Habitat for Humanity of Wake County can build seven single-family homes in a Cary neighborhood after the Town Council approved a controversial plan that has riled both neighbors and advocates of affordable housing.
The council voted 5-2 Thursday night to approve Habitat’s request to build seven houses on 2.6 acres of vacant land along Trimble Avenue, just south of West Chatham Street. Council members Ken George and Jennifer Robinson cast votes against the rezoning request.
“A no vote tonight kills this project, and I don’t want to kill this project,” Mayor Pro Tem Ed Yerha said. “I do believe it’s acceptable, and even though I would have liked to leave more time for conversation, I can’t, in my heart, vote no and kill this.”
In an hour-long public comment session at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, nearly two dozen speakers – mostly residents who live in the nearby Scottish Hills neighborhood – addressed the council. Many reiterated fears about flooding in the area and said the Habitat project wouldn’t blend in with their community.
One resident, Tony Arnold, brought a gallon of water to the podium to drive home his point about the seriousness of the neighborhood’s problems with water runoff.
Some also spoke to frustrations they felt about how their opposition had been portrayed by Habitat for Humanity and in media reports.
“I’ve gone to all those meetings, and I’m offended by how we were represented in the newspaper,” said Brian Blochl, who lives in Scottish Hills. “That started the idea that we’re NIMBYs, that we hate people who aren’t like us. But there are a lot of people who look different from me, whose first language isn’t English, who agree this isn’t a good idea.”
About 25 Habitat supporters on Thursday wore light-blue shirts that read “everyone deserves an affordable home.”
Jason Barron, a land-use attorney representing Habitat, said he sympathized with Scottish Hills residents.
“Infill zoning cases are extremely difficult,” he said, referring to the land being in the midst of an older neighborhood. “The impacts are felt much more acutely than with greenfill because there’s someone already there. But there are conditions that make these homes more restricted than the parcels that exist across the street from them.”
The controversy began late last year when Habitat for Humanity of Wake County first asked to build 23 homes, mostly townhouses, along Trimble Avenue.
More than 100 people showed up at two neighborhood meetings hosted by the town. Most said the project was too dense for the neighborhood.
Habitat responded by lowering its request to 15 homes in January. In February, public pressure and a road connectivity requirement forced the nonprofit to again adjust its proposal to nine detached, single-family houses on lots similar in size – though not in width – to what zoning across the street required.
Around the neighborhood, people circulated fliers and put up yard signs to oppose the project.
Cary staff had recommended approval of the project, but the town’s planning commission had voted to recommend the council deny the measure.
In the meantime, Habitat’s rezoning request shifted slightly from transitional-residential to a conditional R-8 district, which is more in line with the zoning of homes across from the property.
This further reduced the number of allowed new homes, a third time, to seven.
“We heard some public comments from neighbors at a May meeting that they would support R-8, so we decided to go that route and build the seven units there,” Kevin Campbell, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, said Thursday afternoon before the vote. “I think, hopefully, we’ve got enough support on the council for this proposal.”
Campbell said that although a greater density would have allowed the organization to create more homes, Habitat is pleased to add to Cary’s affordable housing supply.
“We’re both a builder and an advocate for affordable housing, so we want to keep advocating and set a precedent for higher density,” Campbell said. “But building seven units would be a big deal, considering we’ve only built three units in Cary since 2010.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan