Why not live here?

At last night’s Town Council meeting, town business management director Ken Pennoyer and a band of technology professionals waxed eloquent on the wonders of Gig U, the ultra-high-speed connectivity coming to town. Following the presentation that detailed ways the new service would improve our lives, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt crowed, “Why doesn’t everyone want to live here?”

Well, many people do. But as became clear during discussions of other items on the agenda, we only have room for the wealthy. And we certainly don’t want any students.

The meeting began with pleas for funding of affordable housing initiatives through CDBG (which is not a night club, but stands for Community Development Block Grants) and HOME Program money. Laurin Easthom and Mayor K lamented the continuous reduction in such government aid. Matt Czajkowski pointed out that the proposed distribution of funds gives IFC every penny it requested (all to go toward the new shelter on Homestead Road) and Habitat for Humanity and the Community Home Trust more than they requested, yet one Northside resident noted pointedly that the town isn’t building anymore public housing units.

The meeting ended with a concept review plan for The Retreat at Homestead, a student housing development that one single-family homeowner on Homestead Road dubbed a “resort-style student housing experience.” Several single-family homeowners of nearby Homestead Village stepped up to the mike to state their opposition, and silent NIMBY-ers stood up on cue. Donna Bell called The Retreat a parking lot with bedrooms, and Easthom, Czajkowski and Penny Rich sided with her. Jim Ward and Lee Storrow supported the concept, but also winced at 850 additional cars driving back and forth to Harris Teeter. Ward, bless his egalitarian heart, told Homestead Village residents that their desire to keep others from clogging the same roads that they clog didn’t hold water for him.

Homestead Village residents railed that student housing should be built in high-rises close to campus, the inverse of the arguments that single-family homeowners near the proposed Trinitas development voiced some weeks back, urging council to take the pressure off neighborhoods close to campus by building student housing further out.

Maybe we should put both sets of neighbors in a room and ask them to work out where to house the students that help make this town a place where everyone wants to live.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Tom Swanekamp

     /  March 20, 2012

    With all due respect, I think both you and council member Ward missed the point. No one is opposed to students living in the Homestead area. In fact, as has been pointed out there is student housing in the area (Chapel Ridge), there are students living in rental houses on Homestead Road, and there are students living in our development. I do not recall anyone going to council member Ward to complain about it. The issue is simply about building a development that the area can not sustain, and more importantly can not be supported by the current infrastructure. As another council member pointed out it is not realistic to expect the developer to make incremental improvements to infrastructure just to support one development.
    It would be great if a more forward thinking developer came with a plan to use the site under consideration for housing to support the Carolina North campus, both for employees and/or students accessing Carolina North. That would be a win for housing, a win for Chapel Hill and a win for our neighborhood.

  2. Anonymous

     /  March 20, 2012

    Nancy – your account of the Retreat is completely different from the N&O.

    If the new developers are stupid enough to go forward with this that is there fault. The N&O account of the meeting basically says the council majority thinks this is a horrible project.

    Developers need to get the point Council, prefers dense undergrad housing close enough to campus to walk. It’s that simple
    I’d encourage your readers (or better you post a link)
    to see this


  3. Jon DeHart

     /  March 20, 2012

    Nancy’s accounts are quite often different from kferral’s. As some one who has been present at Chapel news events , my accounts are usually different than what I read in the Chapel Hill News/ News and Observer .

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  March 20, 2012

    GIG U is not necessarily coming to town. It is a proposed plan for research institutions, of which UNC is one of the partner schools, to “accelerate the deployment of ultra high-speed networks to leading U.S. universities and their surrounding communities.” UNC and the town are participating in the initiative thanks to the past advocacy of the defunct Technology Advisory Committee in having town-owned fiber optic cable laid when DOT was laying the cable for traffic signal upgrades. Since we have the fiber in place, our GIG U activities (if that initiative is implemented) will focus on how to use it for economic development, education, health care, etc.

  5. Anonymous

     /  March 20, 2012

    @Jon –
    my only point is I took the N&O’s account as much as a rejection (“skeptical”) as council is allowed to do at this point.

    So if nancy writes a column in 2 years about how much the developers spent on the project and not get it approved don’t be surprised.

  6. Anonymous

     /  March 20, 2012

    here’s another title that also differs from Nancy’s interpretation


  7. Nancy Oates

     /  March 20, 2012

    Anonymous — What does my blog post say that differs from the online news accounts?

  8. Anonymous

     /  March 20, 2012

    it seems pretty clear council is in favor of dense student housing within walking distance of campus and they said that repeatedly and approved such projects e.g. shortbread. However, it also is clear the council (except for maybe 1 person) strongly disliked this location for this project. So why “new” developers keep proposing the same thing (and wasting their money) is beyond me.

  9. Jon DeHart

     /  March 20, 2012

    @anon- That doesn’t sound like the Nancy that I have read . The 2 most recent that I have followed were Charterwood and Aydan Court .And both passed all Town Boards only to be denied at Council .

    I would like for our town to have a more objective, measurable process . Then we could be just as tough but the developer would know what the rules are from the beginning . And choose whether or not to apply .

    To quote/paraphrase Ed Harrison- Our process is a crap shoot . In my opinion it does not have to be .

  10. Fred Black

     /  March 20, 2012

    There are many students who live north of Estes and even further from campus than that. It sounded like one of the issues was cars that the students have. When our daughter was a student she and her roommate were in Foxcroft and both had cars. They didn’t drive to campus during the day – they took the “free” bus.

    I think student behavior when it comes to housing is hard to predict and even harder to channel in a desired direction. Can/will any Council ever come out and just flat out say, “Don’t ask us to approve housing targeted towards students in this or that area?” Wouldn’t that require a new zone and would it even be legal?

  11. Anonymous

     /  March 21, 2012

    @Jon – my only point is that I heard 6 council members say they hated the project. 1 yes (ward) and one maybe (one absent but hated the cottages which was basically the same thing).

    If the developers continue with the project that is their fault (looking at 7 no votes). The council told them as much as they are allowed to legally that this is a horrible project.

    the real story is how “single family” housing (in R-2) can be qualified for by 6 bedroom houses with 6 unrelated individuals. Penny Rich asked the real question and staff did not seemed perturbed that the developer is proposing student housing in an area zoned for “single family”.

    that is the biggest “story” from this project in my opinion. The developer is stretching the limits beyond the laugh test to qualify for the current zoning.

  12. Anonymous10

     /  March 23, 2012

    There is simply lack of reasoning and understanding when it comes to student housing by the Council members and residents. It’s based off a “Animal House” stereotype that particularly does not exist for the Joe Normal UNC student. Traffic and congestion is completely overblown considering 80-85% of students use the free public transportation to get to class. And students do not keep clockwork schedules in the use of their vehicles like conventional residents who work a 9-5 in peak traffic hours.

    I take the greatest offense to those who take the stance that students shouldn’t “need” a car. This isn’t 1980. Many students work outside of Chapel Hill and need to stay mobile for many reasons.

    Homestead residents should already understand what happens when you stymie development. You allow the Town Council opportunity to force things in your area in order to make room for future development elsewhere – i.e. the homeless shelter.

  13. PH

     /  March 23, 2012

    “Single family” refers to the physical type of development, not to the people who might be living in it.