By Kari Lenox
I am a concerned citizen in Carrboro. I have recently become aware of several town projects that are underway, projects of which I and most of my community were unaware. One of these projects, the 203 Project, involves the development of a mammoth library and parking garage placed in the midst of our now quaint downtown area, rather than dedicating this precious land parcel to affordable housing. The 203 Project will cost the Town of Carrboro almost 19 million dollars, and it is my understanding that the town is to take on over 12 million in debt financing in order to see this project to fruition. Although the plans for this project have been going on for a number of years, the final approval process for the 203 Project took place during the pandemic lockdown in which there was very little outreach for community input to the final decision-making process. The Town is now working out the details of the debt financing for this project rather than asking whether it should it be built at all, especially given the Town’s stated priorities around affordable housing.
Similarly, in 2019, the Carrboro Town Council approved development of The Shops at Lloyd Farm, which, at 35 acres, was the largest remaining land parcel in Carrboro. Yet no affordable housing will be built there.
Instead, another proposed development site is currently under consideration for affordable housing: a beautiful hardwood forest that is owned by the Town and has served as green space for decades. These Town-owned plots of land off Pathway Drive in Carrboro are zoned for somewhere in the range of 20 to 30 units. The Town Council has stated time and again that they are in “pre-step one” of any plan to build on any existing town-owned plots of land. This is misleading given that the Town Council has already been in the process for several years of narrowing down the available town-owned parcels of land from 47 parcels to the now 3 parcels that they are considering developing. These decisions have been made without sufficient community input. It was only by happenstance that those most affected by these decisions came upon this information.
The Town Council members all ran on platforms that support affordable housing and support environmental concerns in light of climate change. I am perplexed at the decision-making here and have the following questions:
If the Town Council is indeed in favor of affordable housing, why did they not plan to create an affordable housing complex on the flat, already cleared Town-owned land where the proposed multi-million-dollar monstrous library is now to stand? Given the proximity of this Town-owned land to essential resources — i.e., grocery stores, pharmacies, medical facilities, public transportation, etc., wouldn’t it be wise to instead have at least some affordable housing on this site?
Given the Town Council’s stated concern for climate change issues, wouldn’t it make sense NOT to destroy a long-standing hardwood forest that is protective of the environment?
And wouldn’t it make sense that the Town Council not compromise its current citizens who are at risk for exacerbated flooding issues which are already severe? The town has a history of irresponsible development which has cost existing homeowners additional thousands of dollars in stormwater-related assessments and interventions in order to remedy flooding issues long neglected by the Town.
Why is the town not allowing for in-person meetings at this point to discuss these important issues of concern to its citizens? The meeting to discuss debt financing for the 203 Project is April 5 and will be held virtually. Why? Governor Cooper relaxed COVID restrictions some time ago and has declared that we should all exercise personal responsibility in our decision-making regarding COVID precautions. What could possibly be the reason why this very important meeting will be virtual? In addition, the Town supposedly advocates for those individuals who may not have access to the internet. Where is the equity here?
I have been canvassing Carrboro residents recently to make them aware of the Town Council’s recent decision-making that has and continues to neglect opportunities for affordable housing on the few major parcels of land in town. It is baffling to so many people at this point. I am in favor of genuine forums for community input on the Town of Carrboro’s decision-making. The Town Council has been non-responsive to this point. Now that COVID restrictions have been relaxed, the community is demanding opportunities to be involved in the Town’s decisions that affect us all.
Kari Lenox lives in Carrboro.
In response to TLR’s request for comment, Mayor Damon Seils provided the following statement:
“I would note that the 203 Project, strategies for expanding affordable housing, and other issues are topics on which there has been and will be extensive public engagement. The Town Council is scheduled to return to in-person meetings on April 12.”