Sunrise... Sunset...

Live from Chapel Hill Town Hall... I came here tonight hoping to make my predictable comments about OI-4 (briefly: "it stinks") and then run over to the Cat's Cradle to see some creative, noncommercial films at Flicker.

I didn't realize I would have to wait through the "Sunrise Coalition." (Remember Doug Schworer? He's baaack.) White people are out in force to oppose the construction of non-luxury homes (for families making 50-80% of area median income) kind of near their well-manicured cul-de-sacs. Actually, about three backyards are adjacent, but it's probably at least a mile by car.

They won't fail to remind us that they're not opposed to affordable housing, just that evil "density." Oh and they're all environmentalists now too. Wonder how many of their SUVs are in the parking lot right now?

And poor me stuck here without my barf bag! What's a gal to do?

Issues: 

Total votes: 252

Comments

Could we please, PLEASE have civil discourse? We don't KNOW what these people drive. And is their race relevant to the story? I will own their INCOME level might be, but why are you framing this in racial terms? Is that useful or helpful?

Did you see Jon Stewert on Crossfire a few days ago? I missed the segment, but read a transcript. One of the things he chastised Crossfire for was painting things in black-and-whtie, instead of allowing for shades of gray. Another was attaching labels to people...as in "White people...(with) well-manicured cul-de-sacs."

Not saying I agree or disagree with the Sunrise Coalition; I haven't followed it enough to have an informed opinion. I don't think it is useful to open a discussion with a post that is dripping with sarcasm. It only encourages trolling.

I drive a Honda Odyssey, as infrequently as I can, and my husband works from home, except when he is travelling. (In nasty fossil fuel guzzling airplanes, but how else can youget to CA?) He drives a '96 Volvo sedan. Which we purchased used. My kid takes the bus to HS--unless he scabs a ride with a buddy. Our yard is mostly woods--with a minor area that is landscaped. I spend much of my "yard time" trying to eradicate invasive foreign weeds, bushes and plants. I don't think ANYONE would refer to my gardening style as "manicured."

Just for the record.

Melanie

I'm with melanie. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but after 40 years of working my butt off, and my wife working hers off, we enjoy living in a well manicured cul de sac. My wife and I share a volvo and a toyota, despise suv's and are lifelong, huge environmentalists and peace activists. And are quite proud that our children are huge environmentalists and peace activists!
The metaphor of not being able to see the forest while wandering in the trees seems apt for the Habitat Project on Sunrise Road. The mission, history and success of Habitat seems to have been in the building of affordable houses. There is no mention of duplexes and triplexes in Habitat International's website, only houses. Chapel Hill's recent successes in affordable housing have been from the town's ordinances that encourage affordable housing integrated into the community. In addition to Meadowmount and Southern Village, there have been a number of examples where 2 or 3 affordable houses are built, integrated into a 15 or so unit subdivision. In my opinion, this integration should be a mission-critical component of our investment (emotional, intentional and fiscal) in affordable housing. The visual of the Habitat concept presents a segregated community. One with inadequate access and parking. While sitting in the public hearing, I was envisioning cars parked on the small lawns near the front doors. Who wants to tell a female shift worker who gets home at 1 a.m. that she has to park two blocks from home because the spots near her triplex are filled? The lack of sidewalks on Sunrise, the lack of connectivity to other neighborhoods is contributing to the segregation. I fear that this project is not being set up to succeed and I am anxious that our good-intentioned biases and values are serving as a blind spot, disabling us from the ability to see what we are really advocating. Affordable housing or a “project”? The argument by Habitat's leadership that they have to have a “reasonable yield” on this investment troubles me. Are they willing to sacrifice core values for growth? We should all shudder if the answer is yes. Rather than defend a poor design for the sake of a business model decision, I urge you to seek a win-win. One place to look for the win-win, listen to the opposition. Build a community of 25-30 single family houses, in the Habitat tradition, and negotiate with the neighboring community for connectivity. Integrate the neighborhood, don't segregate it. Find a business model or educate the donor community to do the right thing. Finally, improve Sunrise to enable sidewalk and bicycle access to the Cedar Shack/Bagels on the Hill neighborhood retail center, Cedar Falls park, East Chapel Hill High School and associated bus stops. Let's look back in twenty years and see this as a progressive, resounding success, not a failed “project.”

