Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill OKs land for affordable housing project

Town Council member Matt Czajkowski drew a comparison to stalled Rogers Road sewer plans Monday night in casting the lone votes against two million-dollar-plus projects.

The council first voted 7-1 to sell 10 acres on Legion Road for $100 to the nonprofit housing agency DHIC Inc. of Raleigh for a possible affordable housing development. The deal largely depends on approval from the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, expected in August.

The council also voted 7-1 to make $1.5 million in repairs and renovations to Chapel Hill Town Hall.

Czajkowski said the DHIC decision gives away $2 million worth of land based on a quick discussion, without a public hearing and at a time when the town needs money for other projects, including a new police station and sewer service for the Rogers Road community.

“If we can borrow (money for the Rogers Road mitigation), if we have identified other assets, or if we have sufficient fund balance, that’s great,” he said. “But if we don’t, then my question has been from the start: How do we really justify doing this … when we don’t know where the money is coming from for Rogers Road?”

The sewer project is aimed at compensating the historically black, low-income neighborhood for living next to the county landfill for 40 years.

Affordable housing

DHIC has proposed using the town-owned land for up 80 senior apartments near U.S. 15-501 and 90 family apartments off Legion Road. About 1.5 acres would be reserved for a fire station. Plans for three- and four-story buildings could be submitted for approval later this year.

The project would generate a schools impact fee of $168,000 and about $50,000 in water and sewer improvements. Town Manager Roger Stancil said the county has reimbursed impact fees in the past for nonprofit housing projects.

An apartment for a family of three earning up to $36,000 a year would rent for less than $935 a month, officials said. Roughly 10 percent of the apartments would be set aside for disabled or homeless tenants, and another 25 percent would rent to those earning up to $18,000 a year.

Council member Ed Harrison called the project an investment in Chapel Hill’s character.

“What it gives us is a step forward in diversity of housing that we are really are at a loss how to make otherwise,” he said.

Town Hall renovations

The council also approved, with Czajkowski dissenting, $1.5 million in repairs and renovations at Town Hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

A June 30 flood badly damaged the building’s first floor, but it also created an opportunity to do most of a future renovation and meet a town goal of simplifying the development process. Stormwater repairs could cost $12,000, Stancil said.

The entire project could take up to a year, although the top priority is reopening the council chambers by September. Planning and inspections staff will be consolidated into a one-stop, first-floor permit center. Renovations on the second and third floors would create new spaces for business management staff and the manager, council and attorney offices, respectively.

The project also allocates $12,500, or 1 percent of its construction costs, to public art under the town’s Percent for Art program.

Business management director Ken Pennoyer said the town can pay for the project with a $267,093 insurance payout, $412,483 in savings and roughly $860,000 more in either savings or debt.

Recycling plans advance

The council also authorized the town manager to negotiate with the county for recycling services, the purchase of new rolling carts and a new Solid Waste Interlocal Agreement. The council will review the final agreements before signing off on them.

Chapel Hill is considering a five-year plan that would give the county authority to charge fees for recycling services. Town residents could pay two fees, starting at $47 for basic services – such as convenience centers and household hazardous waste disposal – and $59 for urban curbside service.

The county’s current recycling program will run out of money June 30 of next year because of a state Supreme Court decision that cast doubt on its authority to charge certain fees. The county, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and Carrboro are talking about whether to continue working together.

Council members said it’s important that any deal give the town access to financial reports and other information about the recycling program. The town also should have a say in future decisions, potentially through an advisory board similar to the Chapel Hill Transit partners board, they said. The previous Solid Waste Advisory Board expired when the county closed the Eubanks Road landfill.

If the deal goes through, the town could set the fee each year during its budget process, Stancil said.