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Habitat-Carol Woods plan for affordable, senior housing in Chapel Hill raises concerns

This concept site plan from Habitat for Humanity of Orange County and Carol Woods shows assisted-living buildings to the north as you enter the site and two rows of duplexes north and south of the driveway (dark orange blocks). The rest is a mix of duplexes, townhouses and two condo buildings. The tallest buildings would be three stories, and recreation facilities are located on a central green.
This concept site plan from Habitat for Humanity of Orange County and Carol Woods shows assisted-living buildings to the north as you enter the site and two rows of duplexes north and south of the driveway (dark orange blocks). The rest is a mix of duplexes, townhouses and two condo buildings. The tallest buildings would be three stories, and recreation facilities are located on a central green. Contributed

A Habitat-Carol Woods partnership could help more teachers, police officers, nurses and others live in the town they work in, but concerns are being raised about the proposed site near East Chapel Hill High School.

It’s the second project that Habitat for Humanity of Orange County has proposed for roughly 34 acres at 7516 Sunrise Road, between the Chandler’s Green neighborhood and Interstate 40.

The partners presented a concept plan to the Town Council Wednesday night that calls for 223 townhouses, duplexes, apartments and assisted-living units.

Habitat would make 95 of those homes affordable to people earning up to 60 percent or 80 percent of the area median income. That’s roughly $50,000 or $65,000 a year for a family of four.

Carol Woods would manage the rest for adults age 55 and older.

Sunrise-Habitat map

“Carol Woods and Habitat have a shared vision of a community where older adults and families with children could live and play together,” said Pat Sprigg, Carol Woods president and chief executive officer.

Carol Woods’ existing community is only affordable to some, Sprigg said, and a growing number of Baby Boomers still need age-friendly housing. They also recognize the town’s other housing needs, since many Carol Woods employees live elsewhere, she said.

The plan also could include a roughly 30,000 square foot community green with a pavilion, a smaller community building, a splashpad and playground, and potentially, a cafe.

A dog park and community auto-repair shop could be located near the rear of property. About eight acres are undevelopable because of creeks and wetlands, and could feature trails. The tallest buildings would be three stories.

“We wanted this to be a community where we had intentional design, which I think you’ll see in the concept plan,” said Jennifer Player, Habitat’s associate executive director. “And, later down the road, intentional programming on how we can bring all of this diversity in the community together.”

A concept plan is just a sketch, not an official application. It’s meant to provide the developer with feedback from the Town Council and public, but the council does not vote on concept plans.

The council would have to rezone the land, which borders the county’s rural buffer, where development is limited. A permit application process could take several months.

Feedback, concerns

Council members liked the project’s generational and income diversity but had questions, particularly about stormwater and traffic.

“I’m hoping that the development team is going to have a closer engagement with the community and try to find the solutions and have those concerns adequately addressed,” council member Hongbin Gu said.

Council member Nancy Oates worried about seniors crossing Sunrise Road to the Carol Woods campus, and also asked if Habitat and Carol Woods would be asking the town for a financial contribution. The partners could apply for money from a $10 million affordable-housing bond approved in the Nov. 6 election.

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Danny Benjamin, a member of the Chandler’s Green homeowners association, said neighbors think the project is too dense, will cause more runoff, and increase light and noise pollution.

The Sunrise Coalition, a group formed to oppose Habitat’s earlier project, has 150 signatures on a petition opposing the new project’s high density, he said, but members would rather work with the developer.

“We have a track record of supporting affordable housing in this area, but it needs to be fair to the neighbors who are there and to the new neighbors who will be there,” Benjamin said.

Similar concerns were raised over 10 years ago, when Habitat sought to build 63 homes, including 31 affordable homes, in a project called Bradley Ridge. Carol Woods owns about two acres of the land; Habitat owns 17 acres and has the rest under contract.

The Bradley Ridge project was approved despite opposition, but it was sidelined in 2009 when the Regions Development LLC couldn’t get bank financing.

More listening, talking

Sunrise Coalition representative Karen Lissy urged the council to slow down the latest Habitat project. Constructive dialogue with everyone affected could help meet everyone’s goals, she said.

“Community building requires that that you start where the people are. To do that, you have to invest the time to listen and reconcile the concerns of the people whose quality of life you’re trying to improve in concert with the concerns of those who are already in the community,” Lissy said.

Habitat board and executive committee member Taylor Ludlam turned to the Chandler’s Green neighbors behind her and told them she is “grateful for the passion,” but there can be no affordable housing without density.

“The [Habitat] board has listened,” she said. “The board has spent many, many hours agonizing over this, and they’ve also worked really, really hard to address the concerns that have been raised in a way that still allows us to fulfill our mission to provide affordable housing.”

Council member Jessica Anderson said she understands the density concerns and would feel the same about another apartment building like the Berkshire on South Elliott Road.

“But this affordable housing,” she said. “It’s so incredibly hard for us and it’s such a huge priority, and we have spent so much time trying to figure out how to get more of it. This just feels like an amazing opportunity to me to get something that we really need.”

The affordable homes could serve those “who take care of us when we’re sick, cook our food when we go out to eat, put our fires out, protect us, so I’m just hugely enthusiastic about the project,” council member Michael Parker added.

Gu asked neighbors and project officials to consider the recent talks among the town, UNC and neighbors about a future municipal services center on Estes Drive Extension. That project went through many community meetings and revisions to address community concerns, such as stormwater.

“I’m confident that given what we know about Habitat and what we know about Carol Woods we can work together with the community to find a solution that will address the concerns of the community and also to ensure the success of this project,” Gu said.

Grubb: 919-829-8926; @TammyGrubb
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