Aydan Court: Who holds the cards?

Tonight’s Town Council meeting will be the closest event Chapel Hill has to the World Series of Poker. The Aydan Court special use permit application returns for another round; expect players to see, raise, call and maybe even bluff.

Zinn Design Build owns a 6-acre parcel off N.C. 54 in Durham County, just behind UNC’s Paul Rizzo Center in Meadowmont. With current zoning, Carol Ann Zinn could build 17 single-family houses on it without seeking council’s approval. Instead, Zinn, who has been successfully developing and building award-winning homes and communities in Chapel Hill for more than 30 years, came up with a multifamily concept that fits with the high-density development along mass transit routes that the council has been advocating for years. For the past two years, Zinn has been reworking the design based on feedback from council.

The land abuts a Waterfowl Impoundment area, and some council members – Ed Harrison, Jim Ward, Penny Rich and Donna Bell – don’t want to see any development on the parcel, so at the council meeting on May 25, they spoke out against the SUP. Gene Pease, Matt Czajkowski, Laurin Easthom and Mark Kleinschmidt favored approval, understanding that if the rezoning were denied, Zinn could build the single-family subdivision without any input from council. Sally Greene was away on a family emergency.

Layered on top of all this is Zinn’s proposal to designate the payment-in-lieu of affordable units to Habitat for Humanity, not the Community Home Trust. Council members and those who work in the affordable housing field agree that they’d rather have payment-in-lieu instead of more affordable units.

If none of the eight council members has a change of heart, Greene becomes the tie-breaker. If she sides with the deniers, Zinn could build her single-family houses. But would she? The high-end home market is slow these days, though less so in Chapel Hill than elsewhere in the Triangle. And Zinn makes no secret of her conviction that the town needs more moderately priced homes (as the condos in her SUP application would be).

Would she put off building until the end of the year, when the real estate market might change, as perhaps would the make-up of the council after the election? Or would she give up trying to make the council happy and build the subdivision the ordinance allows? After all, she’s taken significant grief from council for years, including in 2009 when then-Mayor Kevin Foy lit into her for deigning to build on land that has been zoned for residential construction. Will she build affordable units instead of making payment-in-lieu?

Will the council give up all chance of having some say in what is build? Or will it vote to continue to work with Zinn to shape development?

Will some philanthropist come through with an offer to pay Zinn for her time and expenditures to date, then arm the property with conservation restrictions?
Tune in tonight for what might be the final round.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Small correction, A R-1 development would still require Council approval because of several factors. That the pretense that a R-1 is a viable alternative has gained as much concern as it has is quite disappointing.

  2. Nancy, it appears I didn’t explain myself well the first time I responded to your reporting on this matter. No payment in lieu money is ever ‘dedicated’ to Community Home Trust and it doesn’t belong to us. We apply for funds like everybody else does and the Town and Council make the final decisions about what gets funded.

    The ordinance states that Payments in Lieu go to the Affordable Housing Trust fund. The Town decides how that money is allocated. There are many organizations who receive money from this fund and its activities continue to expand. Many affordable housing providers can benefit from additional money being put into in the Affordable Housing Trust fund.

    We support the payment in lieu, not because we receive the money, but because we do not think these units will significantly enhance our affordable housing program,. We support it going to the Affordable Housing Trust fund because that’s where the ordinance says it must go. If and when we need money from the fund, we will ask for it and provide data as to why we need it. And then the deciders will decide whether to allocate the funds to us or not. That’s how it works.

    I’m happy to expand on this information if needed

    Anita Badrock
    Operations Manager, Community Home Trust.

  3. Ed Harrison

     /  June 21, 2011

    At no point did Jim Ward, Penny Rich, Donna Bell, or I say that we did not want any development on the parcel. We all asked for a different multi-family design with a somewhat smaller footprint.

    And, as I stated at more than one hearing, that location is not in the Chapel Hill single-family home market. Anyone who develops in southern Durham County could tell you
    Also, Ms. Zinn stated that “moderately-priced” condos would have a price point of “$400,000.”

  4. Nancy Oates

     /  June 21, 2011

    A multifamily design with a smaller footprint is exactly what Zinn Design Build brought back. And you still voted it down. Zinn is correct that the median price of a single-family home in Chapel Hill is just shy of $400,000. Prices have held steady in Chapel Hill, despite the recession.

  5. Fred Black

     /  June 21, 2011

    No organization should be expected to make a good decision on complex issues at the end of a six hour, information packed meeting.

  6. Terri Buckner

     /  June 21, 2011

    I could have sworn that the mayor said at the beginning of the meeting that there wouldn’t be votes on either the moratorium or Aydan Court until tonight. Did I misunderstand him or was there pressure for the vote to take place last night?

  7. Nancy Oates

     /  June 21, 2011

    I didn’t sense any pressure on the Aydan Court vote; if anything, council members were uncharacteristically quiet until Gene Pease made the motion to rezone to R-5. Council members seemed reluctant to speak up until then, perhaps because of the lateness of the hour and all the input presented over the previous 6 hours.

  8. Fred, this wasn’t the first bite for Council at the Aydan Ct. apple. Your suggestion that Council wasn’t capable of making a complex decision based on the lateness of the hour doesn’t hold up when viewed in that context.

    When it came down to it, the decision was whether a square peg could ever be forced into a circular hole WITHOUT excessive damage.

    Nancy, while I do agree that there has been a sea change in the Council’s thinking on what developers used to parade as “smart growth”, I disagree strongly with your suggestion that Council strictly relied on “feelings” – pro or con – to come to their decision. A rezoning is a discretionary act – Council has extremely wide leeway in deciding that issue so they could decide – based solely on “feelings” – to rule one way or the other. I think what we saw last night was a Council that maybe was struggling to articulate their arguments more than a Council that hadn’t reviewed the materials before them.

  9. Fred Black

     /  June 21, 2011

    So Will, where do I say “wasn’t capable?” I said “No organization should be expected.” There is a difference. When people at the end of the long process say that they are unable to clearly articulate their position, we should all be concerned!

  10. Fred, guess I read too much into your statement – so did the organization not meet your expectations?

    You are right, though, to be concerned about the articulation problem. I’ve been quite concerned when Council debate becomes more than inarticulate (Did they read the materials? Did they process it?) and have said my piece about it.

    Unlike a lot of the shifting issues before Council, where a bit of inattention or lack of preparedness can really trip one up, the debated issues of Aydan Court go back years.

    Council has heard dozens of hours of testimony and read (or should have read) hundreds of pages of recommendations, site plans, design guidelines, relevant regulations, controlling LUMO, citizen comments, etc. Do you think, like Nancy suggests, that their decision was mainly a matter of “feelings” and that the facts – those carefully submitted and parsed by the applicant and those offered by the “incompetent” witnesses (to use Ms. Zinn’s lawyers vernacular) – played no role?