The Orange County Board of County Commissioners and the Chapel Hill Town Council both unanimously passed a resolution last week that will permit the development on a plot of land in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area to provide room for affordable and mixed-income housing, as well as a future school and outdoor recreational site.
The Board of County Commissioners held a virtual meeting on Nov. 16 in which they discussed the potential approval of the Greene Tract Approving the Draft Recombination Plat and Conceptual Plan, which would allow for the development of the Greene Tract, a 167-acre plot of land located near the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood in Chapel Hill, a historically Black community.
The plan sets aside 66 acres of land for affordable and mixed income housing as well as low-intensity commercial development. The resolution clarifies that, "The area will not be utilized predominantly for commercial purposes.”
The Greene Tract will include 16 acres for a future school as well as an outdoor recreational site. Almost all of the remaining land is designated for environmental preservation.
During the Board meeting, Craig Benedict, the planning and inspections director for Orange County, said that over the course of the past four years, there has been a significant increase in interest from the community regarding how the property should be developed.
“We know there’s affordable housing needs," Benedict said in the meeting. "Determinations have not been made on how that area will be developed — will it be mixed-income housing, will it be 100 percent affordable housing in parts? That is another discussion.”
At the public comment period, John Dempsey was one of seven people who spoke on the plan.
He suggested that 20 percent of the land should be set aside for affordable housing and the other 80 percent for conservation and public park space as opposed to unspecified mixed-use and commercial development.
“It is vital that our elected officials steward and protect our public resources and guard them from being used for commercial gain,” Dempsey said.
Minister Robert Campbell, president of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, said that the board should move forward and vote on the resolution to allow community discussion regarding how the land would be developed. However, he also expressed concern about the Board’s emphasis on recreation.
“People would rather have somewhere to live than somewhere to play,” Campbell said. “They can’t live on a bike, and they can’t live on the walking trail, but they can live in affordable, mixed-use workforce houses.”
Another speaker, Margo Lakin, expressed her disapproval of the resolution and implored the Board to vote ‘no’ on it. Lakin questioned whether the board was acting in the interest of the community, claiming that it has not sufficiently responded to public questions.
“Perhaps its paving the way for commercial and market-rate housing development by using the pretense of much-needed affordable housing as a means to garner community support and votes no matter how much we’re being gaslighted,” Lakin said.
Commissioner Anna Richards said that she had told community members that the Board was not voting on Tuesday because she had not been informed that they were voting. She said that she was “very upset” by this but expressed the need to support the resolution.
“I think moving this (resolution) forward is the right thing, but I do want to go on record with my strong displeasure with the process in terms of our communication,” Richards said.
Commissioner Jean Hamilton expressed the need for more inclusion across the community and a more transparent process moving forward.
“This community evolves,” Hamilton said. “There are new people moving into Orange County every day. They deserve to get the information and be part of the community just like anyone who’s been here for a long time.”
During their Nov. 17 meeting, members of the Chapel Hill Town Council spoke about the need to remedy the ills caused by what they said was the misuse of the land on the Greene Tract.
“The Greene Tract was indeed not purchased for conservation purposes, but to expand a landfill next to the historically African American community that is the Rogers Road neighborhood — a community that has suffered extreme negative health impacts from said landfill and suffered many broken promises from the towns and counties,” council member Tai Huynh said.
Mayor Pam Hemminger stressed the need to pass the resolution to address these broken promises and to give the members of the Rogers-Eubanks community a chance to have their voices heard on the matter.
“We talk about all the injustices that we have inflicted on this community, but one of the biggest injustices has also been the fact that we put them in the crosshairs of having to work with three different governmental jurisdictions, and that they have to keep showing up to all three of us to defend what should rightfully be theirs in planning their future," Hemminger said.
Now that the draft recombination plat has been approved, the Town of Chapel Hill Surveying staff will move forward with completing the final recombination plat at the Orange County Register of Deeds Office.
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