Town leaders break down missing middle housing, LUMO rewrite


By Adam Powell

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.”

Share This Article

Scroll down to make a comment.

2 Comments on "Town leaders break down missing middle housing, LUMO rewrite"

  1. Sustainability is mentioned in passing when discussing LUMO reforms. Let’s actually talk about sustainability and how the massive up-zoning of Chapel Hill , as is being argued here, will accelerate Urban Stream Syndrome and result in the environmental degradation of the watershed system. Urban Stream Syndrome is the consistently observed ecological degradation of streams draining urban land.
    True LUMO reform would be based on current scientific research. That research studies the effects of urban growth on streams feeding our rivers and concludes that current building practices address the hydrology of development but pretty much ignore the biology and aquifer health.
    Elected officials often publicly decry the lack of effective response to Global Warming and yet seem to willfully ignore the science addressing that part of the environment they actually have jurisdiction over, building impacts on our water resources.
    Real LUMO reform would bring building practices into compliance with the science and better protect the environment that we all live in. Massive up-zoning under our current development practices will only bring profit to a few at the expense of everyone’s water resources.

  2. The concept of housing densification and fairness is being proposed by the same folks that believe the 2020 election was stolen.

    I would like to see hiw the consensus to move fowmrward with this change was determined as the true impacts of this change is not fully disclosed or discussed.
    Regardless of the Fair Housing Act, a fair funding act was not implemented until many years later and this was the limiting factor.
    Furthermore, we should not be held accountable for an unfair housing police conducted many many years ago.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.