Chapel Hill’s 1st 55-plus apartments get council approval. Pickleball and dog park next?

The town’s first apartments for adults age 55 and up were approved Wednesday for a site near the Seymour Senior Center and UNC’s Carolina North trail on Homestead Road.

The 198-unit, 60-foot-tall building will include 20 apartments priced forpeople earning up to 60% of the area median income — $34,000 a year for a person, $39,000 for a couple.

Those apartments will remain affordable for 30 years and were a big selling point for the Town Council, which has been wrestling for years with how to provide affordable housing for residents of all ages.

The apartments could have pickleball courts, trails, a swimming pool and a dog park, said Richard Gurlitz, an architect representing developer Bainbridge.

The council voted 5-2 in March to rezone the property — one vote shy of the six votes needed to change the town’s land-use rules.

The second vote — on Wednesday — approved the rezoning 5-4. Council members Nancy Oates, Jessica Anderson, Allen Buansi and Rachel Schaevitz opposed the rezoning.

After a lengthy discussion about the developer’s plans for recreation, stormwater, parking, traffic, and affordable housing, the council then voted 8-1 to approve a permit for the project. Oates voted against the permit.

Anderson and Oates said the density of the proposed project weighed on their decisions to vote against the rezoning. Oates also questioned whether the town should cap building permit fees if the developer provides affordable housing.

The developer agreed to several council stipulations, including the inclusion of a one-way emergency access street between the apartment site and the adjacent Courtyards at Homestead neighborhood. How that street affects traffic between the neighborhoods will be studied after one year, staff said.

The town also will complete another traffic study after the building has been open for a year.

The developer also agreed to a request from council member Michael Parker that Bainbridge consider an emergency generator to keep elevators working in an emergency, and to require residents to prove they meet the age limit and affordable-housing income limits.

Oates wanted a way to ensure that vacant affordable units are only occupied by tenants earning up to the 60% of the area median income. Loryn Clark, the town’s Housing and Urban Development manager, suggested requiring an annual income certification of all residents.

Oates and council member Hongbin Gu also questioned how the town could ensure the management doesn’t start renting to college students if the age-restricted housing doesn’t work out.

“Bainbridge corporate says they do not do senior housing, they do not do 55-plus housing. They do student housing and they do luxury living,” Oates said. “I just want to make sure if ... (Bainbridge vice president of student housing Alex Eyssen) is saying this is going to be a brand-new (model), we have the teeth in there to help him along with that.”

The property owner would have to return to a future council for a permit modification to change the 55-plus designation, staff said.

Courtyards neighbors still oppose the project, which has faced five public hearings since October. They have raised concerns at each meeting about stormwater, trees, traffic and their quality of life and scenic views. However, neighbor Diane Martin said Wednesday they were willing to accept the town’s conditions.

“We appreciate all the time and effort that you all have put into this, and we hope to be able to work with the developer going forward,” Martin said.

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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.