Giddy up, cowboys – we’re in for a world of excitement tonight. Here’s the agenda, and we’ll try to keep up – though please note tonight’s host may need to leave to read some bedtime books for some junior Triangle Blog Bloggers at some point.

6:48 A line has formed for people who want to speak at tonight’s meeting. We’re guessing they’re not here to talk about amending the 2022-23 Council Calendar. (Most people are here to talk about missing middle housing, which the council is considering.)

6:50 We have two correspondents in person at tonight’s meeting and one at home. Video link just went live.

7:02 Mayor Pam goes over the rules: no clapping, no cheering, everyone gets 3 minutes.

7:03 – 7:10 We’re watching a video on great stuff going on in various housing communities. Council Members Anderson and Parker read a resolution urging the NCGA to pass the Medicaid expansion. Council Member Stegman reads a resolution in support of an appeal for the ICANN City’s UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

7:12 Mayor Pam has some announcements. Lots of meetings, check the town website calendar. More meetings for housing choices, connected road planning. Council’s got a retreat coming up next month. Registration for the People’s Academy is open through Feb 6. “Sign up and find out about how the town works.”

7:14 Tom Henkel (CHALT PAC Treasurer) representing Environmental Stewardship Advisory Board. He’s talking about the coal ash underneath the police station. They’d like it removed entirely. (We’ve written about this. The town is currently waiting for further guidance from NC DEQ.) He’s introducing Steve Fleck (Estes Neighbors, CHALT). Fleck is talking about 500-year storm events, Jordan Lake, coal ash, whether the town wants to build housing on the site (TBB: The previous town manager said housing is not being considered at this time. More here.) Third petition: A landscape architect with Thomson Hutton who submitted two petitions to the town clerk. Both are for projects, which received conditional approval last year. One of them is 2200, homestead road residential and the other is 1100. South Columbia Street residential. They’ve made small plan changes which require a major modification, the petitions are for submitting the projects for conditional zoning limited review.

7:22 consent agenda passes quickly!

Missing middle

7:22 And here we go! Town staff beginning their presentation on the proposed text amendment, although first, the mayor is going to explain the process.

7:23 Mayor Pam explains the rules: The public hearing starts tonight. We’re getting a staff presentation, hearing questions from council, hearing from the public, and will allow staff to gather more information. More public info sessions are scheduled.

7:24 Corey Liles on town staff drew the short straw and starts the presentation, expected to be about 25 minutes long. Liles explains that the project originated in a petition from council members in 2021 that sought ways to increase the amount of housing in town.

Liles talks about the purpose of these amendments: can clean up the LUMO, diversity housing types, increase housing production, encourage compatible infill development, and strategically and sensitively increase density.

7:28 Liles reports that both the town’s Housing Advisory Board and Planning Commission were generally supportive of the proposal.

7:30 Anya Grahn-Federmack from the Planning Department explains that there are two sets of changes in the proposed text amendments — First, there is a set of “clean up” text amendments which clarify some confusing parts of the current Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO). Second, there are the more substantive changes that provide opportunities to increase missing middle housing opportunities in town.

Because there’s been confusion about what the proposal involves, Grahn-Federmack steps through some of the new concepts in the plan, including what missing middle housing is, and what cottage courts are. Both are concepts new to the LUMO.

(Related reading: R-1 and R-2 aren’t going anywhere.)

7:36 Grahn-Federmack says that the goal of the standards it to encourage the development of housing types that fit into the neighborhood context, with design standards, tree canopy requirements (something that does not exist for single-family home development), stormwater management requirements, and restrictions on impacting steep slopes.

7:37 Tasmania Lagoo, another town planner, emphasizes this project is designed to create opportunities for more housing, with a streamlined approval process, but that is compatible with existing neighborhoods. And he also notes that this proposal does not eliminate single-family homes, does not make anybody make any changes to their single-family homes, and does not supersede NCDs or restrictive covenants or HOA restrictions, or affect affordable housing.

