Hope springs eternal

A developer walked into a Town Council meeting, armed only with a PowerPoint presentation and high hopes.

Does this joke sound familiar? You’ve heard it twice in the past couple months, first with Shortbread Lofts and most recently with Charterwood. So you know how it goes. Neighbors will object to the building height and density and the influx of students that will change their quiet, quaint lifestyle. Council members will object to too much parking or not enough, or too much vehicular traffic or too much pedestrian traffic. Or the tenants will use the transportation infrastructure too much, or not enough. As if trapped in an abusive relationship, developers will spend years trying to make council members happy, only to be dumped in the end.

But there’s never a shortage of people confident that they can tame the bad boy, and last night Trinitas stepped up to try. The Atlanta-based developer specializes in high-density student housing within a walkable distance of campuses. Trinitas has partnered with local architect and engineering firms to come up with a project to replace what used to be called Northampton Terrace, more recently known as Central Park Apartments.

Trinitas has proposed replacing the three one- and two-story buildings with four five- to seven-story buildings that would put 285 units, a total of 700 bedrooms, in the 9-acre spot. The developer asked for a variance in height (90 feet maximum, as opposed to the 60 feet LUMO allows) and only half the parking spaces LUMO requires.

The gist of the complaints from nearby homeowners along Hillsborough Street was that so many students coming to the neighborhood would be noisy, increase traffic and interfere with their views. One woman said she wouldn’t be able to see the sun set if the project were built.

Some council members were skeptical that Trinitas would be able to get students to abide by the walkable/bikable/busable mindset. But Trinitas has had experience doing so and has a plan. Tenants would have three options: rent a parking spot from Trinitas, show proof of renting a spot elsewhere or sign a contract that they would not have a car anywhere in the county. Violaters risk having their lease terminated.

To keep everyone happy, Trinitas could put further restrictions on tenants. Make this project for shy people only. Surely there are at least 700 introverts on campus who would prefer to live surrounded by other quiet, studious scholars, students who are too busy working or studying or training to party hard on the balconies.

UNC is by far the town’s biggest employer, or it would be if middle-income people could afford to live here. But still, we need to make some accommodations to welcome the students who keep the university and downtown businesses alive. Renting only to students with high GPAs, or on an Olympic sport team or hold down a work-study job would fill a market niche.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Anita Badrock

     /  February 22, 2012

    Student housing this close to campus would certainly help to reduce student rental demands in other neighborhoods near campus, like Northside.

  2. John Kramer

     /  February 22, 2012

    Meantime, people will scratch their heads wondering why housing is so expensive in town. LOL Chapel Hill.

  3. Jon DeHart

     /  February 23, 2012

    It is funny how supply and demand works …

  4. John Kramer

     /  February 23, 2012

    Yeah, Jon, at least in an American town.

  5. Anita, very doubtful that this development would reduce pressure on neighborhoods like Northside.

    Chancellor Thorp (at CH2020 forum) said one key reason they can’t keep students interested in on campus living is the lack of parking. If you look at the kinds of complaints folks in Northside have, too many vehicles packed into yards, etc. is at the top of the list. With its constrained parking approach, these apartments will probably attract the same clientèle as Granville Towers.

    Other than that, given the conditions on this lot, the proposal doesn’t fit (unless the CHTC stretches their RAM Development gift RSSC zone northward).

  6. Joe

     /  February 24, 2012

    “Anita, very doubtful that this development would reduce pressure on neighborhoods like Northside.”

    Huh? Of course it would! The students are going to live somewhere. By not adding in more housing, they’re going to continue (as the university continues to grow) to live in the existing housing, meaning yes, they will move to Northside and other areas in increasing numbers as a direct result of this development not being approved. It’s not like undergrads are going to move to Hillsborough or Pittsboro in large numbers. They’re going to be in town. It’s just a matter of where they’re going to live in town. .

  7. Joe, the point is that more students will move off campus into the towers not move out of Northside to the towers. In other words, a net increase of students living off-campus Downtown. Same analysis applies to Shortbread Lofts.

    Chancellor Thorp said one element of the Carolina North UNC would think about differently now is more parking for housing. That’s part of the attraction of Northside (I guess UNC’s former Chancellor Moeser’s promise of a “bed for every head” has gone quietly away).

    Interesting to see the predictable result of West140 coming to fruition in a slew of new projects centered on housing students Downtown.

  8. Jason

     /  February 24, 2012

    Northside is +- 60% rentals. It will continue to be 60% (or more) student rental neighborhood. There’s no turning back now. Students love Northside. Students will continue to love Northside. If and when CH starts counting cars and serving notices I suspect the landlords will raise rents due to reduced occupancy. If you ask a student their ideal type of housing and location (and I have) it would be a house (not an apt) and it would be Northside. In typical CH political fashion they take the opinion of a couple of squeaky wheels that have formed a “coalition” and get an ordinance passed that in no doubt will bumbled by town staff.

  9. Jason, I was on board with most of what you said until “couple of squeaky wheels”.

    While the effectiveness of the NCD policies is debatable, the underlying reasons for having one in Northside exist. They aren’t just annoyances – their impact felt most keenly by folks who have deep roots in this community (many who have given this community years of support). There are fewer residents involved now (folks have given up, moved away, died) but there is no reason to disregard their calls for action.

  10. Jason

     /  February 24, 2012

    Will – I’d like to see some evidence that the current owner occupied homeowners in Northside (the 40% or so) formed a consensus that these changes need to be made. It was more likely a handful of residents who got assistance from outside sources. Many of these folks with “deep roots” in Northside approach investors consistently about selling their property. This is how most of the transactions occur. They want to sell. So now what happens (if CH actually polices the new policies in September); Rents potentially rise on a per bedroom level and potential sales values decrease due to reduced rental income.

  11. Linda Convissor

     /  February 24, 2012

    Will – Just to clarify: What Chancellor Moeser said was “a bed for every new head”. I don’t have the numbers handy but if his pledge hasn’t been met, it would be very close. Rams Village has been built and many res halls renovated (including Granville, which houses 1300 students) to make them more appealing. All freshman live on campus and most (over 80%) of sophomores. There’s literally no way that campus can house all 18,000+ undergrads; there will always be a need for off-campus housing. It’s fair to argue how best to provide that housing and what it should look like but it’s not fair to cast aspersions on Chancellor Moeser or the University’s commitment to on-campus housing. If you want a tour, I’ll set it up for you.

  12. Linda, I never suggested that UNC accommodate all 18,000+ undergrads but it was clear that Hooker, Moeser and other UNC administrators did say that the growth in UNC’s undergrad population would be tracked by an equivalent amount of on campus housing. Moeser said that essentially several different ways during his tenure.

    For instance, in 2001 it was noted in the “Drañ Memorandum of Understanding between the Town and the University Regarding Fiscal Issues” that “The University is committed to providing a bed for every additional undergraduate head.”

    It wasn’t too much later that UNC quietly pulled plans for 3 new residence halls from the master plan.

    I agree that due to a number of factors UNC might not be far off of the mark but would love for you to confirm that for every additional undergrad added to the roles 2000-2011 an on-campus bed was provided.

    The original target was 3300 additional beds for 3300 additional heads over 8-12 years.

  13. Linda Convissor

     /  February 24, 2012

    Then we agree that the statement was a “bed for every new head” not a “bed for every head” as many like to put it. Not sure what you mean by pulling the 3 res halls; the first master plan done with ASG was adopted in 2001 and the later one reevaluated sites for all kinds of uses. Removing housing wasn’t a goal, though I imagine it’s possible that it happened because closer inspection made us realize a site wasn’t ideal. Keeping Odum open wasn’t a goal either but there it is, the housing that won’t quit. You might be able to find the data on the heads and beds on the Instit Research site but I’d caution you that housing numbers are fluid and complex and I’ve learned to defer to the housing folks on questions like this. I’ve often gotten wrong what I was sure was right.

  14. Linda, while I understand it was for each new undergrad, somewhere along the line the common phrase used by UNC’s own folks was “bed for every head”.

    Sue Kitchen, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, noted that when the University first discussed increasing enrollment in 1997 there was much concern about the impact on the Town and it was then that the University had pledged to build “a bed for every head.” She said that UNC used the Master Plan process to site its first new residence halls on south campus in a manner that would transform four high rise buildings into four communities in a design similar to that of north campus. The University sited about 3,000 possible new bed spaces to accommodate enrollment growth, she said.

    In context of the ongoing CH2020 discussions, it would be nice to know how close UNC came to meeting the 2000 commitment.

  15. Joe

     /  February 25, 2012

    It really doesn’t matter how much housing UNC is providing. It’s completely irrelevant to this discussion.

    By denying development, the town is keeping housing prices artificially high by limiting supply, which is odd, considering the constant gnashing of teeth by the Town council over affordable housing.

  16. DOM

     /  February 25, 2012

    Joe is correct – the only real way to remedy the ‘affordable housing’ issue is to create more housing.

  17. Terri Buckner

     /  February 25, 2012

    “It really doesn’t matter how much housing UNC is providing.”

    I agree. The issue should be how many empty beds there are on campus and how the university’s efforts match the demands of the students. That would give us a more realistic way of thinking about off-campus student housing. College is when kids learn to be adults. It isn’t realistic to think they are going to live on campus all 4 years. They need to live off campus to learn to pay bills, cook for themselves, etc.

    The other issue that must be considered is the fact that Housing Services is self-supporting. It does not receive state funding. We need supply and demand on campus to match as closely as possible to keep costs in line with revenues. That may not matter to some town residents, but for those of us who work on campus, pay tuition, and love the university, it is a real consideration.

  18. How about keeping the housing folks are already in affordable?

    This year our property taxes/school district tax/stormwater utility fee will comprise about 30% of our housing payment.

    As far as more development opening up more affordable housing opportunities, I’d suggest you take a look at both the recently approved and proposed housing projects.

    Downtown we have Trinitas, Shortbread Lofts, West140 and Greenbridge with either a majority of units that are obviously targeted towards housing students or units well outside the reach of a median income earner. The proposed 328 units at Hillsborough 425 were all priced above an affordable range – is that a good model?

    Outside of Downtown, Charterwood and Aydan Court projects weren’t going to be generally affordable. The Chapel Hill North and Chapel Watch residences are more affordable but out of reach of many of the service workers in our community.

    So, what kind of development do we want to promote that creates affordable housing outside of the affordable housing program?

  19. As far as off-campus housing, a Northside landlord presented a very persuasive economic case for why students find Northside attractive. According to his analysis, per bed pricing of on-campus units rose 6-10 times faster than Northside. Add in the additional amenities – like parking – that Jason and others noted and you can well understand why there might be more beds than heads (I’d still like to see the numbers).

    What role, if any, does UNC in making their on-campus housing stock as economically attractive as off-campus?

    Neighborhoods like Elkins Hills and Northside used to serve both students and families but that balance has shifted. The same neighborhoods also provided the first rung of housing for many young families – have we forever lost that opportunity for that demographic or is the shift from detached housing to townhouses/apartments sufficient?

  20. Joe

     /  February 26, 2012

    CitizenWill, I think we’re talking about two very different things. You’re talking about where/how students should be housed vs. what neighborhoods are important to “preserve”. That’s one thing. That’s some kind of social/urban engineering, discussion, and it’s a mess.

    If we’re talking about affordability, then more housing will always keep all residential prices lower. Demand is going up, and with the bulldozers working in Carolina North, demand is going to up significantly over the next couple of decades as that campus gets build out.

    Look, in the worst case scenario for the urban planners, if every single unit built is a “luxury condo”, it doesn’t matter. Housing/rental prices will still drop. No property owner (except perhaps Mr. Riddle) wants to leave a property vacant. Not everybody in town can afford “luxury condos”, so those “luxury condos” are going to sit vacant until the price comes down far enough where somebody, anybody, wants to live in it.

    Look at Greenbridge. The developers overestimated the market demand for the very high end units they were selling. They went bankrupt. They took a significant financial loss. The creditors pick up what equity is left, and because there’s less value to cover, the creditors rent/sell those units for less than the original developer was asking. The original developer gets “punished” for developing too many luxury units, and the price of those units drops.

    So if we, as a town want to make housing more affordable, we really need to push to start allowing many more high density developments. I have a feeling that the University’s growth is already outstripping the supply of housing in the immediate area, which is why our real estate market was largely cushioned from the current depression. If/when the larger economic picture improves, we’ll see housing prices in Chapel Hill skyrocket even further if the town doesn’t take their foot off the brake.