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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chapel Hill freezes Northside, Pine Knolls building for six months

Posted by on Tue, Jun 21, 2011 at 8:51 PM

As promised, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to enact a six-month moratorium on residential development in Northside and Pine Knolls, the town's two historically African-American downtown neighborhoods.

This map outlines the area that will be subject to the moratorium.
The moratorium, taken up in response to a March petition from the Sustaining OurSelves Coalition, a group of concerned residents, nonprofit and church leaders in the neighborhoods, aims to curtail investors from buying family homes, redeveloping the property to cater only to students, forcing out long-term residents who can't afford property taxes or high rent and altering the character of the neighborhoods.

It allows exemptions for homeowners seeking to repair foundations or catastrophic damage, correct code or zoning violations or to remove an existing structure and to replace it with a structure of the same or smaller size.

The halt in building provides SOS and other community stakeholders the opportunity to review the Neighborhood Conservation Districts for Northside and Pine Knolls, established in 2005 and 2006, respectively, but not working fully as intended and to draft changes, to consider ways to build long-term affordable multi-generational housing there and to foster better communication among locals and their student neighbors.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us, but this was a big first step," said Alexander Stephens, associate director of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History and an SOS organizer, adding that the group has already started partnering with organizations in anticipation of the vote but must work swiftly and thoughtfully in the six-month timeframe.

"It feels good to have the town with us on this."

The moratorium is retroactively effective May 23, the day that the Town Council agreed to support and schedule a public hearing and later vote on the matter.

Five property owners have filed zoning applications since that date, one to demolish and replace a duplex, one to build a new single-family structure on a vacant lot and another to lift the roof and build a second floor. All now must wait until February to proceed.

Tuesday's vote was 7-0. Council members Laurin Easthom and Gene Pease were absent.

Stephens says he hopes the decision will help galvanize residents who had an understandable sense of defeatism after fighting in the past to protect the neighborhood and facing struggles.

"People will see this as a victory," he said. "It's an indication that all is not lost."

He also stressed his hope that the decision doesn't create division, rather that it will lead to a wide-ranging neighborhood conversation on how to grow while respecting history.

"What we are trying to do is build community," he said. "We don't want to polarize people."

Read Wednesday's edition for more analysis and history on the moratorium.

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