By James Kiefer
After a deluge of headlines extolling the efforts of the UNC men’s basketball team, Chapel Hill’s elected officials Wednesday evening discussed parts of town less often in the limelight including the contributions of local African American leaders and the plight of local mobile home park residents.
First on the chopping block were resolutions honoring a bevy of individuals who have promoted important causes that have improved the town, first among them former Mayor Howard Lee and his wife Lillian Lee.
The Lees will be honored by having Chapel Hill’s transit facility renamed after them. Transit Director Brian Litchfield noted that Howard Lee founded Chapel Hill’s transit system by initially acquiring used buses from Atlanta.
“We think that this [name change] is consistent with our interest to recognize not only his efforts to create the transit system, but the other things he accomplished throughout his long career,” Litchfield remarked.
According to the Kenan Institute, Lee was born in 1934 and raised on a sharecropper’s farm in Georgia. He received a master’s degree from the UNC School of Social Work in 1964 following his military service and a stint working as a juvenile probation officer. Lee was first elected as Mayor of Chapel Hill in 1969 and served three terms. From 1977 to 1981, he served as Secretary of the NC Department of Natural Resources and Community Development in Governor Jim Hunt’s administration and he was elected to the North Carolina State Senate in 1990 where he served for 13 years.
In his time at the state legislature, Lee championed education reform and transportation efforts. Lillian, his wife, also spearheaded initiatives for children impacted by birth defects and was among the first teachers at the UNC Hospital School.
Councilperson Jessica Anderson noted the name change felt deserved.
“I find there to be no one more deserving of being honored in this way,” she said.
Council unanimously approved renaming the Town’s transit facility to honor the Lees. In its consent agenda, the council also approved adding Frederick Lewis Battle’s name to Peace and Justice Plaza on East Franklin Street. Battle was part of the team that helped reorganize the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the NAACP. The branch was first chartered in 1947 and Battle served as its president from 2001 – 2009. He also served the Town as a Parks Superintendent and died in 2019 at 75.
The move to rename the transit facility marks a shift in the Town naming practices. Usually, the Town names its structures only for deceased individuals. Both the Lees are still alive.
Mitigating manufactured homes
Also covered was the County-wide Manufactured Homes Action Plan.
Sarah Viñas, director of affordable housing, noted there are around 160 manufactured homes, commonly called mobile homes, in Chapel Hill across four communities. She added the residents of all four communities are threatened with potential displacement due to redevelopment.
The main thrust of the proposed plan conprises three parts: preserve existing manufactured home communities, minimize displacement caused by redevelopment for residents in those communities and provide relocation assistance options for residents dealing with displacement. The plan would encompass manufactured homes across Orange County, not just Chapel Hill.
Mayor Pam Hemminger asked whether the Town is trying to preserve the existence of manufactured home parks or to help residents of those communities remain within the community?
Councilperson Michael Parker said the Town should treat these residential communities as neighborhoods, not mobile home parks, and be respectful of residents that choose to live there.
“Mobile home parks are one of the best forms of naturally occurring affordable housing,” he said. “So preserving them makes a ton of sense in the context of our broader affordable housing goals as well.”
Councilperson Amy Ryan mentioned that market forces and land values are also working against the Town. She said the rising value of land may contribute to redevelopment, further pricing people out of housing in the area.
Councilperson Paris Miller-Foushee reminded her colleagues that manufactured homes are options for individuals who cannot afford the traditional style of homeownership. Councilperson Tai Huynh added there is also no “silver bullet” solution for preserving these communities, but that having a naturally occurring affordable home option is something the Town needs to maintain.
Parker also said that needs regarding manufactured homes may vary by location, and that Chapel Hill’s needs may differ from those in other parts of Orange County.
Other business handled during the council meeting included:
- Acknowledging the UNC men’s basketball team for their recent performance in the NCAA championship;
- Opening a legislative hearing for a conditional zoning application for 307 North Roberson St.;
- Hearing an update regarding the OneOrange Racial Equity Framework;
- Transmitting comments for a concept plan review for a development at 138 Stancell Drive.
Thank you so much for sharing the good news about the naming of Chapel Hill’s Transit Facility in honor of Mayor Howard Lee and Lillian Lee. I was an early beneficiary of the bus system, especially after it was extended to Carrboro, where we lived in the 1970s. When we moved to east Chapel Hill, bicycling to campus became less appealing, so we bought a house with a bus stop in our side yard. CH Transit was my primary mode of commuting for the rest of my UNC career. I’ve taken well over 10,000 trips (quite a few of which I would have missed without the gracious indulgence of our friendly CH Transit bus drivers!). Thank you for sharing the good news about this well-deserved recognition for Howard and Lillian Lee!