Sunrise Habitat for Humanity-Carol Woods Development Brings Needed Housing

The following overview was written by Jennifer Player, new Director of Habitat for Humanity of Orange County to share key features of this exciting new project proposed for Chapel Hill to provides essential permanent affordble housing and more senior housing.

More than a year ago, two local nonprofits with a combined 70 years of service to Chapel Hill, began discussing a potential development partnership. As a result of those conversations, Carol Woods and Habitat for Humanity of Orange County developed a shared vision to create a vibrant, mixed income, intergenerational community off of Sunrise Road in Chapel Hill.

From the inception of the project, both entities wanted the neighborhood to feel integrated and cohesive. The current concept plan accomplishes this in multiple ways. First, Carol Woods and Habitat will use the same architect. The result is an integrated architectural design that creates indistinguishable characteristics between the “affordable” units and the others. Second, the senior units and the Habitat units are interspersed on the site as much as possible to allow for true relationships to be built between neighbors. Lastly, Carol Woods and Habitat designed the neighborhood amenities to encourage the senior residents and the Habitat homeowners to live in community with each other.

Habitat and Carol Woods recently submitted the concept plan to the Town of Chapel Hill.  The site is currently zoned at R2 and will require a rezoning eventually to accommodate the requested density needed by both Carol Woods and Habitat to make the community feasible based on land, infrastructure, and construction costs. The proposed density of 6 units per acre is in line with existing communities in Chapel Hill along the I-40 corridor and outside of the rural buffer. During the Chapel Hill Town Council’s public review of the concept plan in November, the Chapel Hill Mayor described this level of density at 6 units per acre as “gentle density.” Other town council members remarked correctly that, if our town is to remain serious about affordable housing, increased density was necessary. Representatives of the town’s Community Design Commission commented that this density is appropriate for this part of Chapel Hill, which already includes higher density residential at Carol Woods and communities like Coventry, Kensington Trace, and Weatherstone

The current proposed site plan is now available for public review. The plan includes assisted living, apartments, and duplexes for seniors. Habitat homes will consist of a mix of duplexes and townhomes. Carol Woods will occupy the tallest building in the development, a three-story apartment building similar to the buildings that already exist on the current Carol Woods campus, although the existing campus has buildings as tall as four-stories. The planned shared amenities currently include a dog park, a shared vegetable garden, a café with outdoor seating and a community center.

The access to Chapel Hill public transportation creates a significant advantage for Habitat homeowners and senior residents alike. Approximately 75% of the homeowners in Habitat’s community near Rogers Road in Chapel Hill, Phoenix Place, are employed by UNC or UNC Health Care. Because of the challenges with parking at UNC, no-cost public transportation makes it possible for Habitat families to work in those jobs. Access to public transportation lines also creates a significant financial advantage for Habitat homeowners and furthers the mission of the organization to help people escape poverty through homeownership. Chapel Hill Transit’s T-Line comes down Sunrise Road and turns around in the bus parking lot of East Chapel Hill High School. The concept plan includes a bus stop within the center of this proposed development to provide safe and easy access for the resident.

The lack of affordable housing has reached a crisis level in Orange County with people driving as far away as Virginia to their jobs with UNC, UNC Health Care, local government and other businesses and nonprofits. According to the Orange County Housing Coalition, more than 10,000 households in Orange County need an affordable and decent place to live. 

With little available land left in Chapel Hill, this development presents one of the final options to provide over 95 units of permanent affordable housing for those who serve as the backbone of our community but who can’t afford to live in our community. The residents of Habitat neighborhoods take care of our children at school, help our aging parents, check us in at the hospital or serve us dinner. The broader Chapel Hill community benefits when these workers live closer to where they work. This neighborhood will also house over 100 seniors who otherwise cannot afford the traditional model of other local senior residential communities. The Carol Woods / Habitat community is an opportunity to demonstrate the values that Chapel Hill holds dear: that Chapel Hill is a welcoming community that is a place for everyone.

See illustrative images of the concept plan.


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