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Chapel Hill Town Council approves Housing Choices text amendment, 6-3

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Chapel Hill Town Hall sits on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. 

The Chapel Hill Town Council approved the long-debated and controversial Housing Choices land use ordinance amendments, as well as a 1.1 million square foot UNC Health development, at its final public meeting before their summer break on Wednesday, June 21.

What's new?

  • Since the last time the town council discussed the housing amendment, several changes had been made by Town staff.
    • A tree canopy cover requirement for new duplexes was increased to 40 percent and Town staff is developing a way to track the impacts of the amendment.
    • With the amendment, current single-family zoning would also be allowed to have two-family homes — both attached and detached — on the lot. Accessory apartments are also allowed on all residential lots, but the resolution would make the apartments allowed to be larger.
    • Several public speakers argued against the amendment — including that it may not actually impact affordable housing and that the Town's historic districts would be disproportionately impacted.
      • "One of the biggest flaws of all this is a mish-mash of affordable housing and middle housing," Linda Brown, a community member, said. "Most everybody who follows this close notice this has nothing whatsoever to do with affordable housing."
    • Others spoke in favor of the amendment, arguing the community should focus on becoming more inclusive by providing higher density, lower costs and more housing options.
  • Other items on the meeting agenda included a development for UNC Health in Eastowne and a change to the Good Neighbor Plan.
    • The UNC Health development is planned to be 1.1 million square feet of healthcare-related buildings.
      • "This project will create thousands of jobs — those workers will shop in our stores, they will eat in our restaurants and, hopefully, they will choose to live in this community and continue to contribute as residents," Interim Town Manager Chris Blue said.
      • UNC Health will be providing a $5 million contribution toward affordable housing, which Blue said the Town could be able to leverage into a $20 to $40 million loan fund for affordable housing. This, in turn, could turn into up to 1,000 affordable homes.
      • Construction on the lot could take about 25 years, with one office building being constructed every 3-5 years.
    • The Good Neighbor Plan was created as a condition of the approval of the Inter-Faith Council’s Community House in 2011.
      • The change comes after a March report from the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness that said the community would benefit from updating the IFC plan to reflect federal best practices and becoming a housing-first operation.

What was decided?

  • The town council passed the Housing Choices amendment 6-3, with council members Adam Searing, Camille Berry and Amy Ryan voting against it.
    • Searing said he doesn't believe the amendments will improve affordability and that the Town should focus on what works.
      • Searing announced his candidacy for mayor earlier this month and has been opposed to the amendment since its introduction.
    • Berry voted against the amendment seemingly because of a disagreement on parking minimums — she wanted a one-spot minimum to ensure parking would be available while other council members wanted no minimum to help phase out car use.
    • Ryan seemingly voted against the proposal because she wanted to see extra "guardrails" put up to avoid tear-downs in historic districts, as well as parking and student housing issues.
    • Town Council member Jessica Anderson said this housing amendment and creating missing middle housing is just one step toward creating a more inclusive and accessible community.
      • "I grew up in this type of housing and based on that experience, I know that gentle infill can fit into existing neighborhoods support a more inclusive community and support our environmental goals," Anderson said.
    • Town Council member Amy Ryan said she believes the Town shouldn't just focus on housing for students, but housing where "everyone can live."
    • Town Council member Tai Huynh said the amendment is one small step toward rectifying years of making new housing difficult to build in town and making the community more inclusive.
    • Town Council member Paris Miller-Foushee said she believes the amendments will have broad social and racial equity benefits, including helping to remove barriers and promoting more housing affordability and density.
      • "We need to reflect on how much of our attachment to preserving neighborhood character is driven by animosity toward or fear of low-income households and people of color," Miller-Foushee said.
  • The town council passed the UNC Health development 8-1, with Searing voting against it.

What's next?

  • This was the town council's final meeting before the summer break. They will meet again in August.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified a public speaker at Wednesday's meeting as Linda Brown, a coordinator with the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town. The actual speaker was another member of the community named Linda Brown. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

@ethanehorton1

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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Ethan E. Horton

Ethan E. Horton is the 2023-24 city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a city & state assistant editor and as the 2023 summer managing editor. Ethan is a senior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and political science, with a minor in history.

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