The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday October 27th

OC Voice: After 1200 MLK Blvd. rezoning, Chapel Hill continues to search for a solution

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger speaks during a Chapel Hill Town Council Work Session at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020.
Buy Photos Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger speaks during a Chapel Hill Town Council Work Session at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020.

The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Pam Hemminger is the mayor of Chapel Hill. 

Last week, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted to approve a controversial plan for redevelopment at 1200 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., which guarantees that an existing mobile home park will remain open for at least 15 years in exchange for redevelopment of an abandoned gas station and construction of a self-storage facility on the site.

Mayor Pam Hemminger can be reached at phemminger@townofchapelhill.org

This has been a difficult situation, and over the past two years, we have worked hard to try to come up with a better solution — including proposing a variety of other uses for the property. Simultaneously, with the help of local community partners, our Housing & Community staff have worked to understand and advance the interests of the individuals and families living on this site.

We recognize that allowing a self-storage facility and a gas station along a busy transit corridor does not reflect the long-term vision and goals for this area, but, in making our decision, we had to weigh those things against permanent closure of the entire mobile home park at a time when there is not enough open affordable housing to meet the needs of the 73 families who would be displaced.

Unfortunately, in North Carolina, local governments have NO authority to stay evictions and NO power to force a landowner to keep a mobile home park open. 

Furthermore, we have no way to protect residents from rising rental costs — a factor that has already impacted Tarheel Mobile Home Park residents.

We were able to negotiate for some meaningful protections and improvements for the residents — including a three-year rent freeze, assurances that future rent increases will be within five percent of regional market rates and creation of a set of covenants for the park. These items were adopted as part of the final legal agreement and will remain with the property should it be sold.

In terms of the overall project, the council explored a number of ideas, including options for moving the homes to another property. Unfortunately, high land costs and hurdles to creating a new park, including infrastructure costs and the fact that older mobile homes cannot be moved, made it cost prohibitive for the low amount of density that would be achieved. 

We also asked the developer to consider shifting the self-storage facility to another property and worked on options for placing the storage facility on a less prominent part of the property, but we did not reach agreement on either. 

This situation is one that communities across our nation are facing, and unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 has increased the need for affordable housing dramatically. In Chapel Hill and the Triangle region, development pressures are exacerbating the situation.

To meet those challenges, over the last two years, the Town Council has earmarked all of the $10 million in affordable housing bonds and will be using those funds to partner with affordable housing nonprofits to create more dense and efficient affordable housing options at 2200 Homestead, Jay Street, Trinity Court and other spots.  Over the last five years, we have invested $11.1 million in affordable housing, and, according to our most recent Affordable Housing quarterly report, we are on track to exceed our five-year affordable housing goals.

Additionally, we made sure to include planning for the mobile home parks’ future a priority. The Town’s recently approved Future Land Use Map designates our existing mobile home parks as “Sensitive Displacement Areas,” making sure that the Town, residents and future developers are aware that we will look for any development proposals in these areas to mitigate displacement of these residents.

With several other mobile home parks located along the MLK corridor, we are continuing to search for the best solution for the mobile home park issue. We are open to additional ideas, and I am happy to answer any other questions you may have.

If you live in Orange County and want to make your voice heard on something you care about locally, email city@dailytarheel.com. 

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