They said yes.

After years of rejecting proposals to build new apartment buildings downtown, on Wednesday night the Chapel Hill Town Council voted 9-0 to approve a seven-story apartment building on the corner of Columbia and Rosemary. This new project will be built by Grubb Properties, who is already building several buildings (including a wet lab and the town’s new parking deck) on Rosemary Street as well as redeveloping Glen Lennox.

We’re excited about this downtown apartment building because it accomplishes so many of the town’s goals—economic, environmental, equity—at once. Here’s our favorite things about it:

It’s a car-free building.

Unlike every other project the town has considered in recent years, this project does not come attached to a gigantic parking deck.

Building a parking space in a garage cost upwards of $50,000 a space, and developers usually pay for that cost by charging apartment dwellers a few hundred dollars more in rent, regardless of whether they use the space or not. While residents will have the option of purchasing space in the new deck Grubb is building, we suspect this building will be attractive to people who work downtown or at UNC and will elect to save $1,000/month by going car-free.

It will add hundreds of residents downtown, which is great for local businesses.

For many years, Chapel Hill has set a goal of revitalizing its downtown, but has often run up against the problem that there are not enough customers to sustain the high rents.

This building will add several hundred residents to the east side of Franklin, which has a number of empty storefronts. Adding more residents will make it easier for existing businesses to keep their doors open, and might even encourage new restaurants and shops to open. (Hint: we want to see another mid-range restaurant on east Franklin, a place we could go for a work lunch).

It adds new housing that will be affordable to the median income earner in Chapel Hill

Because we’ve underbuilt for so long, almost all of the new housing that’s built is aimed for the very top of the market, people making six figure incomes and up. (A recent study found that of the 20 highest-paid professions, all of them are in the medical field. UNC Health is a great local employer, but it means that there are a lot of people in town with gobs of money).

While apartment developers don’t set prices until they open, Grubb anticipates that this project will be affordable to people making $70-$80K a year. For two-income households (a teacher and a post-doc, for example) this will be an affordable option for people who want to live downtown.

The liberal economist Noah Smith calls apartment buildings like this “yuppie fishtanks,” attracting people who would otherwise displace low- and moderate-income families. Instead of an empty building and  a parking lot, we’ll get housing for people who are coming here to work in wet labs and medical facilities, teach our students at UNC and in our K-12 schools, and help make our community run.

While we wish that the council had approved this project a year ago, it’s great to see 101 E. Rosemary finally get the 9-0 vote it deserved. Three cheers for downtown Chapel Hill.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

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...