Can Chapel Hill, North Carolina Rezone Single-Family?


Significant public and private investment is drawing thousands of new residents to North Carolina, driving up home prices and rents and forcing many longtime residents to leave the Triangle in search of affordability.

Elected officials and their staff are looking for new solutions, including changing zoning to allow developers and property owners to build townhouses, cottages and small apartments next to single-family homes in residential areas.

Durham approved such changes to the city center in 2019; Raleigh recently approved the zoning changes after years of planning and public debate and is conducting five workshops for residents and builders until February 23.

Now, the trend is revitalizing Chapel Hill neighbors, many of whom fear luxury apartment developments next door, slow growth and already high property taxes and gentrification. Others hope the changes will bring more “missing middle” options and see it as a long game to get affordable housing.

On Wednesday, the Chapel Hill City Council will hold a public hearing on a proposal to “redevelop” several neighborhoods. City staff are still working to determine which neighborhoods will be affected if the change is approved.

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Two community information sessions will follow. One event will take place virtually on January 31. The second will take place in person on February 2.

The council can continue deliberations until February 22, when a vote is possible.

Upzoning, which changes or eliminates single-family zoning in favor of a greater variety of housing, is based on the idea that more options will allow more people, especially young families, seniors and low-income workers, to live where they are working. .

That’s important in Chapel Hill, where 43,349 people moved into the city to work in 2019, according to U.S. Census data.

Another 14,697 residents who lived in Chapel Hill left the city for work, and more than 6,400 lived and worked in Chapel Hill.

Land use changes are proposed

Chapel Hill’s proposed changes have been in the works for several years. In September 2021, council members Karen Stegman, Ty Huynh, Michael Parker and Allen Buanci, who is currently a member of the state House of Representatives, asked staff to study the issue and bring back ideas.

The city hired a consultant, Rod Stevens of Business Street, to review current housing and needs, and most recently began working with Canadian urban planner Jennifer Kismat on a new Complete Community framework aimed at creating affordable, diverse and affordable neighborhoods.

Wednesday’s hearing will put several changes on the table, including a plan that would allow property owners to build up to four residential units on lots currently zoned for single-family homes.

Other changes will be:

Repeal density restrictions in all zoning districts and establish minimum lot sizes, maximum area ratios, setbacks, building heights, and restrictions on driveways and other impervious surfaces.

Set minimum and maximum parking rates.

Allow residential property owners to build triplexes, quadruplexes and cottage sites consisting of three to 12 small houses clustered around a central courtyard. Triplexes and quadruplexes are now only allowed in higher density zones where condos are also allowed.

Create special design standards and subdivision regulations for townhouse projects with five or more units.

Establish a zoning permit process that requires only staff approval.

CH Zoning map.jpg
Chapel Hill’s zoning map shows that most of the land is zoned for single-family homes (shown in cream and yellow). UNC and its affiliated entities own another 30% of the city’s land, while denser commercial and residential development is built along major transportation corridors. City of Chapel Hill Brought

Will it create affordable housing?

Not alone and not in the short term, experts note.

Zoning began over 100 years ago as a way promote more homes for working class familiesaccording to Alexander von Hoffmann, senior research fellow and faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

The policy soon became a tool of racism and exclusion, used by white homeowners, government officials and developers who wanted to keep black and working-class immigrant families out, Hoffman wrote in a 2021 blog post.

In the 1970s, cities began adding more regulations, ostensibly to protect the environment and prevent sprawl, he said, followed by increased building fees, advisory board inspections and lengthy approval processes that increased the cost of building homes.

Except those barriers to development are also consideredredevelopment in single-family neighborhoods is unlikely to create affordable housing in the short term, said Emily Hamilton, research associate and director of the Urbanity Project at George Mason University.

HOA, nature conservation areas have different rules

The proposed policy would not change land use regulations in areas governed by a homeowner’s association or located in one of the city’s Nature conservation areas.

Council members could ask staff to research changes to the city’s NCD guidelines that would expand the diversity of housing options.

Homeowners Associationwhich are subject to state law, have broader powers to regulate the character and appearance of the district.

Will it affect board members?

Only two councilors – Camilla Berry and Michael Parker – live in areas where the policy change will allow more housing types. Berry lives in an apartment on Erwin Road; Parker lives in the Greenbridge Condominiums on Rosemary Street.

Mayor Pam Hemminger and council members Adam Searing, Stegman, Amy Ryan and Huynh live in areas with homeowner associations that are not covered by the new housing regulations.

Councilors Paris Miller-Foushy and Jessica Anderson live in areas covered by the Environmental Protection District overlay zoning, which could be changed in the future.

How much housing do you need?

Zoning maps show that single-family areas cover most of Chapel Hill’s available land, leading to “inefficient land use” and higher housing costs, city officials said. About 75% of Chapel Hill housing is unaffordable to families earning less than 80% of the area median income, they said.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that’s $53,500 for a single person and $76,400 for a family of four, putting even rental housing out of reach for low-wage workers and leaving many professionals, including police officers, firefighters, , teachers and nurses to navigate traffic jams and long commutes to neighboring counties.

Chapel Hill also isn’t growing as fast as other cities, according to U.S. Census data, which showed the city added just 3,895 people between 2010 and 2021 — an average growth rate of 0.62% per year.

That was lower than the average annual growth rate for Carrboro (0.8%), Orange County (1%) and Hillsborough (4.2%), and the state of North Carolina (0.9%).

UNC-Chapel Hill, which together with its affiliated entities owns approximately 30% of the city’s land, reported an average annual increase in enrollment of 1.2% during the period and an average annual increase in graduate and professional students of 0.8%.

Estimates from the 2010 and 2021 US Census showed that the city’s housing stock increased by only a couple of hundred units during that time.

The city now needs more than 5,000 affordable homes, both for sale and for rent, to serve low-income residents, city officials and housing advocates said.

He has Report for 2021, Stevens recommended increasing housing production by 35%. That would add about 485 houses a year, only 10% of which would have to serve UNC students, Stevens said.

Gentrification, higher taxes raise fears

A number of Chapel Hill residents urged the council to slow down, citing the experience of other cities and towns that have eliminated or reduced single-family districts.

They argue that upzoning could encourage gentrification, allow developers to replace existing homes with more expensive rentals and leave low-income homeowners with unaffordable property tax bills.

In Raleigh, recently changes to allow more duplexes, townhouses and small apartment buildings in former single-family neighborhoods, some residents say the city’s leadership has lost public trust. The changes also allow tiny homes and backyard cottages to be built in more neighborhoods.

The News & Observer reported that residents of one of Raleigh’s wealthiest neighborhoods opposed a plan to demolish the 100-year-old building house and replace it with 17 townhouses at a price of about $2 million each.

The fears are not unfounded, some experts say, although little research has been done.

One oft-cited study of rezoning in New York found that rezoning between 2002 and 2009 resulted in whiter neighborhoods with more speculative development and higher property values. Another, more recent study is reviewed zoning changes in Chicago and found that property values ​​are rising, but very little new housing is being built.

Daniel Herrigues, editor-in-chief of the nonprofit advocacy group Strong Towns, argued in a Jan. 19 report that those the studies were taken out of context. The Chicago study, for example, only looked at a small area of ​​the city served by transit, he said.

Developers are only going to replace houses with apartments if they have interested buyers and can turn a profit, Herriges said, and most cities don’t have enough population growth to fill all those new units.

“This is a story well preserved in many cities,” Herrigues wrote. “The only hot area with a prominent flock of construction cranes, fueling a widespread perception of a development boom, even though most residents live in areas unaffected by it.”

Orange report

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Tammy Grubb has written about the politics, people and government of Orange County since 2010. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.

Can Chapel Hill, North Carolina Rezone Single-Family?

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