By Joan Guilkey
Part of Eastgate (the Blue Hill area) has been sold again, to a developer based in Indiana, and rumor has it the owner plans more market-rate apartments! Just what Chapel Hill does not need!
The excuse the town council uses for approving more luxury apartments via a rezoning is that banks like to loan money for that purpose and we might be sued if we restrict private land uses.
Oh, then why did we, the people and town staff, just spend a boatload of money and time to write a Future Land Use Plan? And why did staff and the council ignore the last Future Land Use Plan that was supposed to encourage more commercial and other non-apartment uses? We don’t need the new plan or any plan if all we do is approve every application for apartments.
There are two good cases in point right now.
The North Chapel Hill Plan area, which lies between I-40 and Weaver Diary Road, is fraught with flooding, steep slopes, noise and particulate pollution, absence of transit and criss-crossed with utility easements. Yet it is being examined for apartments. And not for affordable ones. We hear the cost of building on this land is too high for builders to opt for the low-income structures so many of our citizens need.
Another example is Columbia Street South (called the Annex) next to NC Hwy 54 Bypass and across from Merritt’s Grill. This topography is terrible, too, but also under the microscope to become mostly market-rate apartments. In short, every bit of undeveloped land in town is a target for luxury apartments.
As density rises amidst all this rezoning, town control decreases and our cost to maintain town services increases. If the new residents moving here live in apartments, they don’t pay residential property taxes, but do continue to drain our budget coffers for services.
We have some council and planning commission members who vote for unlimited growth, and consequently for unlimited apartments, as if there is no cost to us for their decisions. They say more density is a cure for our slow-growing revenue and that all growth pays its way.
Research shows that all growth has built-in costs. For example, growth demands we pay for new fire trucks, ambulances, police, for garbage and recycling, for part of the cost of OWASA and Duke Energy services, for town staff and especially for streets/roads.
Because no type of growth is free, we need decision-makers on the council and advisory bodies who approve what the greater community wants to pay for, and nothing else.
We now have thousands of market-rate apartments, some of which are empty, and ever-rising rental rates. Meanwhile, our costs to service the units accelerate. It is way past time to stop feeding the apartment beast and look for leaders who are willing to reexamine the rezoning frenzy.
Joan Guilkey is a long-time resident of Chapel Hill who has volunteered for many governmental and nonprofit community service organizations.