To combat Chapel Hill’s rapid growth and unstable housing climate, the Chapel Hill Planning Department and Town Council are considering a text amendment to the Town’s Land Use Management Ordinance that would allow for duplexes to be built alongside single-family homes.
Many of Chapel Hill’s neighborhoods are zoned so that only single-family homes can be built. This means that if a home is torn down, it can only be replaced with another single-family unit.
However, Chapel Hill Town Council member Michael Parker said that with about 38,000 people having to commute into Chapel Hill every day, the Town hopes to find more ways to accommodate more people closer to the business area.
Chapel Hill's outward growth is limited by a rural buffer, meaning that more housing in Chapel Hill would need to be made available within the Town’s current boundaries.
Duplexes can house more people in the same dimensions. Parker said building multi-family homes helps fill the "missing middle" — a phenomenon where areas do not have housing options other than single-family homes or apartments.
A previous iteration of the proposal included being able to build triplexes and quadruplexes, but proposals for such developments were removed in later revisions.
“I think, in general, Chapel Hill needs to grow,” Parker said. “What we are trying to do through this package of amendments is create more diversity of housing types to give people more choices, and that's why it's called the housing choices amendment.”
However, some local residents oppose the amendments.
Signs have been placed in front of houses in Chapel Hill that read "Tell the Town Council NO REZONING! Protect Our Neighborhoods." These signs also have a link to a website that outlines why some community members are against the proposal.
The Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town's website also has a petition to stop and reexamine the plan.
Evan Rodewald, a board member of the Laurel Hill Neighborhood Association, said he does not believe the amendments would help the Town achieve its housing goals.
“What it will produce is an incentive for developers to tear down beautiful, old, historic homes and replace them with much more lucrative multi-bedroom rental units, thereby destroying the sense of place that these neighborhoods offer,” Rodewald said.
He also said the changes were particularly worrying for older adults in the community who reside in Chapel Hill permanently.
“When I was a student, I didn’t care about the house or the yard either,” he said. “I think that’s too much to expect from somebody in college; they have real lives. As older people, all we have is the beauty of the place.”
Geoffrey Green, a writer for Triangle Blog Blog, said much of the fear around the changes is because of misinformation. For example, he said denoting the changes as "rezoning" is incorrect, as they are a text amendment meant to make building multifamily houses easier.
Additionally, he said any new structures built in the place of a single-family home would have to follow the same rules on building size, impervious surface size, street distance and aesthetic requirements so they blend into the rest of the neighborhood. He said it was unlikely that people would buy out expensive historic homes just to tear them down.
“The historic properties in Chapel Hill are really expensive these days; the people who buy those homes are wealthy," Green said. “They have the time and the money to maintain these homes in a fashion that is historically consistent."
Parker said there is also a misunderstanding of the amendment's goals. He said that though the changes may help with housing affordability, they are not part of an affordable housing strategy. The changes are a tool in a wider set of measures that may improve housing problems in Chapel Hill, he said.
He added that he believes the message "Save Chapel Hill" invokes fear.
“Save Chapel Hill from what? Save Chapel Hill from being more diverse? Save Chapel Hill from being a more interesting community?" Parker said. "I'd like to know what they're trying to save Chapel Hill from.”
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said no decision on the text amendment had been made yet, and the Town still has a lot to learn about what the changes may entail.
At a Town Council work session on April 10, the council requested an economic analysis of the amendment from the planning department in order to see the effects it is expected to have.
For future discussions on the subject, Hemminger said there will be public hearing sessions on May 24 and June 21 where people can voice their support for or concerns about the text amendment before the council votes on it.
Hemminger said a decision will be made by the end of June at the earliest.
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