A proposed Habitat for Humanity project will face an uphill battle after Cary’s planning board voted 5-3 on Monday to recommend denying the affordable housing plan near West Chatham Street.
Neighbors have been speaking out against the project since late last year, saying it wouldn’t fit in with their neighborhood. Some said additional homes would strain the area’s stormwater system, and many took issue with a proposed 6-foot gap between homes and also the lot sizes of 7,000 or 8,000 square feet.
The town’s planning staff had recommended approval of the request to rezone 2.6 acres on Trimble Avenue to make way for nine single-family Habitat houses. The pushback, and the planning board’s decision, point to Cary’s struggle to find places to put affordable housing.
“It’s nice to hear residents galvanized to protect their neighborhood, who think highly of where they live and want to continue that lifestyle,” said planning board member Mari-Jo Hill, who voted to not recommend approval for the site. “It’s a difficult fit in this particular case, and people need to have a sense that the continuity of their neighborhood will be protected.”
Amid complaints and suggestions from neighbors, Habitat changed its proposal, which was first introduced last July. The group initially wanted to build 23 homes, most of them townhomes, but it reduced the number to 15 in January. The following month, Habitat revised its petition again to propose only nine single-family homes.
Habitat for Humanity helps low- and middle-income families own homes by subsidizing their mortgages. The group uses fundraising, volunteer work and government subsidies. The Cary project, if approved, would receive $275,000 in federal grants administered by the town.
Home recipients are required to provide “sweat equity” toward their home’s construction and meet certain income requirements. Habitat for Humanity of Wake County has built almost 50 homes in Cary since 1985.
The Cary Town Council will vote on the Trimble Avenue project later this spring, providing the final word on whether the homes can be built.
About 20 people, many living in the Scottish Hills neighborhood, spent nearly an hour and a half during Monday’s meeting voicing their opposition.
Many homes along Trimble Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood near Swift Creek were built along stream buffers before town ordinances prohibited such construction. Residents have asked for a moratorium on development in the area until the town’s stormwater infrastructure can be upgraded to handle new development upstream.
“Our houses are flooding, and it’s definitely getting worse,” said resident Scott de Deugd during Monday’s meeting. “The water’s coming up and up. It’s ironic that to get nine affordable houses we’re willing to flood 200 of the most affordable homes in Cary.”
Stephanie Brinson was the only Scottish Hills resident to speak Monday in support of Habitat’s request. She had also advocated for the project at previous neighborhood meetings and before the town council in February.
Brinson said that while she appreciated the scope of the stormwater and flooding problem, she felt neighbors’ concerns had more to do with animosity toward Habitat and the homes’ potential occupants.
“The journey that brought us here came from a neighborhood meeting that said ‘Habitat for Humanity is coming,’ ” Brinson said. “That’s what the flyers said when they landed on my porch. ... It was as much push-back about who was moving into those houses as anything else, and that disappoints me.”
Sarah Forgeng, a Scottish Hills resident who spoke against the proposal, bristled at Brinson’s comments.
“I resent the implication that we don’t want poor people in our community,” she said. “I’ve volunteered with Habitat, I’ve volunteered with housing partnerships. My concern is that you bend the rules, you change the character of the neighborhood, and what happens? We should make this consistent with what’s already here.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan