By Terry E. Cohen
The Chapel Hill Town Council convenes at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, Wednesday, Jan. 25, with a number of items on its agenda, but the vote on eliminating single-family zoning is likely to take center stage for discussion and public comment.
The proposed text amendment to the Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) enables multiple dwelling units to be built on single lots (accessory units, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes), provided the lots and structures conform to certain limitations laid out in the amendment.
Resolution A, which would be passed if the council supports the text amendment, lays out numerous reasons for doing so. Resolution B, which simply says the council finds “the amendments are not reasonable and in the public’s interest and are not warranted to achieve the purposes of the Comprehensive Plan,” would be passed if the council denies the ordinance changes.
Proponents believe the new zoning law will promote housing choices for the population, with an eye on eliminating racial and affordability barriers, while providing environmental and transportation benefits through increased density.
Opponents believe the initiative will mostly benefit developers and investors, reduce affordability further, and change neighborhood character through increased occupant turnover and design conflicts, while considering the process to be rushed.
The debate is not unique to Chapel Hill. California, often blamed for having established single-family zoning for racist purposes, passed legislation last fall to eliminate land use designation for the entire state. Cities such as Minneapolis enacted the sweeping change earlier, in this case, in December 2018.
Other cities have paused to look at the issue more closely, however. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, the worry is that eliminating single-family zoning without other considerations in place will actually worsen the wealth gap of a town famous for MIT and Harvard.
In Gainesville, Florida, which is home to a large public university like Chapel Hill is, passage of the elimination of single-family zoning was opposed by black communities fearing gentrification, while simultaneously becoming a political football in that state’s culture wars.
Even an article on the website of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University notes that the issue is complex, seeming to support the elimination of single-family zoning as a “first step” to reversing racist history, but supplying caveats that doing so is no guarantee of affordability or increased housing supply.
The Town Council meeting takes place in council chambers at 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The public can attend in person and speak to issues both on and not on the agenda for a time limit, usually two or three minutes depending on the number of people signing up to speak. The meeting can also be viewed at its start time at 7 p.m. via the Town’s video web link.
Terry E. Cohen is the editor of The Local Reporter. She also writes articles for a global media firm on topics related to Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) in business and industry.