OC Family Success Alliance Seeks Outreach Volunteers

This Saturday, volunteers with the Family Success Alliance will visit homes in Chapel Hill and Carrboro to help assess community needs.

“We’ll be asking folks questions about how well connected they are with their neighbors and also do they have trouble getting childcare or medical services?” says Orange County Health Department Program Manager Meredith Stewart. “Generally, what do they think are the strengths or challenges in their community to children and families being successful?”

The Family Success Alliance is a new initiative designed address issues of child poverty, health and education through community-specific programs.

“We are doing this as part of a gap analysis for the Family Success Alliance and that gap analysis is looking at the cradle-to-college or career pipeline for children and families in Orange County,” says Stewart.

Last week, volunteers visited Zone 4 in Hillsborough. This weekend, the focus will shift to Zone 6, which spans the boarder between Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

“We will be in Western Chapel Hill into Carrboro,” says Stewart. “We’re talking about the Highway 54-Jones Ferry intersection and around the Northside and Pine Knolls area, that downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro residential area.”

But in order to make contact with all the homes in those neighborhoods, Stewart says more help is needed. If you’d like to help, call Meredith McMonigal at 919-245-2071.

Volunteers will meet at Carrboro Town Hall at 9 o’clock Saturday morning to go over the survey and receive red vests and name tags.“We will pair people up into teams of two and give them a designated area to go out to,” says Stewart.

The survey is also available online in English and in Spanish:  http://orangecountync.gov/health/fsa.asp

The data collected from the outreach effort will be presented back to the community for discussion at a meeting on April 9 at Carrboro Elementary.


UNC Loans $3M to Preserve Housing in Northside Neighborhood

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt made a big announcement Monday about Chapel Hill’s Northside neighborhood. He spoke at the Hargraves Community Center to an audience of Northside residents, community leaders and local officials.

“UNC Chapel Hill is the new catalyst by providing a $3 million no-interest loan that will be managed by our friends from the Self Help Credit Union to lead the acquisition of properties in the neighborhood,” said Kleinschmidt.

The 188-acre Northside neighborhood has historically been the largest African American neighborhood in Chapel Hill. Residents have moved out over the last few decades as developers have bought the properties to rent at a higher price than many families can afford. The landlords often rent houses to students.

Self Help will collaborate with community organizations to buy properties and hold them until they’re ready for home ownership or rental housing.

According to a fact sheet from the project partners, in 1980 the U.S. Census found 1,200 black residents living in the neighborhood. In 2010, that number was 690.

That’s a 40 percent reduction in the black population over three decades.

Esphur Foster, a 75-year-old Northside resident, spoke on growing up in the neighborhood. She uses the term Potter’s Field, which is what Northside used to be called. She talked about one of the characters in the neighborhood, Aunt Lee, who “placed her hands on her high and wide hips with a cigarette dangling from her lips.”

“One of the most amazing things was that the ashes never fell from her cigarette as she walked around doing chores and hollering at us,” said Foster. “She said as loud as she could, ‘Go home, go home, your mammy wants you home sometime.’ . . . We scattered like the wind-driven leaves falling from the trees in the fall.”

Four organizations will work in partnership on this program called the Northside Neighborhood Initiative. Self Help Credit Union will work with UNC, the town of Chapel Hill, and the Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, which is a grassroots advocacy organization.

The stated goals of the initiative are:

  • Helping long-term residents who want to stay in Northside remain in their homes
  • Attracting new residents – a balance of working families, seniors and students – from diverse backgrounds
  • Increasing the availability of housing and financing options for neighborhood properties

Northside Rental Property Owners Demand Council Action On Community Plan

Half a dozen real estate investors say they’re not represented on an informal committee working to implement the Northside and Pine Knolls Community Plan. They are lobbying the Chapel Hill Town Council to appoint a town-sanctioned committee with mandated investor representation.

“We don’t like these meetings going on behind our back with proposed zoning changes and everything else, and then we find out after the fact that the Town Council is considering them,” says Mark Patmore, the owner of Mercia Residential Properties LLC. He owns several rentals in the Northside neighborhood. He’s also been a resident of the area for 20 years. “These are our properties and we have property rights and should be involved in all the proposed zoning changes, not just asked to provide a defense after the fact.”

They are lobbying the Chapel Hill Town Council to appoint a town-sanctioned committee with mandated investor representation.

“What we are actually proposing is that the Town Council once and for all establishes a committee that truly represents the Northside neighborhood, and that is the venue where any and all zoning changes and proposals are addressed, not behind closed doors.”

Delores Bailey is a Northside property owner and the executive director of the housing nonprofit EmPowerment. She says Patmore’s claims don’t hold water.

“There are open meetings and they are invited,” says Bailey. “Anybody who is a homeowner and has any kind of stake in Northside.”

