The Chapel Hill Town Council delayed the final reading of a redevelopment project on 1200 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. after not reaching the two-thirds majority needed for the proposal to pass at a Wednesday meeting.
The council voted 5-3 in favor of the project, which would redevelop the nonoperational Marathon Service Station and the Tar Heel Mobile Home Park by building a new gas station, convenience store and a multi-story self-storage building.
The developer, Stackhouse Properties, said the plan would preserve the 73 existing homes in the park for at least 15 years. The 16 homes located where the storage facility would be built would be relocated on-site.
At the meeting, representatives for the development said the project prioritized preserving the Tar Heel Mobile Home Park community, and that preserving the park is what led to the gas station and storage facility, not the other way around.
Members of the Town Council all agreed the project didn’t align with the Town’s land use goals, and voiced concerns about traffic safety and environmental impacts. But their votes ultimately came down to whether or not they thought the project was the best way to protect residents in the park.
Council members who voted yes said it was the best option they had to ensure residents would get to stay on their land, citing the developer’s threats to evict residents if the proposal wasn’t approved.
“It’s a terrible situation all around, and the residents have done nothing to deserve this,” council member Allen Buansi said. “The choices we have here are really less than ideal. But leaving our residents to chance and to the whims of an applicant who has threatened to displace them is not acceptable."
Mayor Pam Hemminger said the project was a terrible land use plan and forced the council to weigh different Town values against each other. She ultimately voted yes on the proposal.
Council members said they should have had a strategy in place to proactively deal with tough situations like this.
“We haven’t done enough as a town government, we’ve talked about this before,” council member Karen Stegman said. “We haven’t moved quickly enough to come up with a more proactive solution, and I think there are solutions out there.”
Council member Jessica Anderson voted no on the proposal. She said she refused to be manipulated or threatened by the developer and that residents had been used as pawns in a land use game. Council member Hongbin Gu also voted no, saying she was furious at the situation and how the developer framed the proposal as one that prioritized protecting residents. She said it doesn’t guarantee protection for the residents.
“We should not be played by this developer into approving this project,” Gu said. “We do need to protect our most vulnerable among us, we do need to come up with a solution of mobile home long-range plan, but the one they are trying to sell us is just smoke and mirrors.”
The Town Council received input about the project from other town boards ahead of the Feb. 24 vote. The Town of Chapel Hill Housing Advisory Board expressed its support for the project in a Feb. 22 letter to the board, saying it was an imperfect option, but that the board's primary concern was housing security for the families in the park.
Community members also contacted the council by email ahead of the meeting to express their thoughts on the project. Del Snow, a Chapel Hill resident, was concerned about the precedent that would be set if the council approved the project in response to threats and intimidation.
Hemminger said the final reading and vote on the proposal will take place at the Town Council’s meeting on March 10.
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