Courtyards dissed

What do some members of Town Council have against the 20 percent of Chapel Nancy OatesHill residents who are at least 55 years old? Last Monday night, the developers of Courtyards at Homestead presented their proposal for an age-restricted community of 63 moderately priced one-level cottages clustered on 18 acres that back up to Carolina North along Homestead Road. (The Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 allows age-restricted communities that do not provide special assistance to the elderly.)

At the concept review in February, council overall gave encouragement to the Ohio-based developer Epcon Communities, which has built a few similar projects geared toward empty-nesters in the Triangle. But at the Special Use Permit public hearing last week, with a third of the council out and the mayor powering through back pain, the loudest voices on council objected to the age restriction.

At the February concept review, George Cianciolo, Matt Czajkowski, Sally Greene and Ed Harrison voiced support for making the development age-restricted rather than simply “targeting” older homeowners. Their reasons: An age-restricted community would not add more children to the school system, and at present, Chapel Hill residents who want to downsize to a cottage-home community have to move out of town. The proposal moved through the advisory board process with no age restriction. (Planning Commission members might be unnerved that a major component of the plan was changed after they reviewed and approved the project in August.)

The only point of contention at the Concept Review came from Epcon wanting to make a payment-in-lieu instead of designating 15 percent of the units as affordable housing. The development is the first proposal for single-family homes since the town enacted its Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance in 2010.

To comply with Inclusionary Zoning, Epcon would need to make nine units affordable, which would entail selling those homes at a loss, and no bank would lend Epcon money to build those houses. But Epcon found a way to make three units affordable and still have enough cash to make a payment-in-lieu equivalent to 4.45 houses.

So when the first words out of Maria Palmer’s mouth after Epcon wrapped up its presentation were, “I’m very disappointed,” my heart fell. She and Jim Ward were adamant that the age restriction be lifted. In fact, Palmer wanted Epcon to add special sidewalks for the visually impaired.

Epcon had gone to great lengths to bring back a proposal that fit what council members had asked for, and Epcon’s president was chagrined that council now seemed to be changing its mind. The apparent flip-flop made Form-Based Code seem appealing. And I wouldn’t be so leery about FBC if the development decisions weren’t made by a town manager who acts like a puppy who thinks developers have a ball. Did anyone ask East West Partners to pay for sidewalks for the visually impaired? No, the town manager volunteered to pick up the tab for a private road for East West Partners for a project that will cost taxpayers money.

Epcon has a choice about where to build, Czajkowski reminded his colleagues. If council puts up too many obstacles, Epcon could build just outside of town, leaving 20 percent of town residents to age out of Chapel Hill.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Bonnie

     /  September 22, 2014

    Nancy – this says everything. Thanks for connecting the dots

  2. many

     /  September 22, 2014

    time: 2:41

    [sic] “I need to do a better job of telling the public how much they don’t know”. Well, I know this much; the council can’t just whip up a magic unrestricted one size fits all solution that just isn’t there in the name of “affordable housing”.

    Forgetting previous key discussions, distorting the scope, an embarrassing flip flop requiring hizhonor to hastily make the “that’s how local government works” excuse does not indicate “….hours and the work, and information gathering that 60,000 Chapel Hillians don’t have the time and the energy or the inclination to do”.

    If [sic] “Leadership is about vision, and that’s why you’re elected….”, then where exactly was the vision in the objection to this development? What exactly about this development runs contrary to the (as yet undocumented) “vision” for that area of Homestead Road (or anywhere else for that matter)?

    Dr. Palmer, you say you are concerned with “incredible opportunities” being missed. Please explain what potential opportunity is being missed here? Townhouses?

  3. Ph. Sledge

     /  September 23, 2014

    20 years in an established neighborhood has allowed us to see many retirees and empty nesters sell their family sized homes and move to Alamance and Chatham counties for exactly this kind of proposed community. It’s a short sighted dismissal and one that makes absolutely no sense.

  4. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  September 23, 2014

    The Planning Commission found that it was implausible to build affordable units in a car-dependent development (there is no public transportation option within a mile, for persons without their own cars); the development would also have a monthly charge for amenities (clubhouse, pool) that would weigh on any inhabitant’s (or subsidizer’s) budget, and it was reported to the Planning Comm that even the Community Home Trust felt it was a poor use of its own resources to have affordable units in such an outlying area. Unclear as to why Maria Palmer and Jim Ward insist on subsidized units, instead of payments-in-lieu going toward subsidizing units in a better location. Also unclear as to what installing expensive sidewalks for the visually impaired would serve in a car-dependent, 63-unit development without destinations to walk to.

  5. Julie McClintock

     /  September 26, 2014

    This is a fine critique of the Council discussion. I would hope that those Council members critical of an age restricted community realize that Chapel Hill is the perfect plan to put an over – 55 community. After all the average voting age is 59 and we may need a lot more housing to serve this energetic part of the community.

  6. You write: “The development is the first proposal for single-family homes since the town enacted its Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance in 2010.”
    Council passed the Ramsley subdivision off Eubanks Road on September 8, with one lot committed to onsite affordable housing, complying with the IZO. The Courtyards is by far the largest application subject to the IZO.

  7. anon

     /  October 30, 2014

    so is there an age restriction or not in the final approval and what age?

  8. Nancy

     /  October 30, 2014

    At least one of the homeowners living in the house must be 55 or older. One option was to have 3 homes be designated affordable to buyers earning no more than 80% of the AMI, and they would not have to be 55 or older. But council opted instead for an unprecedented payment-in-lieu — $803,250.