Ruby,

I'm curious to know what your opinion is of the neighbors near campus. You know, the ones that formed a coalition to fight to protect their wooded view.

Melanie, do you really think that race is not related to housing issues? The vast majority of peopel in this country live in racially segregated neighborhoods. One black or asian family on the block doesn't change this. (Just like me being on my street doesn't make it not a black neighborhood.)

When we are talking about "affordable housing" race is a key part of the stereotype that these neighbors are afraid of. We have seen reapeatedly in Chapel Hill (and in Carrboro, to a lesser extent) middle- and upper-class homeowners voicing opposition to anything described as "affordable." Nevermind that some of them bought their own houses for less than the new "affordable" units, like on Scarlette Drive. I have seen no other explanation for this than that folks don't want people who don't look or act like them in their neighborhood. Or maybe they're just opposed to ALL development, which is equally pointless.

The rest of your points are duly noted "for the record," but I don't know what they have to do with this. I'm not saying everyone with a nice house is a jerk, I just think ones who fight for the continued economic segrgation of their neighborhoods are being pretty selfish or stupid.

I agree with Tim's point that it would be better to have a more integrated mix of housing but: A) If you really want a mix, then it can't all be single family homes - that doesn't meet everyone's needs. B) I think integration would lead the neighbors to declare nuclear war, since they want more separation, not less. And C) are you willing to have some cheap duplexes built next to your house?

Donna, unfortunately I do think a lot of the near-campus neighbors are NIMBYs. But a lot of them are not! These are the ones who have been working for social justice in town for decades. But those who never made a peep before (or after) their neighborhoods felt threatened, well they seem to just be a flash in the pan. I'd love to be proven wrong about this.

Ruby--

Do you REALLY think this is a case of a neighborhood wanting to remain "white and right?" My guess is that they just don't want the infill...not that they are worried about the race of the inhabitants. I know some people in Carrboro on Hannah St. and Watters Rd. that are less than thrilled with Pacifica (particularly since they cleared it last spring and NOTHING has happenend since) and I know THAT'S not about race.

As to the the cars I drive and the manicured (or in my case NOT) state of my (non)lawn being unrelated...exactly. Thank you for making my point.

Now can we please get back to the FACTS? I lost my first version of this post while I was attempting to do some research. As I am not willing to type this a third time, I will work from faulty memory. Back in the fog of posts past, I seem to recall that the number of units proposed is within the zoning--Habitat doesn't even need a variance or rezoning. I would think that would mean Habitat is within their rights to build what they propose, and the Sunrisers haven't a legal leg to stand on.

Or am I losing my mind?

See how much better this goes when we don't name call?

If the lot next door were zoned for duplexes then I would not fuss if the person who owned the property built duplexes. We used to live on W. Main in Carrboro--there were duplexes right across the street--they were fine. In fact, though we don't have duplexes, a number of the homes in my current neighborhood have large basement apartments which the homeowners rent out. Works fine.

Speaking of duplexes--wasn't there recently a big fuss about the building of duplexes in a traditionally African American neighborhood?

Melanie/minivan driving perennial gardener (as opposed to SUV driving lawn manicurer)

