Cary News

Habitat for Humanity proposes housing compromise in Cary

Habitat for Humanity of Wake County proposed a new compromise to a controversial housing rezoning request Thursday in front of a packed Cary Town Council meeting.

The Town Council didn’t take any action on the rezoning, which would allow Habitat to build nine single-family detached homes in Scottish Hills, a neighborhood near downtown.

But the public hearing drew 22 speakers and filled the council chambers with residents on both sides of the debate. Yard signs related to the rezoning have started springing up in nearby lawns.

Habitat for Humanity has a 2.58-acre property on Trimble Avenue that’s under contract with nearby Bethel Baptist Church, an area off West Chatham Street near downtown.

The nonprofit first proposed building 23 townhouses on the land before adjusting the plan in January to have a mixture of 15 detached houses and townhomes. Two neighborhood meetings on those proposals each drew more than 100 residents, most of them in opposition to the project.

Thursday, Habitat announced it had revised its plans again to build nine homes. The revision is necessary because Habitat recently learned of a property buffer that would be required under town ordinances. The buffer reduces the amount of developable land, so a 15-home proposal became impractical.

Habitat is now asking to build homes on lots no smaller than 8,000 square feet, the same size required in the zoning district occupied by homes directly across the street.

Another public hearing will be held before the town’s planning and zoning board on April 17. If approved, the project would be partially funded by $275,000 in federal housing grants, which Cary receives and distributes through a competitive application process each year.

This most recent proposal may ease the concerns of some residents whose chief worry is that townhomes are incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood. But a wide variety of concerns were voiced Thursday beyond that issue.

Twenty-two people spoke during the hearing, the majority of them against the rezoning.

Mayor Harold Weinbrecht asked speakers before the hearing to make sure their comments addressed the merits of the rezoning case rather than those of Habitat for Humanity. He also cautioned audience members not to clap or make remarks from their seats during the hearing. Neither request was strictly followed.

“I don’t want this to be for or against Habitat,” Weinbrecht said. “This isn’t what we’re deciding. We’re talking about the type of use. I would beg and plead to the audience to speak to the rezoning and not to the applicant.”

Several residents spoke about the worsening flooding that has affected their neighborhoods in recent years and demanded that no more development be allowed until a long-term solution to the area’s stormwater problems is in place.

“The danger is real, and it’s not only to property – it’s to human lives,” said Tony Arnold of Brookgreen Drive. “Each additional gallon of runoff caused by new development might turn a growing problem into a catastrophe. The town may need to spend millions of dollars buying houses that are going to be under water.”

Some of the plan’s supporters as well as housing advocates didn’t follow Weinbrecht’s request to only discuss the merits of the zoning request. They said any reasonable proposal that promises more affordable homes in Cary should be met with open arms.

“When we get a family equipped to be homebuyers, they then have to move out of the area to find housing,” said Howard Manning, executive director of Cary-based nonprofit Dorcas Ministries, which helps those in need work toward financial stability. “These are people with families. These are people who are working. These are people who could boost our economic engine.”

Norma Jones, who lives in a Habitat-built house, brought a framed photo of her home and held it up in front of the council.

“I worked very hard to get this house,” said Jones, who works as a housekeeper in Cary. “My business is here, and I needed to live here. I wanted to raise my two sons as a single mother in a house. My dream has come true, and Habitat made it come true. They realized how hard I worked at getting my life together, and they helped me get the house.”

Many of those who spoke against the rezoning had prepared remarks about the previous proposals, which included the townhouses. Some appeared receptive to the new plan but said they wanted time to examine it and hold Habitat accountable for following through. Others said they still had concerns about the project’s impact on the neighborhood’s character and property values.

Hector Escobar, a Scottish Hills resident who said he moved to Cary from New York, objected to Habitat’s and other housing advocates’ contention that Cary’s supply of affordable housing needs to be boosted. He said he had worked long hours to be able to afford his house and that he is “against anything that would change our neighborhood.”

“We hear about Cary not providing opportunity for affordable housing,” he said. “No one came to my house saying, ‘I’m going to give you an opportunity.’ ... People who say that Cary doesn’t provide affordable housing or opportunity – well, it does. They just need to work a little harder.”

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan