A 152-unit retirement center was approved Monday for North Estes Drive after over two years of changes and a last-minute affordable housing negotiation.
The Town Council approved rezoning the 6.44-acre site north of the Estes and Somerset Drive intersection for more dense construction. The 133,600-square-foot independent living center will be three stories along Estes Drive, rising to four stories in the rear, and have 99 parking spaces.
The Chapel Hill Retirement Center, for people 55 and up, is the first project approved for the town’s Central West district, a small development district east of the Martin Luther King Jr. and Estes Drive intersection.
Developer Hawthorne Retirement Group has agreed to pay the town $100,000 instead of providing affordable units as part of the project. The developer also will build sidewalks and a greenway to Phillips Middle School, and pay $107,237 toward planned road, bike and pedestrian improvements along Estes Drive.
The final affordable housing payment was about a third of what the town’s Housing Advisory Board had recommended based on the town’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. The ordinance requires developers of for-sale housing to make at least 15 percent of the planned units affordable.
Hawthorne Development expected to make an affordable housing contribution, representative Mark Lohan said, but the $326,000 request is “unprecedented.” He noted the project’s rising cost and said it shouldn’t be compared with apartments, because it will provide residents with more services and care.
“If we walked into the community, and we saw that you had a formula for figuring affordable housing up front, before we made an application, we would adjust our expectations accordingly. But to get this at the 11th hour is frankly disturbing,” he said.
Council members Sally Greene, Nancy Oates and Jessica Anderson advocated for a slightly higher payment of $120,000. However, Anderson and other council members also expressed concern about changing the rules after two years of discussions.
“I think the thing that makes me the most uncomfortable about this is we didn’t have a formula, and nobody told the applicant walking into this what they could expect,” Anderson said. “I would love to squeeze you for every single penny I could get out of you, but it makes me nervous that you did not have a number when you walked in the door, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
What the town expects from developers hasn’t been consistent because the previous council based its decisions on individual projects, Council member Donna Bell said. Hopefully, the information that the advisory board has compiled can be used for future projects, she said.
“I think it should be a formula, and there should be a rationale behind it, and it should be applied evenly and with clarity,” Bell said. “I do not think that this is necessarily the development that we need to have that conversation on if for no other reason than it is a different housing type than our usual rental.”
Mary Jean Seyda, the advisory board’s vice chairwoman, said they could continue to look at what other communities are doing and come back with some ideas for guiding future developers and plans.