7:40 Lagoo provides an overview of other considerations that impacted the proposal, such as occupancy requirements, the town’s inclusionary zoning program (which may not be so effective, as we have written), and other regulations such as covenants and HOA restrictions.

Other communities have implemented similar programs, and if enacted the town plans to continue monitoring its effect. Lagoo notes that Raleigh, Durham, and Minneapolis have made similar changes to their zoning ordinances, and there have not been dramatic changes to existing neighborhoods.
7:42 Lagoo makes the same point that we have made at the Blog Blog (as recently as this morning!) that these zoning changes will not be the answer to housing affordability, and that it is just one piece of a much larger puzzle that still needs to be solved.
7:44 Lagoo invites members of the public to reach out to the planning staff if neighborhoods would like to hold meetings, and also shares some upcoming public meetings (which you can read about on the project page.)
Council questions time! Council members will be asking some clarifying questions before public comment begins
7:46 Mayor Pam kicks things off with a clarifying question about what neighborhoods are covered. Staff have identified 247 neighborhoods – 9 have NCDs. Covenants aren’t easy to find. They’re working on it.
7:52 Amy Ryan asks about compatibility. Can someone tear down and build a huge house now? Staff says yes.
7:53 Stegman asks if presentation is same that was presented to boards earlier? Staff respond that yes, largely the same. Stegman says they’ve asked staff to do a racial equity analysis for other projects given history of discriminatory zoning. Staff knows that from literature, housing reforms of this kind can housing reforms of this kind can address past wrongdoing around racial groups and ease burdens, broadly speaking. Stegman wants to be mindful of who is in the room and who is not in the room.
7:56 : In response to a question from Stegman, Liles notes that this is not an affordable housing program but that it can be helpful to housing prices because it provides additional supply, and encouraging smaller units and more yield out of land.
7:58 Staff say these would have parking maximums which can choose to impact who lives in one of these homes. (Your blogger tonight is a one-car household!)
7:59 Searing suggests it would be helpful to have a map that would show which neighborhoods have restrictive covenants that can limit the applicability of this housing policy.
Searing brings up the Raleigh experience, and mentions the tear-down of the historic house for 17 townhouses — and that’s something we talked about yesterday! It’s a ridiculous comparison.
8:00 Searing continues with some leading questions of marginal relevance, so it’s going how you might expect.
8:03 Searing asks for every property owner to receive a mailed notification of this proposed change. Liles notes that would be about 20,000 mailings.
8:04 Us: This is going to be a long night.
8:05 Anderson asks if someone could tear down a small single-family house and build a larger single-family home and sell it for a lot of money. Lagoo says that could happen today, and that some of the additional requirements for triplexes and fourplexes like tree canopy can help mitigate the impact.
Anderson asks if there would be neighborhoods more susceptible to “student stuffers” like were built in Northside before the conservation district regulations were instituted
Liles notes that the maximum parking standards and the size standards for the triplexes and fourplexes may help it, and also notes that many of the neighborhoods are not particularly close to campus and may not be as attractive to students.
8:10 Anderson asks what is different between what happened in Northside and the standards that applied then versus these proposals — Liles promises that staff will come back with additional information.
Parker asks how it will interact with inclusionary zoning ordinance. Also some more technical questions that your blog blogger doesn’t really understand but staff does which is good because this is their job and I’m a volunteer blogger doing this after my kids are asleep.
8:15 planning@townofchapelhill.org is the email to contact if you would like to set up a neighborhood meeting. Also triangleblogblog@gmail.com is the email to contact if you want to hang out with us.
8:15 Huynh asks if he can buy a lot, tear down the trees, and build a huge McMansion today. Yup. But NOT SO with a proposed triplex or quad, which will have tree coverage rules.
8:16 Some clarification, following a question from council member Berry — the inclusionary zoning provision kicks in after 5 units so would apply to a cottage court development
8:17 Miller-Foushee asks if staff is aware of what Biden administration is doing. (Here’s what they’re doing.)
PUBLIC COMMENT TIME LOL

First speaker: Community sustainability specialist, presents a short presentation about some of the traditional multifamily residential housing forms that are seen throughout the country, including in Philadelphia, Kentucky, and Chapel Hill, and notes that AARP advocates for a mix of housing, and the Sierra Club recommends against single-family-only zoning due to the negative environmental impacts. (First speaker, send us your comments – we love this and want to republish it! Editor’s note: Here it is!)

Speaker 2: UNC student. Graduating. Thinking about next phases of life and whether that includes Chapel Hill. Feels untenable to build a life here. Students have a lot to offer to the community. We need the town to give us the ability to do so. Supports the proposal. We don’t need giant homes, we don’t need McMansions we don’t need huge lots, we just need a safe, comfortable place to live that we can afford.

3: Long time resident. CHALT leader. Doesn’t think it will lead to affordable housing. Wants to wait until after the next election. (TBB: The election is almost a year away.)

Second reference to “consultants” who developed the plan, when it was actually town staff who’ve done the legwork to bring this proposal to council.
8:48 Surgeon who recently moved back into town and lives in 900,000 home reflects that he does not understand urban planning, or urban issues. Hopefully he has a better grasp of surgery. Doesn’t seem to think this is Palo Alto. People don’t want urban walkability. People want to feel safe. (TBB: OMG)
8:49 Owns several properties which are rented to students. Remains on all of the neighborhood listservs. Says the 4-person occupancy limit is something that cannot be enforced and may be illegal, according to legal experts, although she did support the town’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, which is also of suspect legality.
Next speaker was overseas when he heard this announcement (?) and rushed back. Lives near campus in a house great-grandfather built. (TBB: Tell us more about who could buy a home in your neighborhood in the 30s!) Wait, he also owns two other lots? Not sure what the point is.
Next speaker: Moved here in 1954. Slow it down. Just relayed the demographics of who lives in his neighborhood: white, black, Asia. (Ed comment: I’m sorry what?)
TBB: This is like watching a VHS tape of the audition for Cocoon
Next speaker: Speaker who grew up in Chapel Hill, moved away, and came back found that it’s so much more expensive and thinks it’s pretty clear that it’s a problem with the existing code. Says there should be more density. NYC has low emissions compared to other areas. Wants options in Chapel Hill. Says that the way Chapel Hill works now, we’re forcing everybody to live outside of town which makes missions worse and traffic worse in town.)
Next speaker: Likes density, wants this afforded to more individuals. Many of my friends, former and past colleagues and co workers of all ages and races could not be here tonight because they don’t have the luxury of working nine to fives. They can’t attend town meetings like this. So in a sense I feel like I’m speaking for them too when we say we want a place to live here. More people should be allowed to have homes.
Next speaker says he’s in favor of some of the provisions, but that his neighborhood (Greenwood) has concerns about the impacts of their neighborhood if there is a movement to make changes to the NCD after this project ends, suggests maybe slowing down the process for a couple of months.
Next guy: Also a board member of Laurel Hill. Chapel Hill needs more diversity, but…. also something about aesthetics of neighborhoods.
Next: CHALT member. Pleads with council. Doesn’t want this. Can’t imagine it.
Next: Never richest people kept out of community. It’s the poorest. Has an Economics PhD. You build more, you let more people live in your community, this is exactly the right thing. Is a grad student. Not a pest. Good points!
Next: Supports it. Wanted urban walkability. Loves common courts. Loves her neighbors. (We love her.)
Next: Planning Commission unanimously supports goals. Appreciate of town staff who work very hard (we agree.) Yay town staff!  Can’t be endless studying. Get er. done
Next: UNC undergrad! 20. Votes. Pushes back on the rhetoric against students and their residency in the community. Wants more housing opportunities.
Next: I rise in favor of affordable housing in favor of middle housing. And so far opposed to the proposition. Uses Poughkeepsie and Austin as examples.
Next: Not happy here. Loves Adam Searing. Doesn’t like apartments near her. Hard to get to Trader Joe’s. Mentions rent control. (It’s illegal here.)
Next: This might not be effective. Have we looked at [long list of things that are related but also sort of not related?]
Next: Concerned. About safety. Doing some math. Doesn’t want beautiful homes knocked down? Not going to be safe. students don’t have children so they don’t look for children when they’re driving and speed through. Safety issues.
Next: Are we a college town? Are we more than a college town? We don’t have small size homes here. Need to talk about attainability. Wants to welcome more families.
Next: Don’t rush
