Chapel Hill News

Northside neighbors meet to clear air

Northside residents, investors and others met last week to talk about neighborhood rules and who should have a say in changes that affect private homes and investment property.

There will be many more talks, said town mediators Jim Heugerich and Faith Thompson.

The first meeting was to get everyone acquainted and find out what they think about four concerns: the town’s height and size limits, parking restrictions, the town review process and duplex regulations.

The Northsde neighborhood, north of West Rosemary Street, from Carrboro’s town limits to North Columbia Street, is under Neighborhood Conservation District zoning aimed at preserving its character, helping longtime residents stay in their homes, and reducing traffic, trash and other problems.

The town created the district, which also includes the Pine Knolls neighborhood on Merritt Mill Road, in 2004 in response to a rapid transition from mostly blue-collar, African-American family homes to student rentals. The town approved a community plan to advance the district’s goals in 2102.

A group of investors – some of whom are also Northside residents – had a different idea for the meeting: Form an official town advisory board that represents Northside property owners and investors, similiar to a homeowner’s association. The board could work out the other issues, they said.

“Your presentation is based on the assumption that we want the NCD. We don’t want the NCD. We never did,” investor and resident Mark Patmore said. “I would like a referendum (on whether) you’re going to continue using that NCD, then we could discuss the other points after that.”

The investors’ proposal for a town advisory board was prompted by a rumor about lowering Northside’s occupancy cap from four unrelated people to three.

The comment was made in jest during a monthly meeting of the Northside and Pine Knolls Community Plan Working Group, town officials said. The working group, composed of town staff, residents and community groups, can only make suggestions, members said, and no changes are planned.

The proposed advisory board worries some nonprofit officials and some residents. They say such a board would favor investors, who own much of the land in Northside and don’t support the community plan’s goals.

Everybody’s opinion should be counted, said Delores Bailey, a Northside resident and executive director of Empowerment Inc. The nonprofit also owns property in the neighborhood and helps residents with affordable housing.

“When I say ‘we,’ I say those of us that live in this community, that work in this community and also own property in this community, who have probably a different opinion than the other (property owners) we that we’re talking about,” she said. “I thought we were coming to put our issues on the table, to talk about them and to look at resolutions for everybody.”

Empowerment and others said the rules are helping preserve the neighborhood’s character, attract new families and make sure housing is available.

Investors said the conservation district has brought changes that run counter to the town’s goals. Families aren’t buying Northside homes, they said, because of the 1,750-square-foot limit, so investors end up buying houses and turning them into more student rentals.

After talking in small groups, the larger group reconvened Wednesday to share its ideas for moving forward.

Among other suggestions, members recommended creating a property tax credit to help longtime residents being priced out of their homes, looking at why Northside parking and housing rules are different from other parts of town, and asking the town for better street lighting.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

More information

The Northside and Pine Knolls Community Plan Working Group meets the second Tuesday of every month at the Hargraves Center, 216 N. Roberson St. in Chapel Hill. The meetings are open to the public.