile Home Park has residents worried
Sonia Aguilera, a resident of the Tar Heel Mobile Park, makes lunch for her 10-year-old daughter after school, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. Aguilera is not one of the residents affected by the potential development plan to move 15 mobile homes, but she is worried that her family could be asked to move in the future.
If a new development project goes through, residents of 15 mobile homes could be relocated.
Coulter Jewell Thames, a professional engineering land surveying and landscape architecture firm, presented a concept plan to redevelop the 1200 block on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which houses the Tar Heel Mobile Home Park.
The plan was presented at the Feb. 13 Chapel Hill Town Council meeting.
The "1200 MLK" project proposes to redevelop the Tar Heel Mobile Home Park and update the non-operational Marathon gas station. The developers also plan to add a new self-storage unit in front of the mobile home park.
“We have been fighting it at the Town Hall because we have the right to live at peace,” said Leslie Ventura, Tar Heel Mobile Home Park resident of 10 years. “It hasn’t been approved, but we’re going to meetings to find out.”
If approved, Ventura’s mobile home will be relocated.
The Town of Chapel Hill has not stated an interest in developing this site, and this is not a formal development application, according to Michael Sudol, who works on Chapel Hill’s planning and development services.
“They had the idea to move 15 or 16 mobile homes to a different location,” said Hongbin Gu, a Town Council member. “I think that people are concerned about the potential impacts on the mobile homes that are going to be relocated.”
Initially, the residents of these 15 homes were concerned that they would have to leave the park. But the developers decided to reposition the mobile homes on the block to preserve them.
“They plan to put the homes in the back, but there is only space for eight,” Ventura said. “The others are up in the air.”
Another concern is the age of the units and whether or not they can be moved, said Delores Bailey, executive director of EmPOWERment Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to preserve neighborhoods.
“The developer has offered to do an assessment of each of the 15 mobile homes and will pay to relocate the mobile homes, hook up any water and sewer, and if any damage is done that was anticipated in the move, the developer will pay for that as well,” Bailey said.
Bailey said the plan does not include a physical barrier between the Tar Heel Mobile Home Park and the storage unit, which raises safety concerns.
“I think what is concerning them is how the developers are planning to protect them from the storage unit because there are families back there and children playing there,” Bailey said. “We are listening very carefully to how the developers are going to solve that."
Bailey said the developers have held meetings to communicate with the mobile park residents. She said she also acts as a liaison between the developers and community, and that she met separately with the developers.
Since the majority of the community is Spanish speaking, translators have been at these meetings, Bailey said.
“We come in on the side of the residents,” Bailey said. “The first barrier is to get the developers to understand that no matter what they look like, these are their homes and they take pride in them.”
Sudol said since the mobile home park is considered affordable housing, residents are concerned because the redevelopment could cause a spike on their rent.
“The developer has indicated that they determine rents based on market rates for comparable properties,” Sudol said. “North Carolina state laws make regulating rental rates challenging to maintain affordability.”
Residents have informed the Town Council that their lease and water costs have increased within the last year, after the block changed ownership, according to Gu.
“There are concerns that the increase could somehow be related to the concept plan, so they are giving their inputs now,” Gu said.
“After all the meetings, some feel like they still haven’t been heard,” said Sonía Aguilera, a Tar Heel Mobile Home Park resident of 16 years.
Though currently unaffected by the concept plan, Aguilera said she worries about her home being relocated one day.
“One day they tell you something and then something else the next day,” said Noemi Godoy, a Tar Heel Mobile Home Park resident. “We’ve been living here for a long time without issues, and we’re worried.”