Next: TBB Martin Johnson ends the speakers! No way to get more affordable housing without building more housing. Homes are emptying out – neighbor has houses in Vermont and Paris. Lots of empty summer homes. Can’t remember the last time that someone announced the birth of a child on his neighborhood listserv — people moving in are at different life stage. housing policy was from early 80s. Lots of deforestation in Chatham. Can’t play with home equity. Home equity isn’t part of a community. Make it a community for all that welcomes neighbors that wants people to live here who are at the middle of their career.
AND WE’RE NOT DONE! Council statement time
9:46: Stegman — this is not an affordable housing tool, it’s a more housing tool. There is substantial evidence that restricting housing supply contributes to our housing crisis
9:48: Anderson — We can’t let the most restrictive HOAs guide our housing policy, and she emphasizes that she would love to live near a duplex and lends a word of support for renters, who also are members of our community. Emphasizes the need to better understand the impacts of the policy to make sure we get the outcomes we want while limiting negative impacts, and that doing nothing means we will continue to have exclusive neighborhoods and more people driving in from out of town.
9:50 – A direct quote from councilmember Anderson (transcript errors TBB’s fault): “If we can only support diverse housing types as long as they aren’t near our homes, like only on Bus Rapid Transit, only somewhere else, then I question the character of our neighborhoods. I want my children and myself and my husband to benefit from being around people who are not just like me. And I think that we all need to think about some something being rented out doesn’t mean that we’re losing a family renters our families too. And we have to stop thinking about it as losing something to investors.”
9:54 — Miller-Foushee echoes Anderson in asking the public to show respect for town staff and also to council, and emphasizes that there is no effort to rush this process through and keep people out of the process. She notes that Northside wasn’t zoned historic and did not have real estate covenants, and that investors could come in and purchase homes and transform them because it did not have these protections, and that the implication that somehow she is able to impose these changes on other communities but not her’s is a false narrative — she lives it.
10:00 — Searing notes that the proposition is inequitable, exempting him and many others, and reports that a recent duplex newly constructed is advertised towards investors.
10:02 — Huynh agrees that this is a hard problem, and that the town has been addressing it for some time so that while there may be a need for some more time, a lot of time has passed. At the core of what they’re trying to do is not about housing affordability but housing justice, and the town finally addressing the discriminatory roots of single-family zoning. Also notes it’s unfortunate to hear such bias against renters, and that two current council members are renters. When he hears that notice should be sent to homeowners, he thinks why not to renters, and why not to people who work in town who can’t find a place to live in town?
10:04 — Parker with another shoutout to staff, and also to the community for speaking out, and notes that after the proposal is adopted they will monitor the results and make tweaks as needed to make sure it’s meeting its goals. And also addresses the sense of fear about the changes, and the belief that people in neighborhoods with HOAs or covenants are safe because they are protected, and flips that on its head and how these changes can help enrich communities.
10:09 — Ryan emphasizes that this is a really hard problem, pointing out that the United States has twice as much people as when she was born.
(All the council members are thanking staff and people who came to speak, so we’re gonna not say that every time…)
10:12 — Berry says we really need to address this housing crisis, and notes they do not have all the answers, but we have a good starting point, and asks that you do not fall for the fearmongering and the feeling that “you’re next,” but do be engaged. This proposal will not fix everything but is one of many directions in which we need to address our housing crisis. Wants us to be bold and audacious, and considerate.
10:17 — Mayor Hemminger notes that we’re not hearing from people who can’t find housing in Chapel Hill, and that they’re all learning and exploring the options out there.
10:18 — Motion to continue the hearing to February 22 (though they may move it to a later date), and we’re done. Thanks for joining us!