Chapel Hill approves 48 affordable apartments along Legion Road

Site plan rendering courtesy of the Town of Chapel Hill.


By Adam Powell

In mid-April, Chapel Hill’s Town Council unanimously approved a proposal to construct 48 senior-living apartments along a 3.24-acre stretch of Legion Road, adjacent to the town-owned property that was approved for an additional 160 apartments late last year. 

Taft-Mills Group will construct affordable senior units, which will be part of a new community known as Longleaf Trace.

Taft-Mills Group, a Greenville, North Carolina-based firm, has constructed over 100 affordable housing communities throughout the Southeast over the past several years. Taft-Mills was recently selected to construct another senior community, Tanyard Branch Trace, along Jay Street in Chapel Hill.

“We’ve done about a hundred-plus affordable communities, about 5,000 units,” said Dustin Mills, president of Taft-Mills Group. “Our company specifically focuses on the development of affordable housing.” He added that the company works in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio. The company is also developing Tanyard Branch Trace along Jay Street, near Northside Elementary School, with construction expected to begin this summer.

“Jay Street will be our firm’s first development in Chapel Hill,” he continued, adding that the company hoped there were “many more to come because we all know there’s an extreme shortage of affordable housing in Chapel Hill.”

In both Chapel Hill projects, Taft-Mills works with the nonprofit Community Home Trust to assist with development and logistics.

“They will be our strategic local partner,” Mills said. They’’ll be in charge of things like working with the onsite management company. There’s a possibility of future management opportunities. They will help with resident boards, trying to promote activities for the residents and resident outreach.”

In all of its developmental work, Taft Mills Group relies on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, which allows it to receive credits for housing for local residents who meet certain income thresholds.

“Generally, what that means is that all of the units within our portfolio are targeted towards residents whose household income is 60 percent or less of the area median income of Orange County,” Mills explained. “The household income (threshold) for a family of two, as just a point of example, is about $48,500.”

In its words, Taft Mills Group honed in on this particular 3.24-acre parcel, located at 1708 to 1712 Legion Road, due to its walkability to grocery stores, nearby shopping, access to adjacent doctor’s offices, restaurants, and other commercial businesses, including the adjacent Ram’s Plaza.

The property will include sidewalks and bicycle lanes and provide on-site access to a Chapel Hill transit stop. It is also adjacent to the future Legion Road Town Park that is being constructed nearby and will provide walking access to that park.

Once Longleaf Trace and the other nearby development is completed, the Legion Road area will have two new communities featuring over 200 residential units geared towards low-income and senior residents.

“When we first saw this site, what we really liked about it it is in a very active area. It’s a very walkable area,” Mills said. “And it is walkable to things like grocery stores. There are bicycle lanes. There’s public transportation at the mouth of the property, which is critically important for our residents. And so we thought that it was the perfect site. We’re very excited about it.”

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to participate in utilizing the Legion Road properties park component – when that does become a reality – as it (will be located) immediately adjacent to us. Our plan contemplates a walking trail that will dead end into the town’s property. We will fine-tune that once we get to the point in time where we know more about what the master plan is for that particular property.”

Taft Mills Group proposed to construct the 48 new construction units in a single three-story residential building. The property will be adjacent to Legion Road in terms of automobile access, with heavy buffering along the southeastern portion of the land.

“It’s not like a hotel,” Mills explained. “But if you think about a hotel with interior loaded corridors, that is how the building will be generally designed. So residents will have interior access to things like a workout facility. We will have business centers on the property, where you can use a computer if your printer is down. We have several little reading nooks and libraries, and then a big community resident activity center that’s centralized for them to do things like art classes or have neighborhood meetings. So it’s a pretty compact design.”

Along the property’s southern boundary near homes in the Turnberry community, the developer is taking extra steps to ensure privacy and security by having the main building along the opposite side of the property, closer to the town-owned land near the northern boundary.

“One of the things that we did do is we pushed it (the main residential building) to the opposite side of our resident neighbors on Turnberry Lane,” Mills explained, adding that the developers are having ongoing conversations with those neighbors. “We have met with them, and we are continuing to meet with them. We wanted to push the building to the opposite side of them.”

The developer’s desire to preserve much of the eastern side of the property while also respecting neighbors who wish to see the nearby creek area unobstructed was a motivating factor in choosing to make Longleaf Trace a senior community.

“Can you tell me why you’ve chosen to make this age-restricted instead of just general?” inquired council member Amy Ryan.

“When we started looking at the site and understood the history of the site with the previous (developers) looking at it to develop the rear of the property – we immediately recognize that as a stumbling block with the neighbors,” Mills explained. “And so we wanted to gain goodwill with them by saying we’re not going past the creek. And we’ll also observe the setback on our side of the creek. So when you do that, that creates a very small footprint.”

Mills anticipated solid demand for Longleaf Trace and a relatively quick timeframe of approximately 90 days to get the building to capacity once construction is completed, likely sometime in late 2024 or early 2025.

“When we did the market study, they looked at renters within the town of Chapel Hill in Orange County who met the income criteria,” Mills indicated. “The market study said that with 48 units, we would lease it up in about 90 days. They (Community Home Trust) made the comment that 90 days is what they estimated because it would take us that long to prepare all of the paperwork and get folks moved in. And so there’s a tremendous need for affordable housing for residents 55 and older (in Chapel Hill).”

Adam Powell is a reporter on local news and sports and an education communications professional. A 2001 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Powell has served as managing editor of multiple local publications, including the Mebane Enterprise, News of Orange County and The public information officer for Rockingham County Schools in Eden, N.C., Powell is the author of four books and lives in Mebane with his wife and two children. This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocal

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1 Comment on "Chapel Hill approves 48 affordable apartments along Legion Road"

  1. They realize that Fordham Road is already impassable for much of the day already, right?

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