Chapel Hill: Opinion

April 4, 2014

Your letters, April 6

Student opposition to the occupancy cap stems from the need for affordable student housing. Unfortunately, raising the cap will not reduce rents since landlords price student rentals by the bed. More students means landlords get more rent.

Raising cap won’t reduce rents

Student opposition to the occupancy cap stems from the need for affordable student housing. Unfortunately, raising the cap will not reduce rents since landlords price student rentals by the bed. More students means landlords get more rent.

Students being evicted in the middle of a semester is a shame, but the fault lies with the greedy landlords who know the rules and defy them. A landlord charging $7,000 a month for a nine-bedroom home knows there will be more than four bodies in it and knows to have only four signatures on the rental agreement. They defy the town to enforce the rules.

Students argue that raising occupancy will free up homes for permanent residents. This won’t be the case. Home prices will increase with greater rental potential making them less affordable to permanent residents.

Northside is not the only neighborhood affected. Student rentals have overtaken Davie Circle, dominated the Cameron-McCauley Historic District and represent fully half the residents in the Franklin-Rosemary Historic District. For residents this is not an issue of race or discrimination as has been suggested by some. It is an issue of preserving our neighborhoods with a healthy balance of students and permanent residents.

Affordable student housing is a real problem and getting worse as high-end student apartments are built with rents in the $600-$700 per bed range. Developers predict Shortbread Lofts and The Lux at Central Park will bring down rents in residential neighborhoods as students leave for more attractive housing. Don’t bet on it.

Raising the occupancy cap will not create affordable student housing nor will it benefit the neighborhood residents. It will only benefit the landlords. If students are looking for cheaper housing options, I suggest they bring their concerns to the university.

Janet Smith

Chapel Hill

Problems solved?

Over the years the Town Council has voted for many projects promoted as solutions to ills that they claimed harm Chapel Hill: overcrowding, lack of affordable housing, the need to attract businesses by adding more office and retail space.

Once the measures have been implemented, there is little information about how well they have cured the “problems.”

The latest scheme is the “form based codes” which they claim will solve the traffic problems in the Ephesus-Fordham area, attract more retail businesses and thereby increase the tax base. This is quite similar to the promises made when they approved Greenbridge, East 54, Cosgrove Hill, and the high-rise on West Franklin Street. The difference is that “form based codes” go even further to give developers broader scope in erecting buildings that will serve their own purposes: i.e. make more money for their investors. The town council claims that the citizens will be protected from greedy developers because most decisions about future development would be left to town staff.

So how has the town done in the past? Well Greenbridge went bankrupt and remains largely unoccupied. Cosgrove Hill is 80 percent unoccupied. A proposed hotel for the Ephesus-Fordham development is supposed to supply a need when there are already five hotels within less than a half-mile that have less than 50 percent occupancy annually. The town has paid $500,000 to the developer of the West Franklin Street high rise to have contaminated soil removed. The uptown commercial area of Chapel Hill has many vacant storefronts and this college town with over 30,000 students cannot support a Gap or a Brueggers bagel shop.

There is a widespread perception that the Town Council and select developers have already partnered in a way that leaves citizens without a choice. Now this council-developer partnership is asking for blanket zoning and total rights of approval to themselves. Our once charming Southern college town is being transformed into random areas of unoccupied multi-storied buildings which cost the taxpayers and drive businesses away.

The Chapel Hill Town Council has a track record that incurs costs to the taxpayers, drives business away from Chapel Hill and drastically changes the charm of our lovely Southern college town.

Why give them more power?

Anne McNamara

Chapel Hill

Costco before condos

We got high-priced condominiums and fancy boutique stores. We got bars and wings and burger joints by the score.

We got enough coffee shops to float a naval war. We got gas stations and a ton of cars to choke a big bad boar.

We got more apartment buildings just to pick one is a chore. We got property taxes extremely hard to ignore.

But what don't we got? We don’t got a big box of quality to open up its door.

My apologies to Mr. Hammerstein, but I am so sick and tired of getting in my car, driving 20 minutes to a Costco or Target to get reasonably priced items from stores who treat their employees well.

Mostly, I'm tired of giving tax money to Durham County and all the while having my property taxes increase and having the schools trying to figure out how to reduce their budget. I challenge the Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro boards not to pass another permit for condos, subdivisions and small shops until we get a Costco!

Sally Bethune

Chapel Hill

Coal ash canary

It's been almost two months since 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash, along with 27 million gallons of contaminated water, were dumped into the Dan River as a result of the Duke Energy coal ash waste disaster. This incident made it crystal clear that for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, neither the environment nor the health of North Carolinians is a top priority. The oversight at this coal power plant, and surely at others, is completely and utterly unacceptable. We must demand more from our government and our regulatory agencies.

Did you know that Gov. Pat McCrory is a former Duke executive? Maybe that's why Duke Energy can do whatever they want. DENR is essentially nothing but a placeholder, and has no ability to enforce the weak environmental regulations we do have, or to penalize those who contaminate our rivers and streams. The coal ash spill paints a grim picture of what would happen if fracking waste was to spill into one of our rivers. Fracking waste is much more toxic than coal ash, and contains carcinogenic and radioactive materials. If DENR was unable to prevent or handle the coal ash disaster, then they sure won't be doing any regulating on fracking waste pits.

Fracking would open up our waters to contamination with little to no enforcements or regulations. It would jeopardize drinking water for over 2.4 million North Carolinians, and cause disease and devastation as it has already in other states. My favorite quotation from Josh Fox's Gas Land Part II (which I encourage you to watch) is: “People complain about the price of gas, but wait until you're paying twice that for water.”

Michelle Graziosi

Chapel Hill

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