Chapel Hill to consider zoning changes for more housing options

Cindy Bae Image
Thursday, January 26, 2023
Chapel Hill to consider zoning changes for more housing options
The Town of Chapel Hill is in need of more affordable housing, but the Town Council wants to hear from the public first.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Town of Chapel Hill is in need of more affordable housing, but first, the Town Council held a public hearing on Wednesday to get feedback from residents -- and will receive public comment until Feb. 22 -- before a decision is made.

Part of Wednesday's discussion was to "clean up" the text in the Town's Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) to allow for more housing options, and essentially allow developers or builders to create denser neighborhoods.

No specific neighborhoods have been identified yet for zoning changes but Chapel Hill said there are a number of opportunity sites for commercial space and multi-story apartments in the higher-activity areas or 'Focus Areas' of Chapel Hill.

"A rezoning is often needed to support commercial and multifamily projects in these areas," planning manager Corey Liles said. "This can be a reasonable approach for larger or higher-value projects, but seeking a rezoning is often not feasible for producing smaller-scale residential and missing middle housing."

Missing Middle Housing is typically defined as "a range of house-scale buildings with multiple units-compatible in scale and form with detached single-family homes-located in a walkable neighborhood," according to Chapel Hill, which is considering housing options such as townhouses, cottages and small apartments.

"The Town's 2021 report on Projected Housing Needs estimated that Chapel Hill should add around 485 units per year to keep up with demand," Liles said. "This would be about a 35% increase from recent housing construction."

The discussion comes on the heels of Raleigh and Durham making changes when it comes to affordable housing.

While Raleigh recently approved zoning changes, Durham made such changes in 2019.

Daniele Berman of Community Home Trust, whose work is to help those in Orange County find affordable solutions, said the change to the zoning rules is an important way to start in Chapel Hill.

"Chapel Hill is a very expensive place to live," Berman said. "A recent report showed that we are more than 5,000 units short of what we need when it comes to affordable housing. And so it's a real crisis in Chapel Hill."

Chapel Hill's zoning map shows most of the town is land-zoned for single-family homes, which are not affordable to those who actually work in Chapel Hill, according to Berman.

"Right now, only about 25% of units in Chapel Hill are considered affordable to folks who make 80% or less of area median income," Berman said. "They may be teachers, they are firefighters, they are police officers, they work at the university, and they work at the hospital system. So these are the folks that can't afford to live in Chapel Hill."

Chapel Hill may not be a big town, but having more housing options would ease the burden of those who commute, according to Berman.

"It'll mean more growth, it'll mean more folks that want to live in the community and can afford to be there," Berman said.

A recent Housing Market Assessment by SB Friedman reports housing in Chapel Hill is roughly evenly split between renter and owner-occupied, according to Liles.

"19% of owner-occupied households and 58% of renter-occupied households in Chapel Hill are cost-burdened, spending more than 30% of household income on housing costs," Liles said.

The proposal to "upzone" multiple neighborhoods also comes with several other changes that will be discussed Wednesday night, including removing density limitations as part of increasing Missing Middle housing.

"People are used to their communities being the way they are and they may be concerned about what that change would look like," Berman said. "There may be folks that need affordable housing that don't necessarily have the time, the capacity, the access to speak to the town council about the need ... so I think one of the things is just making sure that we're hearing all the voices of folks who live in the community or even more importantly want to live in the community who work in the community and serve the community and can't afford to live there."