Town leaders say they are disappointed how a request by Habitat for Humanity of Wake County turned into a fight about affordable housing and accusations of a “not-in-my-backyard” mentality.
After months of contentious neighborhood talks and city meetings, the Cary Town Council on Thursday voted 5-2 to allow Habitat to build seven homes on Trimble Avenue near downtown.
Council members say they wish Habitat leaders would have tried harder to contact concerned residents who live in the nearby Scottish Hills neighborhood. They’re also criticizing the way the debate played out in media reports.
“This is the first council meeting in 10 years that I can recall the television media being here,” said Councilman Don Frantz, who voted in support of the rezoning request. “When I hear the neighborhood talk about how they’ve been treated unfairly in the media, and the media’s here for seven houses, there’s some merit there.”
The five council members who voted in favor of the project said they did so based on the merits of the case. The council is tasked with deciding rezoning requests based on compatibility in the neighborhood and the effects on nearby property owners, among other factors.
Councilman Ken George, who lives in the Scottish Hills neighborhood, said he voted against the project because he felt Habitat hadn’t shown enough care in addressing neighbors’ concerns about density and stormwater runoff. But he said new Habitat residents would be “warmly welcomed, despite statements to the contrary.”
Habitat officials and affordable housing advocates have publicly suggested that push-back over the project stemmed partly from a desire to exclude lower-income families from the community.
Many residents bristled at that notion, saying their concerns about growth were mischaracterized or ignored in favor of a narrative that pitted them against Habitat for Humanity.
“You won’t find a more inclusive place in Wake County,” George said. “It seems (Habitat) cares about the people they’re building the houses for, but not the people they’re building the houses near. They care more about their mission than the neighborhood they’re building in. They can move on to the next project, and leave the neighborhood to pick up the pieces.”
The project approved Thursday was drastically scaled back from Habitat’s original proposal. Initially, the group wanted to build 23 housing units on the site. It reduced the number to 15, then nine, and then seven.
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit in which homeowners work alongside volunteers to build houses. The homeowners then pay an affordable mortgage.
Some residents of the Scottish Hills neighborhood said Habitat leaders made little effort to talk to them after the town’s planning commission in April voted to recommend the council deny the project.
Darrell Stover, a neighbor, said he felt Habitat acted disingenuously, particularly when it came to the number of homes in the project.
“You’ve got four or five houses on one side of the street, so why not have four or five houses on the other side?” Stover said. “But it’s the process, starting out with 23 townhouses. The ball was dropped in so many ways. (Town staff) had no business giving them that kind of approval.”
Mayor Pro Tem Ed Yerha, who voted in favor of the rezoning, said he was “very concerned by the confusion that’s expressed by the neighbors.”
“If there’s no time to explain these things, they’ll be harboring these thoughts forever,” he said. “Although I’m personally OK with this zoning, I have a bad feeling that there are so many people who are not but could feel a lot better about it if they had time to communicate.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan