How old is too old?

Age discrimination reared its ugly head at last week’s Town Council meeting. And this time, because we were talking about edifices, the youngster took the hit.

Staff made two proposals — the first to donate town-owned land to be used to relocate nearly century-old tiny houses to be used for affordable housing; and the second, in deciding what to do with the police station property, to consider only options that would tear down the existing building because, now 30-some years old, it is “too old” to be renovated.

The four cottages were built in the 1920s from kits ordered out of a Sears catalog. Ranging in size from 366 sft to 756 sft, they were erected after WWI as faculty housing. Author John Grisham bought them in 2016, because they were adjacent to a large historic house he bought at the same time. He wanted to tear them down to gain more privacy and parking.

Grisham petitioned the Historic District Commission for permission to demolish the homes. Because state law allows a property owner to demolish a house after 365 days if the petition is denied, Chapel Hill’s HDC granted the ask, but with a 365-day waiting period in which to negotiate a way to save the homes. But when the HDC extended an invitation to talk, Grisham ignored it.

Once the yearlong waiting period had passed, town staff asked council to donate some town-owned lots in Northside to Self-Help to be used for the four cottages, which Grisham would donate to the nonprofit, reaping a tax write-off of about $900,000 that would put about $300,000 in his pocket.

Town staff did not indicate whether they explored what condition the cottages were in; what would happen to the land if they did not survive the move; and who would pay to bring them up to code. (They lose their historic status once they are moved from their original location.)

But the concrete commercial building constructed in the 1980s? “Too old,” staff scoffed. It must be demolished.

I don’t know how much taxpayers spent to build the police station, but I would be surprised if the town expected to tear it down 30 years later.

We are preparing to spend $34 million on a new police station on land that UNC agreed to rent to us for 30 years. I was concerned that we were spending so much without a guarantee that the lease would be renewed. Is town staff expecting that the new station won’t last more than 30 years?

To be better stewards of taxpayer funds, we need to make sure that the new building lasts more than 30 years. Even if the town has grown so much by then that it has outgrown the new police station, as it has the current one, we need to be able to repurpose the building. We build our houses to outlast our mortgages, to be updated and resold. We need to view our town assets with the same perspective of investing in what will last.
— Nancy Oates

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  1. Plurimus

     /  October 15, 2018

    Thanks for asking those questions, Nancy.

    The real estate write of scam that powers our presidents and his families income is really pretty amazing isn’t it? Who on earth appraised those three structures at 300K each?

  2. The police station developed problems fairly early on and required expensive repairs that the public picked up the tab for instead of the builders. At the time the Town kind of hid some of those costs by using funds meant to make our Town’s buildings more environmentally sound to pay for these repairs.

  3. Nancy

     /  October 18, 2018

    Technically, less than $250K each; there’s 4 of them. Maybe the price went up because they’re next door to John Grisham.

  4. Plurimus

     /  October 19, 2018

    ….or the value is inflated for tax purposes ala Trump. What is amazing is the valuation of the tax dodg…..err… donation does not include the land which probably has increased in value.