Chapel Hill News

Chamber report: Home sales down, commercial projects taking off


Orange County is struggling to sell homes, but the seeds of growth planted several years ago are starting to bear fruit, officials said at the annual Orange County Development Briefing.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce hosted Thursday’s briefing at Top of the Hill on East Franklin Street to update the community about local projects, trends and economic development initiatives. (Slideshow at

The last two years were good to Orange County, said Mark Zimmerman, broker and owner of RE/MAX Winning Edge.

But this year, the county is falling behind its Triangle neighbors, he said. Home sales are down 15.5 percent – although the actual numbers are small, he said – and the average sales price is nearly flat. Meanwhile, there are more homes on the market, and they are staying there a longer time.

One possible answer is that surrounding counties offer newer homes and more for their money, Zimmerman said.

“Maybe in Orange County, and particularly in the Chapel Hill area, we are beginning to show our age a little bit,” he said, “and that’s because we don’t build new homes here like everyone else does.”

New home sales are up 4.7 percent across the Triangle, he said. In Durham, the number is 4.9 percent, and in Chatham, it’s 16.6 percent. But in Orange County, he said, new construction sales have fallen 52 percent and now comprise 7.7 percent of the county’s total home sales.

The average age of a $300,000 home in Orange County is about 30 years, Zimmerman said. In Durham and Wake counties, it’s 10 years, and in Chatham County, houses are even newer, he said.

Surrounding communities and their individual schools also have become more attractive and competitive, he said.

“When you put someone in the car and you drive around, and they look at what’s available here versus what they can get just across the border or on the other side of the Triangle, it’s very different, and it’s making decisions very difficult, because it’s a premium here,” Zimmerman said. “You have to pay $80,000 to $100,000 for the same house here as someplace else, and that other stuff is brand new.”

Commercial activity

It may be a better day for commercial development, however, with multiple approved or proposed projects in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, said Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s economic development director. The town may be in a position to compete with its neighbors for projects now and engage in more serious economic development, he said.

“The important part that you hear today is that we didn’t just arrive here. We’ve been working at this since 2006,” Bassett said. “Every step, every success that we’ve had has been strategic, from adopting an economic development strategy to studying the market.”

Several big projects are moving forward, including:

• 123 West Franklin, a mix of apartments, retail and offices to soon replace University Square on Franklin Street

• Glen Lennox, new apartments, retail and office space being planned under a development agreement with the town

• Ephesus-Fordham district, which could generate roughly 1,500 apartments, 460,000 square feet of retail, 300,000 square feet of hotel space and 150,000 square feet of offices over the next 20 years.

Projects still on the drawing board include:

• Obey Creek – Chapel Hill is negotiating a development agreement, with a decision expected in June. The council will meet Thursday, Oct. 30, to talk about the residential, retail and office proposal

• The Edge, a high-density, mixed-use development on 54 acres off Eubanks Road, could include more than a dozen residential and commercial buildings in a range of square footages, depending on the tenant. A public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 17.

• The Graduate proposes roughly 100 apartments on a narrow lot between Kenan and Mallette streets in downtown Chapel Hill. The council will consider the plan again Monday, Oct. 27. Developer Jay Patel said they have removed a pool and modified the building’s size in response to comments.

• Lloyd Farm, the plan is anchored by a Harris Teeter with additional retail and 300 apartments and townhouses on a former farm and pasture in western Carrboro. The 40-acre site is across N.C. 54 from Carrboro Plaza; roughly 12 acres will be preserved.

The $90 million to $100 million project has been revised several times. Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen delayed a Nov. 11 public hearing this week to allow more time for neighbors and the developer to find consensus.

“We think this is a very Carrboro-like project,” said developer Jack Smyre, with Design Response. “There’s a lot of green on this, and I really do not personally know of anything like this in the Triangle.”