CH Council Honors Longtime Civil Servants, Takes Affordable Housing Public Comments


By James Kiefer

In its first in-person session since the beginning of the pandemic, the Chapel Hill Town Council honored two former city employees on September 14. It also reviewed a zoning application and opened a public comment period on a housing development that seeks to incorporate affordable housing at a percentage below current land-use ordinances.

Honoring service at Hargraves

A motion passed to rename the Northside Gym at the Hargraves Community Center after Nate Davis, who served as the facility’s director for decades. The indoor basketball court will also be renamed to celebrate Fred Battle, who was director before Davis and another longtime town employee.

John French, the current director of the Hargraves Community Center discussed how Battle started everything from dance groups to overseeing enhancements to the home daycare center, which French called “vital to the African-American community.”

French added that Battle devoted his life to the town and social justice through service on various advisory boards and active involvement in the civil rights movement. Battle served as director of Hargraves from 1970 until 1987, later becoming an administrator with the parks department until retiring in 2009, according to French.

Davis succeeded French as director in 1988 but worked at the community center since the early 1970s; he held the position until 2018.

“Mr. Davis has been a pillar of Chapel Hill with over 50 years of service,” French remarked.

Davis was involved in the planning and construction of the Northside Gym, and, like Battle, was involved with advisory boards. French noted both men are longtime NAACP members.

“Both of these gentlemen are synonymous with Hargraves,” French said. “Their acts of humanity not only benefit the African-American community for generations to come, but the entire town of Chapel Hill benefitted from their service.”

The motion passed unanimously in a seven-to-zero vote; council members Adam Searing and Tai Huynh were absent from the session. In June, the town performed a similar measure by renaming the Chapel Hill transit facility in honor of Howard and Lillian Lee.

Howard Lee served as mayor of Chapel Hill from 1969 to 1975 and helped form Chapel Hill Transit. He was also the town’s first black mayor and later went on to become a state senator. Lillian, Lee’s wife, served as an advocate for children as one of the first teachers at the UNC Hospital School in 1965. She retired after many years of service as a counselor and administrator in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

Honing in on the ‘missing middle’ with Stanat’s Place 

Council members also weighed in on a development project that has some potential to address middle-income housing availability. The proposal for Stanat’s Place consists of 47 homes, each over 1,700 square feet, at 2516 Homestead Road. Current drafts call for four affordable housing units: three at 65% area-median income and one at 85% AMI; the current land use management plan calls for six units (15% of units) for a development of this size.

The parcel is positioned next to Homestead Park and the Homestead Aquatic Center, which has many residents concerned about how development will be incorporated into existing roadways, specifically along Cabernet Drive.

Eric Chupp, who represents CapKov Ventures, Inc., detailed how designers have two possible plans: one is to simply extend the roadway, which is the staff recommendation. The other option is using collapsible bollards, metal bars used to restrict access to roads, as traffic calming measures. Staff explained their resistance to using bollards because it could impact response times by emergency services arriving at the parcel.

Chupp also clarified that, after a question from council member Michael Parker, the developer plans to offer up $9,000 to pay for a mulch path to serve as a connector between the development and a nearby greenway.

New Chapel Hill transplant Ian Baltutis, the former mayor of Burlington and now a design student at UNC, also spoke to the design. He said that he’d like to see greater availability of affordable housing, at different AMIs, in addition to paving a greenway connector to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

Nearby resident Nidhi Sachdeva echoed support of more affordable housing at the complex.

“As we all know, Chapel Hill has been struggling with enough affordable options to house our neighbors and many of our essential workers … who must live elsewhere and travel long distances to town to work, play or shop,” she said.

Last year, Chapel Hill received a study conducted by consultant Rod Stevens showing that 90% of jobs within the Town are held by commuters, implying many Chapel Hill employees cannot afford to live in the city where they work. Stevens advised the town to construct more accessible affordable housing to avoid sharper increases in home prices and rents which would price out potential residents.

One commenter who exemplified that is Andrew Kane, who said he currently rents a property in town.

“Me and a lot of people my age would be interested in setting down roots in this wonderful town and we’re really having a difficult time finding affordable places to live,” he said, noting an affordable property within Stanat’s Place could potentially fall within his budget. 

“The longer housing like this is delayed, the longer people like me need to pay rent,” he said.  “Some of us might just choose to buy a house in Durham or in Cary because it’s less expensive.”

Councilperson Paris Miller-Foushee said she would normally advocate for the 15% affordable housing requirement, but acknowledged the development is structured differently.

“These four units really represent an opportunity for young professionals to be able to be a part of our community and to be able to be homeowners,” she said, adding these units could house families, not individuals.

Council member Jessica Anderson said she agrees with Miller-Foushee.

“We may not be able to ask for 15% because we need those middle-income units, not necessarily a ‘missing middle,’ but middle-income,” she said.

Councilperson Karen Stegman added she’d like to see more multi-modal functionality added to the design so that cars are not the primary mode of transit in the area. Mayor Pam Hemminger seconded that critique, adding local advocacy groups have called for larger affordable housing units.

Council members voted unanimously to continue the public hearing on October 12.

Other business included:

  • The council approved a regional bus procurement plan that allows the town manager to buy buses and other fleet equipment from the Research Triangle Regional Public Transportation Authority and the city of Durham;
  • Adopted a resolution that approved Chapel Hill’s Transit’s Title VI Program and authorizes submission to the Federal Transit Administration;
  • Scheduled legislative hearing for October 19 regarding proposed changes to the community review process for affordable housing;
  • Opened public hearings for annexations on properties at 2200 Eubanks Road and 7300 Millhouse Road;
  • Heard concept plan reviews for projects on North White Oak Drive and East Lakeview Drive; and
  • The council made appointments to the Community Policing Advisory Board.
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