Landlords asked the town last week to find out whether Northside property owners want to keep the neighborhood’s development rules and, if they do, to form a property owners-only advisory council.
It was the second time since February that the landlords – some of whom also live in Northside – have asked for a board based on property ownership.
At issue is the Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) zoning approved in 2004 to preserve Northside’s character, help longtime residents stay in their homes, and reduce traffic, trash and other problems associated with increasing student rentals.
The 188-acre Northside neighborhood is located north of West Rosemary Street and west of Columbia Street.
The request worries nonprofit officials and other residents, many of whom serve on the advisory Northside and Pine Knolls Community Plan Working Group. An owners’ board would favor landlords, who own roughly two-thirds of Northside parcels and don’t support the NCD goals, they said.
Homeowners, the town and other groups own the remaining lots.
The Town Council could discuss the petition Monday, during a public hearing previously scheduled to address several proposed changes to the Northside rules, including an allowance for larger duplexes and homes. The council also could vote to postpone the discussion until June.
Besides home size, Northside’s NCD rules limit occupancy to four unrelated people living together and parking to four cars in designated areas. The town has struggled to enforce violations consistently, officials and residents said, although a 2013 community action plan calls for better town housing policy enforcement, education and outreach.
While there are exceptions, a partnership with UNC and the town has improved traffic, parking and other issues, residents said. Noise remains a problem, however, particularly for those living next to over-occupied rental housing, they said.
Northside has long been a diverse and affordable neighborhood, longtime resident Keith Edwards said, but its struggles never seem to end.
“It was a neat community, because we had students, we had whites and we blacks, and all this during the Jim Crow era when it was just unheard of, and we lived in harmony,” Edwards said. “But greed came in the neighborhood, so the town and community had to get together to try to do those three things that the town wanted to do and what this neighborhood has always represented: diversity, ending homelessness and affordable housing.”
A 1980 U.S. Census found 1,159 black residents living in the Northside community – once home to many town and UNC employees.
By 2010, the number had dropped to 690.
The number increased to 717 last year, or about 25 percent of Northside’s total population, according to an American Community Survey estimate. Another 1,500 residents were estimated to be young, mostly white UNC students.
That’s about 15 percent of the roughly 10,000 UNC undergraduates living in off-campus housing, according to university officials. Another 45 percent of undergraduates live in on-campus housing, UNC spokeswoman Sarah Derreberry said. UNC’s peers, on average, house about 30 percent of their undergraduate students on campus.
The university plans to be a partner in many ways, Derreberry said, but doesn’t have any current plans for more beds or housing.
“Years of study and planning have led to the current initiative in Northside, tailored to the unique character of the neighborhood and its residents,” Derreberry said. “The Northside story shows that a problem such as affordable housing, with many causes, requires many partners to solve.”
More economic and social pressures could be ahead, meanwhile, as homes change hands and redeveloped lots push prices and property taxes out of reach. New buildings are growing taller to the south on West Rosemary Street, where a draft town plan reflects a tech-friendly, residential and commercial future.
Lower-income families won’t be able to compete for housing as long as students can pay several hundred dollars a month for a bedroom, officials said.
landlords counter that the NCD rules are keeping families out, by limiting homes to 1,750 square feet and, as a result, the potential to maximize their investment. Investor Adam Brown said that’s why his family left Northside after several years. He called the NCD rules “disastrous.”
“A vote today of Northside owners would also offer (the town) and the rest of Chapel Hill … an accurate reflection and representation of the Northside community, not one skewed by special interests,” Brown said. “A majority of Northside owners have been excluded from the NCD planning process in the past and today.”
Landlord Mark Patmore, who initially challenged the NCD rules, was a member of the 2004 committee that created them.
Other parts of town are still available to families who want larger homes, said Town Councilwoman Donna Bell, a Northside homeowner and investor. The council is trying to balance the community’s needs, she said, and preserving smaller Northside homes is one way to offer more affordable housing.
“We’re not talking about nostalgia. The purpose is that we want this to be a neighborhood of families who work here, play here and live here,” she said. “I think the idea that landlords are a problem leads us to something that is not what we’re trying to say. What we’re trying to say is we’re trying to protect a place.”
The Town Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday in the Town Hall Council Chambers, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The hearing could include a discussion of possible changes to Northside’s Neighborhood Conservation District, or NCD.
The town’s NCD zoning includes land-use and development rules tailored to specific neighborhoods in an effort to preserve existing characteristics. It’s particularly used in areas that contribute to the town’s identity but may not be historically, architecturally or culturally significant.
The changes proposed for Northside include:
▪ Allow up to 3,000 square feet and six parking spaces for affordable duplexes
▪ No longer include half-baths in the two-bath limit
▪ Increase the maximum size home for the largest lots – about 20 percent – from 1,750 square feet to 2,250 square feet
▪ Reduce the cost and time to get building permits
UNC’s announcement last month of a $3 million, no-interest, 10-year loan program for affordable Northside homes reinforces preservation goals established years ago in partnership wth the town and residents, officials said.
The program is being funded out of the university’s campus operations, including printing services, university mail and vending, UNC spokeswoman Sarah Derreberry said.
It is closely aligned with the goals of a 2013 Northside Housing Market Action Plan (bit.ly/1mjSMmS), drafted using a $210,000 grant from Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc., a private, nonprofit affiliated with UNC.
The money will help set aside affordable homes for sale to families, while preserving neighborhood diversity, said Dan Levine, director of business development and project management for Self-Help of Durham. It’s not aimed at pushing out students or landlords, he said.
“We want to help landlords continue to connect with the community. They are part of the community, too,” he said.
Self-Help and its partners are looking at opportunities now, Levine said, declining to be more specific.