Chapel Hill’s latest Homestead Road plan could bring senior housing but also problems

A Chapel Hill developer wants to build a nearly 60-foot-tall, 190-unit apartment building at this wooded location on Homestead Road, across the street from Weaver Dairy Road Extension. The site is adjacent to UNC’s Carolina North Greenway (background).
A Chapel Hill developer wants to build a nearly 60-foot-tall, 190-unit apartment building at this wooded location on Homestead Road, across the street from Weaver Dairy Road Extension. The site is adjacent to UNC’s Carolina North Greenway (background). Contributed

A Chapel Hill developer will have to look again at traffic, parking and recreational amenities for an apartment project for older adults on Homestead Road.

Gurlitz Architectural Group wants to build 190 apartments in a roughly 60-foot tall building at 2217 Homestead Road. The 15-acre project would be restricted to “active adults” 55 and older and would sit back about 400 feet from the road.

The town doesn’t have rentals geared toward older residents, Gurlitz Architectural Group owner Richard Gurlitz said

“If you are in that age bracket, don’t want to live with millennials and don’t want to live with students, you have to buy,” he said.

The developer needs Town Council approval for the project and for a rezoning that would allow a higher-density development of roughly a dozen apartments per acre. The current zoning allows four to eight units per acre, as recommended in the town’s 2020 Land Use Plan.

The council, after hearing from the public and offering feedback this week, continued the discussion to Nov. 28.

Affordable housing, connections

The project would be within walking distance of the Seymour Senior Center and Homestead Park. UNC’s Carolina North Greenway lies directly east, and the new Courtyards at Homestead community, also for older adults, is wrapping up construction to the west.

The plan shows over 230 parking spaces surrounding the building and one driveway connecting the property to Homestead Road. A second connection to an existing driveway through the Courtyards is proposed as an alternate access.

The project would add a center left-turn lane, a 5-foot-wide bike lane and a 10-foot-wide multi-use path along Homestead Road.

The developer also offered to pay $315,000 to the town — instead of pricing a percentage of apartments to meet affordable-housing guidelines — in exchange for an inclusionary-zoning density bonus.

The money would subsidize 14 permanently affordable apartments — half of what the town’s inclusionary zoning rules require. However, the town’s Housing Advisory Board recommended accepting the offer, because the project will provide rentals for older residents.

The council can negotiate for more money or apartments instead.

Traffic and stormwater

Courtyard residents shared a number of concerns with the council Wednesday about the prospect of rental housing and transient neighbors next door, as well as how the development might affect traffic and stormwater.

The land contains a lot of rock, creating heavy runoff during storms. Neighbors said the plan to channel that runoff into a pond and roadside ditch is not enough.

It’s hard to believe that the town, with flooding issues in low-lying areas, would allow a large amount of surface parking and a multistory building at one of its highest elevations, Courtyards resident Tamim Kasrawi said. He noted that the headwaters of both Booker and Bolin creeks are nearby, and urged the council to seek fewer apartments and parking under the building.

The flooding is not just downstream, his neighbor Sujan Gulati said, sharing a series of photos from recent storms with the council that showed water pooling and flowing around his home. He spent three hours bailing stormwater from his house, he said.

This land, between UNC’s Carolina North Greenway and the Courtyards at Homestead community, is slated for a 190-unit apartment building serving adults 55 and older. Neighbors are concerned about stormwater runoff, traffic and other issues. Town of Chapel Hill Contributed

Although several corrective measures were taken to improve the drainage, Hurricane Michael brought more water, he said. They have been told there is nothing more that can be done and do not know what the long-term effects will be.

“This has been the most traumatic experience of my life, and I have lived here a long time,” Gulati said. “We have already lost a piece of our mind. Any increase in the runoff water by our house is likely to might make us lose our minds, too.”

His neighbor Diane Martin said the project’s future residents could be great neighbors, but questions remain unanswered. She also noted big changes to Chapel Hill’s development and its natural environment in the last few years. The town’s 2020 plan calls for growth that is in harmony with the natural world and that preserves the environment, she said.

“[Chapel Hill] is no longer a sleepy Southern town run by the good ol’ boys. It has become a sophisticated small city touting a high quality of life for all residents,” Martin said. “I ask you to look hard at any new development projects to make sure they align with the 2020 plan for the town.”

Council questions

Others raised concerns about the large amount of pavement for parking and the plan to route traffic through the Courtyards. The town’s Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board suggested limiting that traffic to just emergency vehicles, bikes and pedestrians. The board also recommended underground parking or a parking deck instead of a parking lot.

Council members echoed the desire for parking under the apartment building, and also urged the developer to add another driveway on Homestead Road. Picnic tables or another recreational use that could be shared with Courtyard neighbors also might be good, Council member Michael Parker said.

Council member Jessica Anderson, noting the project is “an extreme jump in density,” urged the council to take steps toward making people feel a little safer. Council member Karen Stegman agreed, but also reminded the crowd that local values come with tradeoffs.

“Several of the speakers [spoke against density] ... but a lot of speakers spoke against sprawl, and not wanting sprawl,” Stegman said. “The answer to sprawl is more density, and I think that’s appropriate in this area of town.”

Grubb: 919-829-8926; @TammyGrubb