I didn't say I thought that sunrise development needed an integrated mix; I think the buildable acreage might be too small for that, especailly given the contiguous neighborhoods. What I said was I thought the development should be integrated with the surrounding communities, through connectivity of sidewalks and roads. Now, I won't pretend that there might not be some fear on the part of some of the people opposing the development or that some of that fear might be caused by sterotyping and racisim. But, I cannot believe that fear is primary--if that were the case I would have trouble rationalizing their offer for mediation. Win-win's often happen when you call a bluff. The coalition says they support Habitat and they support a development. (I say this as a layperson, not as an expert cause I have not looked at the ordinance, but I believe zoning only allows that density if Council approves a cluster development, since only a portion of the owned land is buildable. As someone who lives in a development that doesn't drain, where many of the yards retain so much water after a storm that they are swampy, the pictures shown monday night was another factor that concerned me.) For the record, I have lived in a duplex. I have also lived in a trailer, excuse me a mobile home. I grew up in a 1400 square foot house, shared that space and single bathroom with 7 other people thank you very much. In all those cases, the neighborhoods had similar sized houses and living arrangements and that seemed to make sense. think back to the arguments for the northside conservation distirct -- the owners of the smaller houses and duplexes did not want and successfully prevented other owners from coming in and building larger duplexes. Why not? They wanted to preserve the character of the neighborhood so we posted all the pictures and defined a visual space that new building should conform to. I was happy to be associated with that work and believe we did the right thing. Should other neighborhoods not be entitled to the same considerations???

Ruby,

You admit that some of the neighbors near campus are nimbys but others are not because they've worked for social justice. I don't know how working for social justice disqualifies one from being a nimby since the issue for these neighbors is UNC's growth. Anyway, it seems that the two coalitions have the same goal, responsible development in Chapel Hill. So why pick on the Sunrise Coalition? There is neighborhood opposition to every development that goes up in Chapel Hill. If this development was not a Habitat project, don't you think the Sunrise neighbors would still have some issues with it?

Recently, approximately 200 neighbors (on both sides of I-40)surrounding Habitat's proposed Sunrise Ridge development signed a petition opposing this plan and requesting mediation with Habitat. Critics of the neighborhood opposition to Habitat's proposed Sunrise Ridge development are so obsessed with villifying them that they continuously neglect to look at the facts behind the neighbor's opposition. So, here they are:

1- The community has maintained from the outset that it does not oppose an affordable our neighborhood. The opposition has been to the specific high density project proposed as well as to the high-handed manner in which Habitat has treated the surrounding neigbors.

2- Habitat has only have less than half of the 17 acre parcel that they bought with taxpayer money on which to build homes. The 3100 square foot lot sizes Habitat is requesting are half that of the average lots in new Habitat communities in Durham and Raleigh. To put it more plainly, Habitat wants to put 50 homes housing some 200 people, parking for 110 cars and a recreation area in a parcel of land about the size of the East Chapel Hill High School football stadium.

3- The proposal presented by Habitat to the Town Council for expedited review would test LUMO in a variety of ways including variances on minimum lot sizes, variance on impervious surface area, and neglect of storm water runoff issues, wetlands, stream protection, etc. Granting any of the allowances requested by Habitat could make a mockery of LUMO. Does LUMO apply to everyone but our neediest citizens?

4- The highway noise levels in much of the “buildable” area are projected to exceed those recommended by the NCDOT for both residential housing and outdoor activity.

5- As Tim Dempsey has aptly noted, this type of high-density development is a marked departure from the types of housing that Habitat for Humanity has been known and praised for. It should raise red flags to all who have supported Habitat in the past. It is clearly an experiment in private-public funded housing projects that are poised to make many of the mistakes of old style public housing. Habitat was, and should still be an alternative model. If Sunrise Ridge is allowed to be built as planned, its ultimate failure as a Habitat-sponsored social experiment it will adversely affect those who must live there, the surrounding neighbhoods and the future of Habitat for Humanity itself.

1) "High density" meaning what exactly? It seems that no matter what the proposal, the Sunset Coalition will not be happy if there is any more density than on their own suburban streets.

2) I think you're overstating, but even if you're not, what's the problem?

3) Local developers ask for and receive variations from LUMO all the time. Ever heard of a Special Use Permit? We don't need Habitat's help to "make a mockery of LUMO."

4) They have modern technology to absorb noise these days, people live next big highways all the time. Ever seen the northern part of 440 in Raleigh?

5) The project represents a collaboration with another local affordable housing organization. That in itself is a good thing. To me, it is a welcome departure from Habitat's usual sprawly model.

Has it ocurred to you that maybe it's not your critics who "are so obsessed with villifying them that they continuously neglect to look at the facts?"

"think back to the arguments for the northside conservation distirct – the owners of the smaller houses and duplexes did not want and successfully prevented other owners from coming in and building larger duplexes. Why not? They wanted to preserve the character of the neighborhood so we posted all the pictures and defined a visual space that new building should conform to. I was happy to be associated with that work and believe we did the right thing. Should other neighborhoods not be entitled to the same considerations??? "

Can you address Tim's post, Ruby? Preservation of neighborhoods was a big issue in the last election. Is it only certain neighborhoods that should be preserved? The Pine Knolls neighborhood is opposed to relocating the shelter near their neighborhood. Is it because they're racist and insensitive to poor people? The Sunrise neighbors have said repeatedly that they are not opposed to affordable housing in their neighborhood. Apparently you believe they're not telling the truth. Why is that? Everyone likes to brag about how tolerant Chape Hill is. But when an issue like this or MLK comes up, you'd think we were overrun with racists and homophobes (see Help Wanted thread).

...crickets chirping...

Ed, is that directed at me? Perhaps you are not similarly encumbered, but I have a job (and sometimes even a life). I do not get paid to read and write on blogs all day (much as I would like to). I just returned from 2 days of working in Nebraska and I am kind of offended that anyone - especially who hasn't contributed financially to this site - demands an immediate reponse to their personal concerns. No-one has any obligation to respond to anyone here, the fact that we are able to engage in this dialogue is due to each of our personal committments to civic engagement. Please don't take that for granted.

Pardon my annoyance if I have misunderstood your comment.

As for Donna/Tim's question, it's not clear to me that the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) is a comparable sitation. I was also on the committee that Tim mentions that created the zoning overlay district. Some of the differences that come to mind:

- The purpose of the Northside NCD is to preserve and promote affordable housing in a working class neighborhood.

- Northside is a historic African-American community, the preservation of which adds value to the entire town.

- The residents of Northside imposed restrictions on ourselves, not just new developments.

- The main impact of the NCD is that no new or explanded single-family home can be over 2,000 square feet, and many are limited to less. For example on my 5,500 square foot lot, I can only have a home of up to 1,375 square feet.

I do agree with Tim's point that the streets and sidewalks of the Habitat development should connect to existing neighborhoods. In fact, if they did connect I would have a little more sympathy for the Sunrise Coalition's concerns.

No, Ruby, it was not directed at you.

Well, perhaps you should explain then. What is implied by crickets chirping?

By the way I have to offer a correction. A friend recently pointed out to me that my lot is not 5,500 square feet - which is a typical size here in Northside. According to Orange County, my lot is actually a little over 8,000 square feet which means I can build all the way up to the cap of 2,000 square feet! That's more than the double the size of my current house.

Anyway, my points remain. The Northside NCD involved neighbors putting restrictions on ourselves to maintain the affordability of our community. I do not see a parallel between this and the Sunrise Coalition.

Ruby, you interpreted the meaning of my comment correctly, but it was not directed at you personally. Many read, any can respond, right? Granted, I was impatient. But I thought Tim's point was a good one.

As for your response, you make a case for how the situations are not exactly the same, but that wasn't the question. The question is whether a neighborhood should have the right to try to keep out development that they feel does not fit.

The sunrise groups says they are not racists, and I see no reason to think they are. If Northside was trying to keep whites out, as your response asserts, that is truly racist. I'm amazed you would include that as a positive point. We're never going to get anywhere with race relations as long as that thinking exists.

The Northside Conservation District is intended to promote the construction of modest homes in order to keep Northside as the diverse neighborhood of families and students that it has been for 100+ years.

What does that have in common with the Sunrise Coalition, Ed?

Ed, where did I say that Northside was trying to keep out white people?

We value diversity in Northside. Combining students, working families, and seniors is our strength and this integration is the key to our neighborhood's survival. The Sunrise Coalition seems more interested in homogeneity than diversity.

