Last night, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted 6-3 to modify the town’s land use management ordinance (LUMO). The big change is to allow by right duplexes and cottage apartments on most of the land that had been zoned as of yesterday morning as detached single family housing only plots. Other chunks of the proposal made it easier for triplexes and quadplexes to be approved in areas that are already zoned for multi-family housing.
The intent of this process change is to modestly (and I mean modestly) increase density and new construction in pre-existing neighborhoods. Most of Chapel Hill once you get more than half a mile from the UNC campus is car dependent suburbia. These neighborhoods have been built during periods of very restrictive and structurally exclusionary zoning which made building with any density difficult. There had been a few windows in the town’s history in the past two generations where some density was temporarily allowed and those periods have created most of the current inventory of not outrageously expensive housing.
The driver of the change is a simple recognition that the town is part of a rapidly growing region. There is massive demand for housing in the greater Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle. Home prices are soaring and a lot of construction is happening in green fields 40 to 60 minutes of daily driving away from the job centers. The new construction in town has mostly been either single family detached housing at a half million or more price points or 5+1 apartment blocks where studio apartments start at $1500/month. The newly allowed housing concepts aims to allow for within neighborhood construction of smaller and more affordable housing units. In Chapel Hill, the limited construction means home prices have sky rocketed. My family bought our home in 2019 in Chapel Hill. We could not afford to buy the same property today even if I was working at my regular salary instead of my grad student stipend.
Will it solve every housing problem in the town?
Is it a reasonable step in a direction to increase supply and relieve some of the price pressure as well as reduce regional vehicle miles driven on the margin?
Has it been an ugly ugly fight for a necessary but grossly insufficient step?
Is this a political fight that should be taking place in pretty much every town that is home to a flagship state university/med school complex?
This has been one of the things that I’ve been spending some of my time and attention on besides grad school and instead of health policy writing over the past six months as I think it is important to live our values by changing policy. Zoning determines whether or not diversity and inclusion is a slogan or a reality.