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Chapel Hill needs senior housing, but these 55+ apartments will have to try again

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A plan for 198 senior apartments on Homestead Road will return to the Chapel Hill Town Council next month after failing to get a rezoning Wednesday night.

It was another twist for the now proposed 60-foot-tall, four-story apartment building restricted to “active adults” 55 and older.

The project, first reviewed in October, includes 20 affordable apartments that would be leased for 30 years to tenants earning up to 60 percent of the area median income. That’s currently up to $34,000 a year for a person, $39,000 for a couple

If approved, it would be Chapel Hill’s first apartments for older adults and be within walking distance of the Seymour Senior Center, Homestead Park and UNC’s Carolina North Greenway.

But the Town Council vote Wednesday was 5-2 in favor of rezoning the 15-acre site — one vote shy of the required six votes to change the land-use management ordinance, or local development rules. Council members Allen Buansi and Nancy Oates cast the dissenting votes. The rezoning will need to get a majority of the council votes at a second reading in April.

Council members Jessica Anderson and Rachel Schaevitz were out sick Wednesday. Both have expressed concerns about the project at at 2217 Homestead Road.

Homestead senior apartments.jpg
A project rendering shows a 60-foot-tall, four-story apartment building at 2217 Homestead Road, between Weaver Dairy Road Extension and the railroad crossing in Chapel Hill. The building would provide 198 apartments for seniors age 55 and up, including 20 affordable apartments. Gurlitz Architectural Group Contributed

Neighbors in the adjacent Courtyards at Homestead have asked the council repeatedly to deny the project, citing its height and density, and the potential effects on the environment, traffic and their quality of life.

Neighbors presented their drawing of how the building could look surrounded by trees and smaller nearby homes to the council in January. Developer Bainbridge and architect Richard Gurlitz brought an official plan and a rezoning request. The council told them to return with their own drawing.

In February, they brought a drawing and a new, three-story plan that they had negotiated with neighbors. But town rules wouldn’t let the council consider the plan, which had a larger footprint, without another application, more fees and a year of reviews.

The developer was supposed to work with staff on a solution and return by May. Instead, Gurlitz returned Wednesday with the four-story plan. They considered talked with planning staff about the three-story version, Gurlitz said, but didn’t want to risk pushing the council’s vote to the fall.

Dropping the three-story plan cost the developer his vote, Buansi said, even though he likes the project.

“The thing I’m struggling with is that agreement [with neighbors] came out of conversations,” he said. “With signed agreements, they set expectations, and it set the course going forward in terms of relationships.”

Oates was more blunt, telling the developer she was “left feeling like we’re all being played with like a piece of cheese on a string.”

“You had a free focus group of your target market here, and you really didn’t take advantage of that,” she said. “It was starting to get into a shape where it was a much better situation. Certainly from a quality-of-life standpoint, living in a three-story apartment is much nicer, calmer, more serene than living in a four-story apartment.”

Opportunities

Other council members acknowledged the neighbors’ concerns but said the project provides opportunities for affordable and senior housing, and for efficient land use and preservation amid climate change.

Council member Hongbin Gu said she looked around town for another four-story apartment building next to single-family homes.

She found it on Cedar Pond Lane in Meadowmont and walked there to consider the traffic, the sense of place and the view. She could feel comfortable living there, Gu said.

“I feel I’m more assured with regard to the appropriateness of having this structure after doing the walkaround myself,” Gu said. “I understand that it’s concerning, I understand that there are lots of anxieties with regard to the significant change, but I think that given the data that has been presented, given the different drawings, other scenarios, I do not feel it is something that is unacceptable.”

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Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.
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