The Northside NCD is about much more than "the right to try to keep out development that they feel does not fit." The NCD process was undertaken by the entire town to protect a historic and threatened community. The result of our NCD will likely be to slow the growth of our own property values - yet another sharp contrast to the motives of the Sunise Coalition.

I don't know anything about the Sunrise Coalition, but from it seems like the issue, along with the Carrboro Annexation issue, goes to neighborhood control of their own destiny. You should be happy to live in a neighborhood that is not divided for jurisdictional purposes; you should be happy that you have your Town's support for making your own choices. Shouldn't other neighborhoods have the same rights in determining their own futures?

To avoid similar debacles we need to look at a more democratic approach to decision making....as well as making sure that neighborhoods that do want to participate in some degree of self-governance have the tools and knowledge necessary to understand how they fit into town/county ordinances.

Mark,
Some of this is conjecture, but I'll give it a try. Both neighborhoods are trying to preserve the value they perceive from where they live by preventing development that they feel diminishes that value. No, they are not identical situations. But they both fall under neighborhood protection. They both want to limit multi-family dwellings. They both like their neighborhoods "the way they have been."

In fact, until you get into the details, like how old the neighborhoods are or the average value of each home, the circumstances appear to be very similar to me.

Anyone who knows better -- as in you live in one of these communities, and can speak for at least one resident -- feel free to add whatever.

Ruby,
OK, maybe I can misunderstand as well as anyone, but the intent of "Northside is a historic African-American community, the preservation of which adds value to the entire town" can be read that what is being preserved is its African-American ownership. I'm relieved you did not intend that meaning.

That aside, I don't see anything inherently more noble about slowing the growth of property values. Strewing trash around one's yard can slow the growth of property values, but no one is going to value that. The impact the NCD has on values serves an end the neighborhood finds desirable, but that sacrifice in itself doesn't make it more or less supportable. It's presumably an acceptable tradeoff.

Besides, there are several comments here that state there would be no opposition to a habitat project that worked better on the site. And no opposition to having black families live there. These residents appear to be looking for an acceptable tradeoff. Don't you believe them?

I recently went out to visit a new person I met, someone I hope will become a friend, at her home in an older Habitat community in the larger middle North Carolina area. What I saw there was a mixed bag--on the one hand, the community had a lot of appeal--- houses set on proportionate lots, people out talking to each other, mixed in age, gender, amd race.

On the other hand, the houses were all in desperate need of maintenance. Broken windows, peeling paint, and lots of debris in the yards were the norm. I asked someone who would know if Habitat had a model that included some help and support with maintenace after the purchase, and he said (and he's a banker) that this was the primary problem with Habitat communities around the country----they start out hopeful, end up declining--and that most Habitat home owners don't get any appreciation on their property. He thought the Orange Community Land Trust model was a much better one for encouraging home ownership that is really meaningful to the participant and allows them to build some assets as a result of home ownership.

I don't know if that's what the Sunrise neighbors are concerned about, but I can tell you, as much as I support mixed communities and mixed devleopment, I would be very upset if that Habitat community I visited wound up next to me. It's not about the people who live in the houses, its' about how well the houses are maintained. My house is my single most significant investment---I have sacrificed a lot to own the house I do, I've paid taxes I can't afford, given up a lot of things I want to have this house. If someone can build something next door to me that they cannot afford to maintain, that affects me.

I do not live anywhere near the Sunrise neighborhood. I would just ask those of you who are so quick to condemn to think about the issues from their perspective. Ruby, part of what your neighborhood was trying to avoid were people who weren't stakeholders from being there---the renters who would bring noise, traffic, and trash into your neighborhood. What I saw in this Habitat neighborhood were people who wanted to own their homes, but didn't have enough resources, skills, or whatever beyond the purchase to maintain their homes--in a sense they were renters who got a tax deduction. Yeah they have home ownership but they haven't really benefited from that ownership to the extent we all hope they would . A home that a person cannot maintain, whose value cannot be maintained, falls short of the goals I think we want home ownership to achieve.

