Cary News

Cary residents fear Habitat for Humanity project may worsen flooding, traffic problems

A proposal to build an affordable housing development south of West Chatham Street is facing opposition from nearby residents months before the Town Council holds a public hearing on the project.

Habitat for Humanity of Wake County has said it hopes to build 23 townhouses on land the nonprofit has under contract with its current owner, nearby Bethel Baptist Church. The land is on the east side of Trimble Avenue.

Last month, about 115 residents attended a meeting on the project at Town Hall. The large showing was due in part to a coordinated campaign of flyers and online forum postings by residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the property.

Katie Drye, a planning official who represented the town at the Dec. 7 meeting, said residents’ questions about the project were wide-ranging, with many focused on the proposed density of the homes.

The proposed townhomes would sit on 2.58 acres; nearby detached homes sit on lots at least a quarter of an acre each.

“They were concerned about flooding and stormwater issues,” Drye added. “There have been flooding issues along Trimble Avenue and concerns about traffic, particularly where Trimble intersects with Chatham.”

Kevin Campbell, the CEO and President of Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, said affordable housing is in short supply in the relatively affluent area of western Wake County between Morrisville and Holly Springs.

He said Habitat has built 48 homes in Cary in the past 25 years and that all projects in the area are in high demand, in part because of the above-average performance of nearby schools. At least one resident approached him Dec. 7 asking about the impact of the homes on nearby property values, he said. That question was repeated in a number of postings on the popular neighborhood forum,

“It’s a deeply held belief that affordable housing has a negative impact on surrounding property values, but we haven’t seen any research that supports it,” Campbell said. “People do hold that opinion very strongly. That’s a concern, but it’s not germane to the zoning issue.”

Because the deal between Bethel Baptist Church and Habitat hadn’t yet been finalized, Drye said, the town will have to keep in mind whether townhouses would be a good use for the land, irrespective of the town’s desire for affordable housing.

Anne Dennis, a resident of the nearby Scottish Hills neighborhood who wrote about the project on Nextdoor, said in an email that her opposition to the rezoning is strictly related to density and environmental issues. Her posts also indicated concern related to the possibility of diminished property values.

Dennis said she has “already lost three feet of back yard” in the past three years due to flooding. Her property and many of those nearby are at a lower elevation than the land in question, she said.

“Regardless of the developer, the concern is flooding and extra traffic, safety issues,” Dennis said. “Single-family homes are fine; multifamily zoning brings vast amounts of impervious surface, which brings massive amounts of water run-off.”

Drye said residents also had questions about who would live in the townhomes and how they would be subsidized.

In the case of this project, all federal housing subsidies Habitat receives will be used to purchase the land it hopes to build on. Roughly $275,000 of the asking price of just under $400,000 will be paid for through grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Campbell said.

Habitat for Humanity deals in owner-occupied homes rather than rental or lease properties. It does not accept Section 8 vouchers toward mortgage payments in Wake County because the county and its local housing authorities have not opted into that part of HUD voucher program. Durham County, however, accepts Section 8 vouchers for mortgage payments, and Campbell said some residents who had visited the website for his organization’s Durham counterpart had been confused by that discrepancy.

Depending on the size of the family, Campbell said, Habitat accepts applications from prospective homeowners earning between 30 and 60 percent of the county’s median wage. Those chosen must have a stable income and commit to 200 hours of “sweat equity” in construction and 30 hours of personal finance courses, according to Habitat for Humanity’s website.

Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan