Habitat for Humanity has new plan for Sunrise Road community in Chapel Hill

Habitat for Humanity is back with a proposed subdivision near East Chapel Hill High School, but this time, the Orange County nonprofit wants to build a neighborhood that serves the very poor and market-rate families.

The timing didn’t work for a concept plan submitted last year — to build senior housing in partnership with the Carol Woods retirement community on Sunrise Road — said Jennifer Player, Habitat president and CEO.

“Before we’re able to actually build any homes on it, it’s going to take a couple years (to get the required permits and funding), so we really felt like we needed to keep moving the process forward,” Player said. “I think their timeline was a little slower, but we still remain friends, and they’re supportive.”

Habitat has submitted a conditional zoning application for the Weavers Grove project at 7516 Sunrise Road. It could have up to 219 condos, duplexes, townhouses and single-family homes, with driveway access through two adjacent acres owned by Carol Woods.

At least 94 duplexes and townhouses could be priced at an affordable rate for households earning between 30% and 80% of the area median income — $17,820 to $47,520 a year for an individual, or $25,440 to $67,840 a year for a family of four.

An information meeting is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. July 24 in the first-floor conference room at Chapel Hill Town Hall.

Integrated neighborhoods

A market-rate or a senior housing developer could build up to half of the homes. The rest would be built by Habitat using volunteers and homeowner labor. The ideal would be a community that fully integrates families of all income levels, Player said.

Jennifer Player.jpg
Jennifer Player Habitat for Humanity of Orange County Contributed

The mixed-income model is better known in other cities, she said. In Orange County, a developer typically donates land as part of a project’s affordable housing contribution, such as the Crescent Magnolia senior living community in Hillsborough’s Waterstone.

In Virginia, Habitat of Greater Charlottesville has built seven mixed-income communities since 2004 and is working on its eighth, a transformation of the 100-acre Southwood Mobile Home Park.

Charlottesville’s affordable housing problem mirrors Chapel Hill’s: long waitlists for housing, the need for thousands of affordable homes, and a median home sales price of over $300,000, according to Charlottesville’s 2018 Housing Needs Assessment.

The average median income for a family of four in Charlottesville is $89,400 a year; in Chapel Hill, it’s $84,800.

Player said there’s no rush to find a development partner for Weavers Grove.

“We really want to be thoughtful and intentional about who’s going to share in the vision for this neighborhood, who’s going to be excited about mixed-income community and building homes in partnership with Habitat,” she said.

Conditional zoning

Habitat has been talking with Sunrise Road neighbors about the property since 2017. More conversations are expected, Player said, including special meetings with experts to talk about issues of particular concern, such as stormwater.

About eight acres can’t be developed because of creeks and wetlands.

Sunrise-Habitat map

A project website also could to provide updates and answer questions. A capital campaign will be launched in the future.

The conditional zoning process creates even more opportunities for the council, developer and public to discuss the project. Unlike the special-use process, which relies only on facts and expert testimony, it also lets the public express opinions about the project.

The council can use the zoning as leverage for community needs and wants, such as more stormwater controls, specific land uses and building characteristics. Detailed building plans aren’t usually required until after the zoning is approved and are checked by town staff to ensure they meet the zoning permit requirements.

Application documents show Habitat wants flexibility to determine the final mix of housing. The project would replace five homes and include several amenities, depending on how much money Habitat raises for construction and operations, the documents state.

At a minimum, there could be a village green with a pavilion, walking trails, and possibly a dog park, playground, community garden or basketball court. Other amenities, with more funding, could include a community building, cafe and community garage.

Neighbor concerns

Weavers Grove is the second Habitat project proposed for the site, between the Chandler’s Green neighborhood and Interstate 40.

The Bradley Ridge project was approved in 2008 for 63 homes, roughly half of them affordable, but it fell apart in 2009 when Regions Development LLC couldn’t get bank financing.

Neighbors formed the Sunrise Coalition to oppose the project’s density and the potential effect on stormwater, traffic, and light and noise pollution. Members came out last year with similar concerns about Habitat’s latest plan, and the council urged Habitat to talk more with its neighbors.

The neighbors’ feedback was used to modify the Weavers Grove plan, it states, including the addition of 90-foot landscape buffers on the Chandler’s Green property line. The architectural style could emulate traditional farmhouse and Craftsman influences, it states.

Stormwater runoff would be addressed in multiple ways, according to the application, including three wetlands, a rain garden, permeable pavement, and an underground storage and filtration system.

Habitat officials said they also have been talking with Amesbury Drive neighbors about an emergency access driveway between the neighborhoods. The Sunrise Road sidewalk that now stretches from Weaver Dairy Road to Sweeten Creek Road would be extended.

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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.