Ed, I'm not saying it's good to keep property values down. I just don't see the societal benefit in a group of neighbors fighting to keep their short-term propoerty values up. I don't blame them for doing it, but don't expect a lot of sympathy.

Terri, you think I don't know about divided jurisdictions? If you look at the link to my lot that I posted above, you may note that although I live in Chapel Hill, my immediate backyard neighbors are in Carrboro. The town line divides the most struggling part of Northside and this has been a real handicap in facing issues here such drug dealing.

Northside isn't some sancitified favorite child of the Town Council. The people living here built the wonderful community y'all enjoy and they can hardly afford to live in it anymore. If you think your neighborhood is similarly endangered, I encourage you to apply to the town for an NCD. But don't expect to get all your wishes fulfilled. The purpose of the neighborhood conservation districts is to protect the entore community, not the most outspoken neighborhoods. That means taking into account the needs of the entire town, just as the Northside NCD did.

Ruby,

Where are you getting your facts from?

When we talk about high density we are talking about 50 units on 5-6 acres (buildable footprint) with all roads, bioretention ponds and recreational area. The immediate adjacent neighbors are small homes on 2-3 acre lots. One of these is a farm house that dates to 1814 (Mark Chilton take note).

The proposed density of Sunrise Ridge is over four times that of the Habitat community on Rogers Road where there are 11 homes on a 5 acre footprint.

There are no readily available technological solutions to the highway noise on this land. The NCDOT has already stated that they will not build noise abatement for anything that is built on this land. Furthermore, they have stated that much of this property will have noise levels unsuitable for housing or outdoor recreation. Clear cutting required for a high-density design will adversely impact the noise for the surrounding neighbors as well.

In terms of LUMO, there are several issues that could be precedent setting here (Special Use Permits can set precedents). First, the 3100 sq ft lot sizes are way below the minimum 5500 sq ft allowed under LUMO for clustering. Second, there is an intermittent stream on the land that has been ignored in the concept plan (Sally Greene has acknowledged that this is a problem). Finally, while not officially "wetlands", much of this property is prone to flooding. High density housing will make the situation much worse.

Almost every private resident in the area (200 signatures) has signed a petition against the high density concept plan and have requested mediation to come up with a more workable design. HHOC has formally refused our offer to mediate.

We are not racists, we are not against affordable housing, we do care about our environment, and we feel that we have a right to maintain the character of our neighborhood while accomodating affordable housing needs.

Ruby, the facts are not with you.

Richard Surwit

Ruby,

By the way, why is this topic not on your "recent posts"? Trying to hide the fact that the position of the Sunrise Coalition seems to have some public support?

Richard Surwit

Richard, seems like you are the one who wants to play games with the facts. The Habitat owned property on Sunrise Road is 17.18 Acres - not 5-6. If as you say only 5-6 acres are buildable then that means that 11 acres will not be built on. You can verify that by looking at Habitat's property tax card online: http://gis.co.orange.nc.us/land/queries/account.asp?PIN=9890065926 You didn't mention this because it doesn't suit you.

I absolutely agree that the bottomline issue is not race. It is class. I know that what Habitat will build will not fit in with the 4,531 square foot houses in your neighborhood ( http://gis.co.orange.nc.us/land/queries/Building.asp?PIN=9890069014 ). I just don't see that as a problem. It just doesn't suit you.

Oh and one more thing: 'Recent Posts' shows the recent posts in sequential order. The Sunrise-Sunset thread began October 18, 2004 and there have 45 other threads initiated since then. So no, Ruby isn't hiding anything. Sorry if that doesn't suit you.

Lawrence,

True, Habitat has 17 acres, but only 5-6 are buildable. That's part of the problem with the property. It's basically a swamp, the majority of which is unusable, even for recreation. The footprint of the project can be found on the Town's website (www.townofchapehill.org). Furthermore, when the intermittent stream and noise areas are properly recognized, the buildable footprint will be even smaller.

