The other 1 percent

“Lies and misinformation,” Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt responded to a DogwoodNancy Oates Acres resident who questioned whether and how much Obey Creek would cost taxpayers.

I have heard what could be called lies and misinformation during the Obey Creek Development Agreement process, and it has come from the development team. A case in point: Affordable housing.

Obey Creek developers claim that their proposal designates 5% of the rental units as affordable, an embarrassingly low amount, given that Obey Creek is within walking distance of the town’s two largest employers of low-wage workers: the university and hospital. Across the country, towns similar to Chapel Hill are getting as much as 25% to 35% affordable housing from new developments.

And Obey Creek’s 5% shrinks to 1% when you calculate the affordable housing based on square footage. The most recent iteration of the development agreement available to the public is missing some key information to figure out exactly how much affordable housing the project would yield. But by filling in the blanks with common sense assumptions, here’s what I come up with. Please let me know if you spot any flaws in my logic or arithmetic.

With the stated maximum of 800 units, 5% would be 40 affordable units, but the Development Agreement does not specify what constitutes affordable. For my definition, only the units that accept government subsidy (Section 8 or Veterans Vouchers) or are rented at below-market rate should be considered affordable housing. The market rate micro-units are just that: tiny apartments rented at full market rate. The developer sacrifices nothing to provide those market-rate units.

The Development Agreement does not specify maximum square footage for residential, only a minimum of 250 units or 290,000-330,000 sft. The average of that square footage is 310,000 sft. Dividing that up into 250 units yields an average unit of 1,240 sft. To get the maximum sft, multiply 1,240 x 800 units for 992,000 sft of residential.

The agreement says the micro-units will be studios at 450 sft, 1-bedrooms at 500 sft and 2-bedrooms at 750 sft, but doesn’t say how many of each. So I assigned 20 of the units as studios, 10 as 1-bedrooms and 10 as 2-bedrooms. Multiply that out for a total of 21,500 sft of what the developer considers affordable housing. Do the math: 21,500/992,000 = 2.167% affordable housing.

The agreement says that the developer will accept vouchers only for half of the 40 units designated affordable. Remember the developer is getting full market rate for the micro-units. So, divide 2.167% in half and you get 1.08%.

For a density bonus as large as the town is poised to give the Obey Creek developers — in 1992, Town Council designated that land as low-density residential in exchange for boosting the density on the other side of the highway to create Southern Village — 1% of affordable housing is a ridiculously small concession on the part of the developers. Rumor has swirled that the developers may squeeze in 40 townhouses, which would be subject to the town’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. That should not be considered a concession by the developers. That’s simply obeying the law.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Terri

     /  May 18, 2015

    The affordable housing mix is the least of the problems with Obey Creek. After years of citizen review, appointed committees and organic local groups, there has been no group except the affordable house comm that looked favorably upon the developers proposal. Despite the critiques, none of which claimed no development should occur on the site, the council is poised to give the developer exactly what he wants. I have no interest in interpreting that behavior as anything except paternalism. They think they know more than the development, economic, and engineering experts from the community. That is the same exact behavior we see in Raleigh, from a different philosophical bent. It’s not acceptable, it’s not community oriented, and it’s not representative of a progressive community.

    If this was still the same progressive, liberal community that I once knew and loved, the elected officials would recognize the deep gap between the consultants and staff and the community experts and they would negotiate some kind of compromise. That isn’t happening in the development agreement. They aren’t proposing a smaller footprint be reviewed, or that the full buildout be staged so that the financial and traffics impacts can be tested. They are giving East West Partners their unquestioned support to radically change the landscape of southern Orange County.

    How does anyone think this is acceptable?

  2. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  May 18, 2015

    As long as a majority of council members present vote for it, “acceptable” is not a consideration. It takes a majority of the mayor, Donna Bell, and Maria Palmer (who said 4/30/15 that they are voting for it), and any one or more of George Cianciolo, Sally Greene, Lee Storrow, Jim Ward, and Ed Harrison.

    Since 2010, when this gigantic project first came to public notice, there has been a great deal of input as to what the townspeople and county-people find acceptable. In fact, the town spent millions to find out. However, as long as voting council-members have their single-family dwellings far away from this mess it really doesn’t affect them, or anyone who works for the town. None of them have any reason to drive, or heaven forbid, walk or bike there (neither does the developer), and thus the town (council and staff) have never considered anything but the original proposal. If anyone who is affected can’t accept it, well, the town knows what they can do.

  3. bonnie hauser

     /  May 18, 2015

    I feel for you. I believe that the citizens on the Compass Committee did (and are doing) an incredible job trying to get this right. Never did they suggest not doing Obey Creek. They only asked for a project that’s just a little smaller so that it fits with its surroundings.

    Its not just affordable housing – its all the factors – size, scale, traffic, character impacts. Isn’t the vision to create one Southern neighborhood when this is all done?