Future Land Use Plan. The Collins Ridge project is consistent with our Future Land Use Plan, which was publicly vetted over several months before I took office in 2013. This area is a natural fit for dense development nestled between the future train station and Daniel Boone Village, close to town and the interstate. People are moving to Hillsborough, and we want - as best as we are able – to have some say over where new growth happens. From a smart growth standpoint, we want to encourage density and avoid sprawl. Collins Ridge helps us do that.
Affordable housing based on federal income standards. This was one of the biggest concerns of the board and a part of the project plan that the developers came a long way on. We let it be known early on we wanted some affordable units (affordable meaning by the federal standard). They started at 40, we said that wasn’t enough, and they bumped it to 88. CASA will build and maintain these 88 rental units, 14 of which will be reserved for veterans – an urgent need here in Orange County. If you’re not already familiar, look at CASA’a website, they do beautiful work. A CASA representative spoke at our last meeting and expressed how excited they are for this opportunity. Because the developer is providing the land, this is a rare opportunity for them to provide affordable housing in a prime location, close to downtown, close to public transportation, close to a grocery store and other amenities. There is valid concern that 88 units isn’t enough compared to 950 units in the rest of the project, as that isn’t even quite 10%. I understand and even share this concern, but I also understand that if the requirement for affordable units climbs too high, the price points of the “regular” units will climb, taking those out of reach for renters and buyers in the middle-income ranges. Would I prefer that developers be willing to make less of a profit in the name of affordable housing? I very much would! But that is not the world we are living in.
Affordable housing in the more general sense. It doesn’t take long to do a little Googling to find numerous cities and towns across America that become unaffordable for all those save the top of the income bracket because of a lack of housing stock. Whether you are a life-long resident or moved here in the past decade, we stay because Hillsborough is a wonderful place to live. Other people realize this, and want to be here. If there is not an adequate housing stock for newcomers to land in, the value of existing homes will go through the roof. People will tear down older, smaller homes and build bigger, more expensive ones, driving up costs for everyone. I worry over the possible displacement of residents in West Hillsborough, Fairview, and other older neighborhoods where people have lived a long time and want to stay as long as they can afford to. Having enough places for people to live will help stave off that worry. In addition, the Collins Ridge development – which will be built out over several years – will have a variety of housing types – apartments, townhomes, and single family – at a variety of price points. Having additional water and sewer customers (and yes, we do have capacity, assessed at State 5 drought levels) will help spread the cost of operating the system to help stave off future increases to already expensive rates.
Connectivity and Traffic. This is a big concern for Hillsborough, period. Our location smack dab on the main artery from I-40 and I-85 to points north means traffic will always be a problem. South Churton Street will be widened soon, and in my mind the biggest benefit of that widening will be making that street safer for bikers and pedestrians. Drivers will likely experience an improved traffic flow for a short period of time, and then the road will fill up again, because this is how it always goes with road widenings. This will happen irrespective of the Collins Ridge development, though our traffic study did show that some of this congestion will be mitigated by improvements paid for by the developer. The best way to improve traffic is to have fewer cars on the road. Part of the agreement with approving this master plan is that the developers will hold an easement for the town across the parcel of land (that they otherwise intend to leave undeveloped) that goes between Collins Ridge and I-85 at the place where we hope to be able to eventually put in a bike/pedestrian bridge over 85 to connect to the Cates Creek Greenway, so that our residents in the south end can walk or bike into downtown.
Business opportunity and Residential/Retail balance. As it stands now, Hillsborough is the only local government in the county with an appropriate residential/commercial tax base ratio (60/40). Adding these homes will not throw that balance off, and it will add more people to support our local businesses, which provide so much heart to our town. When I talk to people all over town and ask “what does Hillsborough need?”, people respond with a variety of amenities such as more mid-range places to eat, a movie theater, more places good for teenagers. All of these are fine ideas and they all require people to support them. I feel certain an industrious person would open a movie theater in Hillsborough if they thought it could survive. Collins Ridge will add people (who the Census tells us are coming anyway) that can help our homegrown business thrive. It’s those businesses I am most interested in supporting.
SUP (Special Use Permit) Process. This approval was for the bones of the project. The SUP process will be required for further approval of each parcel within the master plan. This will be where the finer details are decided and where additional requests will made by the town that cannot be hashed out in the master plan approval stage. For example, I think the developers can expect the board to request that some of the apartments accept Section 8 vouchers, which are in dire need in Orange County, especially as fewer and fewer property owners in Chapel Hill are accepting them (Though let me be clear, as I understand it, accepting vouchers is essentially a private transaction between a property owner and the federal government, so I am not sure how much leverage the town has on this issue). Each SUP will require its own traffic study, so if additional requirements for traffic mitigation are illuminated as things progress, we can require them.
Our sense of place. I understand, and deeply empathize with the fear many current residents have that approval of this project, and Hillsborough’s projected growth, will spoil the vibe of our delightful small town. That it won’t feel small anymore. That the newcomers (and many, many of us already here have at some point been newcomers) won’t fit in the way we hope. But as the saying goes change is inevitable. Hillsborough is still projected to be the slowest growing municipality in the slowest growing county in the Triangle. We cannot put up a wall around Hillsborough and hide from the world. And even if we could, I cannot imagine that would go well for our current residents. My goal and responsibility during my tenure on the town board is to do what I can in my limited capacity to keep Hillsborough affordable, with excellent service for all residents, but still maintaining the character. I see this decision, however difficult, as part of that path. That’s why I voted “yes”. *
*I do want to be clear that I have every confidence each commissioner voted why they did, be it yay or nay, because they thought it was the best thing for current residents.