The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the corner of W. Poplar Ave. and Gary St. in Carrboro is the time our old dog dragged my wife into a bush to catch a chicken. That corner now has six lots for sale as a set. The posting says: “Decide whether to keep the 2 homes and build on the 4 lots, or possibly tear down and build on all 6 lots.”
I’ve lived within easy walking distance of Poplar and Gary while living at five different addresses in Carrboro, and I’ve walked by it with different dreams, first as a 5th grader at Carrboro Elementary, later as a grad student at UNC-CH, and now as a homeowner. I no longer dream of homework or overdue papers, thankfully. Now I walk by that corner almost daily as a father with two small children, and I dream of some wonderful possible futures for that little piece of Carrboro.
I realize the most likely outcome is a developer building detached single family homes on all the lots, which is a far cry from my dreams for Carrboro. I dream of a four-story mixed-use building at the corner with a bodega that has good breakfast burritos and coffee, and of a taller residential building behind it with at least twelve units, including much-needed affordable condominiums or rentals.
I know many coworkers and friends who have dreams of owning a bit of Carrboro of their own, and the bigger we can go on that corner, the more people who can get a slice of that dream. Maybe the consensus or developer appetite is only as big as triplexes or duplexes, but even that would be better for Carrboro (and for the planet) than four more single-family homes, whether in terms of runoff and impermeable cover, tax income vs. service rendered, reducing sprawl, or housing access. This sale provides some creative investors–and our community–with an incredible opportunity to make Carrboro even more livable and vibrant.
I think it’s worth lingering on the bigger dream: a walkable place to get coffee and other daily items for a bunch of apartment and condo residents in our neighborhoods.
When I got my first full-time job after grad school, I commuted from Carrboro to UNC-CH. Sometimes I would bike, sometimes I would ride the bus, and very occasionally I would drive. I would frequently get breakfast and coffee at one of two places, both of which were between home and work on my bike, or between home and the bus stop on foot. While I would like to flatter myself and claim to be a very active person, my step counter and habits say I’m like the average American: I usually walk a quarter mile or less whenever I leave the house to do anything other than walk the dog or exercise. So this is what walkable means to me: less than a quarter mile from my front door or my work. As a Carrboro homeowner today, I don’t have access to any type of “corner store” within a quarter mile.
On any number of weekends my family has walked between Weaver Street Market and the Farmer’s Market on the Town Commons, but with a toddler that’s a production that involves planning, energy, bags, and (for everybody other than me in the family) a car to get us to one or the other to start. Walkable parts of town are great, but my Big Dream is for the vast majority of Carrboro residents to have walkable access to a few groceries, fresh fruits and veggies, and prepared food and drink. In short: a bodega.
I don’t have the capital or skill set to make my dream happen, but I hope there are folks who share this dream and will be loud about it. If we aren’t loud, developers will do what is fastest or easiest to finance and get approved: more single-family detached homes. Let’s dream bigger.