The reason for the high density is that Habitat did not do their due diligence before buying the property. They didn't realize how little buildable property they were buying. Now they say that they can't afford to build fewer units. One mistake does not justify another. We believe that building homes, on 3100 sq ft lots, twelve feet apart with no driveways will not offer residents a desireable place to live. This is not the model Habitat is known for. There are many ways that we could work with Habitat to make a smaller, sustainable community financially practical. They just don't want to listen.

The problem is neither race nor class. The problem is density, plain and simple. Many of the homes that abut the property are quite modest; around 2000 square feet or less. Take a ride up Ginger Road and see for yourself. Knock on the door of someone and ask them what they think. The opposition to the project by the neighbors is nearly universal and independent of price of home or development. In fact, all of the property owners directly adjacent to the property (off of Ginger Road) oppose the concept plan.

The bottom line is this. Habitat will not solve the problem of affordable housing in any one place, particularly with this poor design. We are better off serving fewer people well than many people poorly.

Thanks for clarifying how the site works,

Richard Surwit

I've just become aware of this site and this discussion thread, and have been very interested to read the varied perceptions of town residents concerning Habitat's Sunrise Rd project. We're well into our second year of conflict about this project, and it appears to be heading in a direction that I don't think anybody is going to be happy with. A key reason is a persistent distrust of the neighbors' true motivations. Perhaps I can provide a perspective that will help to remedy this.

For 25 yrs I've lived on a street of modest homes (originally all about 1200 sq ft) off of Sunrise Rd, just across I-40 from the Habitat Sunrise project. The six homes on our street are probably closer to Habitat-size than Chandler's Green-size, and I don't think any of us could be seen as obsessed about property values or the like. But we do all love our semi-rural neighborhood, and on three different occasions in recent years we have become activated as a community to oppose what we believe were threats to our quality of life. Most recently, everyone on our street (and a number of families on Sunrise Rd) signed the petition opposing the current Habitat Concept Plan--and several of us have actively worked to effect changes in the plan. Prior to that, our last group effort was to fight the upscale "Sunrise Ridge" development next door--a development of expensive, Chandler's Green-style houses, but on 2+ acre lots. Some of the issues in the two projects overlapped: effects on highway noise, storm water run-off, misrepresentation of stream status. We fought hard on this one up in Hillsborough--and ultimately lost--but nobody questioned our motives that time.
And before that, we joined together to effectively block construction of an ugly cell phone tower at the corner of I-40 and Sunrise Rd (for which we continue to pay the cost in terms of crummy cell phone signal levels in our area!).

It is easy for outsiders not familiar with who we are and our history of neighborhood stewardship to look at our objection to the Habitat proposal and conclude--incorrectly--that is is driven by racism or class prejudice or simple greed and selfishness. The truth is, we are doing what any invested neighborhood does when it perceives a threat to what it holds dear--we are trying to protect it. In the present case it is additionally hard to do this because we must oppose an organization (Habitat)--and an ideal (affordable housing)--that we deeply respect. But a lousy plan is a lousy plan.

Right now we very much need members of the wider Chapel Hill/Carrboro community to put aside their preconceptions and just take an objective look at the specific characteristics of Habitat's property and the details of what they propose to place there. And then ask yourself "Can we be confident that this will be a positive addition to the existing neighborhood, and a viable environment for the Habitat clients who will live there?" I think the answer is No on both counts. We can do MUCH better.

We have implored Habitat to sit down with us in mediated dialog to pursue a revised design that both sides can support. And they have this week again refused. Clearly, they do not take us at our word, they do not trust us. Frankly, I can understand why, as the rhetoric coming from the Sunrise Coalition has gotten pretty heated at times over the past year. But I really think they are making a big mistake, as a mediated solution is certainly achievable, and its alternative is going to be a very costly and time-consuming series of legal actions that they can definitely anticipate from the Sunrise Coalition if their stonewalling continues. Everybody would lose in this scenario--it seems like a no-brainer.

Steve Henry Herman

 

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