Chapel Hill, NC

Chapel Hill proposes middle housing, residents respond

The Triangle Tribune
Chapel Hill residents split on middle housing proposal.Photo byBreno AssisonUnsplash

By Mia Khatib

CHAPEL HILL — Last month, Chapel Hill Town Council held a public hearing to discuss proposed text changes to the town’s Land Use Management Ordinance. These changes would eliminate single-family only zoning and allow for more middle housing, like townhomes, duplexes and cottage courts, in some of the town’s 247 neighborhoods.

Before opening the floor to public comment, the planning department staff presented the amendments and answered questions from council members. The goal, they said, is to create more housing diversity, increase housing production, and “strategically and sensitively” increase density in town neighborhoods.


Senior Planner Tas Lagoo said the amendments won’t apply to restricted covenants and neighborhoods with homeowner associations or change regulations surrounding Neighborhood Conservation Districts.

“We know that Raleigh, Durham nearby, and Minneapolis far away, have made these reforms, and they haven’t seen massive explosions in growth,” Lagoo said. “If Chapel Hill is like most other towns that have done this, we can expect about three new cottages a year, up to two new duplexes a year and we might get one new triplex a year.”

Planning manager Corey Liles said middle housing won’t necessarily bring housing prices down but can address affordability by increasing supply and “broadening the price points.”

In response to a council member that asked how the town can avoid “student stuffers” in single-family neighborhoods, Liles said maximum unit size standards would indirectly affect how many people can live comfortably in a unit. However, he said, neighborhoods near UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus or on transit lines that connect to the campus are attractive to students.

“The demand for student housing is around 45 units per year,” Liles said, “so just because certain types of housing can be built in any neighborhood, we would not expect an even distribution of students or an overrepresentation of students in the people moving into those neighborhoods.”


Recurring fears included traffic concerns, developers buying up the town for unaffordable rentals, and disturbing the character of the town.

David Adams, from the Colony Woods neighborhood, said this proposal will not lead to affordable or workforce housing, instead it will lead to the “corporatization” of housing. “This is an invitation for developers to come in, buy up properties, and put up rental housing at high rental rates,” he said.

One resident against the rezoning said the town’s focus on density and affordability has “unleashed a development frenzy” that will lead to historic neighborhoods like hers disappearing. She lives in Westwood and says even without the changes, single-family homes in her neighborhood are being demolished and replaced with $975,000 townhomes.

Fred Stang encouraged the Council to slow down the process, engage the community more and create an overlay map showing which communities will be impacted by the proposed changes. Many residents echoed these sentiments, and one, Eric Formeister, also said the Council never asked what people wanted.

“People don’t want urban walkability,” Formeister said, “people want parks.”

But young, working professional Abigail Welford-Small, another Westwood resident, said she appreciates the pace at which the Council is proposing these changes. “I would like to know this year or next year if I can get a decent house in a couple years. If not, I’m going to go elsewhere,” she said.

Multiple students questioned why some council members and residents are fearful of student renters and said they are productive, working members of the community that deserve equal opportunities to Chapel Hill housing.

“I'm a grad student, I’m not a pest,” Ph.D. candidate Andrew Kane said. “Why should I be excluded from certain parts of this town?”

Kane also said this is the right policy to pursue to make Chapel Hill even more affordable, and “it’s never the richest people that are kept out of a community because we don’t build more housing, it’s the poorest.”

The next public hearing is Feb. 22.

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