Early this morning, Carrboro resident Ray Lovinggood shared a few pictures he captured on his morning route.

While my first reaction was, like yours, shock at the price tag of these homes, my concern grew as I realized that these homes will be built on an 8.5 acre site near McDougle Elementary and Middle Schools and MLK, Jr. Park.

At a similar site (710 N. Estes) in Chapel Hill, a developer is proposing to build 95 homes. As we discussed last month, this project has drawn heated criticism from both nearby neighbors and the town’s advisory boards.

If someone were planning to build apartments on this site, we suspect it would have the same reaction. Instead, the project was more or less approved as the developer proposed it, in part because it complies with Carrboro’s land use rules.

As TBB’s Geoff Green notes, “The land is zoned R-20, which means a minimum 20,000 square foot lot, 100 foot lot width, 40 foot front setback, 35 foot maximum height, and the only thing you can build without special approval is single-family homes. Carrboro’s getting exactly what it zoned for.”

About the project

This project was first approved back in 2019. While Carrboro recently approved a new Comprehensive Plan, and will soon be reforming its land use rules, this development is going under construction because it complies with Carrboro’s existing rules.

When you visit Martin Luther King Jr. park in Carrboro, a few blocks from the new development, you’ll observe several town murals, which, unlike many tributes to the civil rights leader, retain his pointed critiques of American society, many of which hold true today.


While Carrboro does many things well, when it comes to land use policy we still value $900,000 single family homes over providing housing for people for all income levels. If you have a million dollars and want to live in our community, Carrboro will welcome you, smoothing your entrance for even new construction on a previously wooded lot.

map carrobor

If, on the other hand, you make much less than that, Carrboro will instead make your life difficult. Any housing you might be able to reasonably afford will be caught up in acrimonious fights about trees, traffic, and community values. (Related: Carrboro’s housing crossroads: Which direction will we go?)

With this new project on Hillsborough, we’re losing 8.5 acres that could have been an apartment building or townhomes with dozens of affordable units. We need to change our land use rules so the next developer is able to build the housing we need, not the housing that only a few millionaires can afford.

Martin Johnson lives in Chapel Hill. He teaches film studies courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a member of NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro and the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel...