Town leaders break down missing middle housing, LUMO rewrite

COMMUNITY

By Adam Powell
Correspondent

As the Town of Chapel Hill moves forward with its plan to redesign and rewrite its Land Use Management Ordinance, or LUMO, over the next several months, one of the key initial steps for town leaders is to define the specific types of changes they’d like to see in local housing and the various ways they can enact those changes.

Chapel Hill’s Principal Planner, Tas Lagoo, spoke with the board at length on Wednesday, Jan. 17 as the town began making preparations to update the LUMO.

Lagoo indicated four specific points town planners are focusing on as they revise Chapel Hill’s LUMO:  supply, affordability, connectivity, and sustainability.

“When it comes to housing, I think this is one of the policy areas in which we have the strongest consensus and the strongest work of plans and policies in place,” Lagoo said. “We need to make sure that that housing is affordable to a wide range of residents – that we are not creating an increasingly exclusive community.”

Lagoo directed the discussion toward whether the town should consider expanding opportunities for triplexes, fourplexes, cottage courts, and small apartments throughout Chapel Hill.

“The real question is:  should we expand opportunities for certain types of missing middle housing, namely triplexes and fourplexes,” Lagoo said. “Cottages were another form of missing middle housing that we put on the map last year. Cottage courts and small apartments are types of missing middle housing that we weren’t able to really get at in last year’s work. And so there’s an opportunity here to continue the momentum and look at those types of missing middle housing forms as well.”

Lagoo said roadways throughout Chapel Hill are equipped with existing infrastructure to accommodate additional missing middle housing. He said that zoning modifications would be necessary in various places around town to allow additional residential development along these corridors.

“We have arterial roads – large roads capable of handling significant amounts of traffic, with well-established bus networks that serve them,” Lagoo told the council. “[They have]  sidewalks, bike lanes – all the sort of connectivity-related infrastructure that we really want to see as part of a complete community. Not all of those roads are currently zoned in a way that would allow something like a cottage court to be built on.“

Existing neighborhoods throughout Chapel Hill with land use covenants already in place will not be considered for additional missing middle housing development.

“Too often people think that new housing is just for the students, and that’s not true,” said new Board Member Melissa McCullough. “The majority of households right now [in Chapel Hill] are one to two people, and there just isn’t that much good housing for one to two people.”

“There are a lot of lots around town that could potentially be subdivided,” Lagoo explained. “But we have standards in place that significantly increase the cost of doing so. It doesn’t make it impossible. It just makes it incredibly expensive. Whoever wants to build more housing would have to factor into the cost of that new housing the cost of widening the street, of building curb and gutter, and of putting in place some very costly infrastructure.”

For at least one board member Paris Miller-Foushee, the LUMO rewrite is not just about opening up residential development throughout Chapel Hill. It is also about erasing a past that excluded many lower-income residents from even having the chance to own property in Chapel Hill.

“One of the goals of the Fair Housing Act was to address originally discrimination in housing,” said Miller-Foushee. “And one of the goals around that was zoning with single-family housing. And so for me, this LUMO rewrite is an opportunity as a town to really signal that we’re not going back to that history. And you’re not going to continue to make it illegal to build anything other than a single-family home.

“I don’t want this conversation to not be contextual – about housing rights, and the history of housing, and the role that zoning has played in exacerbating racial and class segregation,” she continued. “I mean, it’s important that we really keep that front and center. And when we’re talking about single-family zoning and what that means, and what it means for us to be giving a thumbs up to saying, ‘Yeah, we’re going to make it legal to be able to build a triplex or fourplexes, cottage courts, small apartments,’ because in this market, that’s what most people can afford.”

“I’m giving a very clear signal to you. Yes, let’s move forward.”

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