In addition, she says the work of the committee is shared with the broader public at monthly Community Outreach meetings.

“I’ve not seen Mr. Patmore at many of those meetings, but that’s certainly the opportunity to learn what’s going on and what’s being talked about and raise any concerns he might have,” says Bailey. “I’m disappointed he would raise a red flag and insinuate that someone was doing something behind closed doors. There’s lots of opportunity for him to input at the community level. He just has not taken advantage of that.”

The fight over committee representation is just a small part of a larger battle over the future of the Northside neighborhood.

In 2003 long-time residents of the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods came to the council asking to create a neighborhood conservation district to help protect the traditionally black, working-class neighborhood from an influx of student rentals.

Residents said students made poor neighbors, complaining about yards used as parking lots, loud parties and litter. They also argued that as investors bought up the housing supply to turn into student rentals, long-term residents were being priced out by rising property taxes.

The Northside neighborhood conservation district, or NCD, was approved in 2004. The new rules included a cap on house size to discourage investors from renovating smaller houses into multi-tenant student rentals, as well as parking and occupancy limits.

A decade later, Patmore argues the NCD is not working as planned.

“Unfortunately, because of the implementation of the conservation district, I think it’s done more harm than good and actually discourages families from wanting to build in this neighborhood,” says Patmore. “Because the height restrictions, the size restrictions, the bedroom to bathroom ratio are not what families want and [it] is actually playing into the hands of investors to where the only people willing to buy in the neighborhood are investors, which defeats the whole purpose of the conservation district.”

In response, Bailey cites the work of nonprofit organizations to build five homes in the area, as well as EmPowerment’s purchase of several rental units aimed at families instead of students.

The Town Council approved a second approach to neighborhood preservation in 2012, in the form of the Northside and Pine Knolls Community plan.

It is aimed at fostering cooperation between student and non-student residents, increasing home-ownership opportunities and affordable rentals, and preserving the culture and history of the neighborhood. A coalition of five long-time residents, town staffers, EmPowerment, and the Jackson Center has been working to implement the plan.

Patmore says he and other investors are worried that the negotiations underway now will result in tighter restrictions, including possibly dropping the number of unrelated renters who can share a home from four down to three.

“I’m a resident of Northside, I’ve been a resident for 20 years, and I’m growing increasingly frustrated that these non-resident organizations are actually messing with our property rights and we don’t get a say in it until it’s too late,” says Patmore.

But Bailey stresses that is not the case.

“There is no motion to change policy either in the Community Outreach meetings or in that neighborhood committee that meets once every other month,” says Bailey. “There is nothing, policy-wise, to change occupancy in the Northside neighborhood.”

Ultimately, the Town Council would need to approve any change to the NCD rules, or make the move to appoint an official committee to implement the Community Plan.

Despite an email campaign, Patmore says he has yet to hear any response from council members. Until that happens, Patmore says he and his fellow Northside investors will keep pushing.

“Just as the Town Council genuinely, or theoretically, represents the taxpaying citizens of Chapel Hill, I think an officially established committee is important.”

Bailey says she’d like to see Patmore and others engage in the process that’s already underway.

“We know and understand that neighborhood is going to change,” says Bailey. “The answer is that we always be able to say what we feel about how it’s going to change, and that is Mr. Patmore’s right just as much as it is Delores Bailey’s right. That’s what I want people to know and understand. We do not have to be adversaries. We may not always agree but we can at least sit down at the table and talk.”

The Northside Community Outreach meetings take place on the second Tuesday of every month at the Hargraves Center.


Ignorant Of Town Policy, Student Renters Fined, Evicted

CHAPEL HILL – Imagine being fined a thousand dollars or even being evicted from your home for violating a rule you never knew existed.

It’s scary—and according to UNC student body president Christy Lambden, it’s happening right here in Chapel Hill.

“If I was to estimate, I would have said that I’ve had over 50 students come and talk to me with regards to this,” he says. “Not all of them (are) saying that they have been evicted, obviously, but all of them (are) having various stories about the town ordinance.”

The town ordinance in question is one that’s existed for years—banning more than four unrelated individuals from cohabiting in the same residence. Town officials last month said they were stepping up enforcement of that policy, in response to complaints from residents.

The law is designed to address a variety of problems that have arisen from the scarcity of housing in downtown Chapel Hill. With on-campus housing limited, students for years have taken up residence in rental houses in the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods, often grouping as many people into a single unit as possible. That in turn led to complaints about students holding loud parties, parking their cars on lawns, and failing to take care of their trash—and those complaints led Town Council to act.

The ordinance imposes a $100-per-day fine for the first offense, with penalties going up to $500 per day for subsequent violations. Those fines are actually imposed on the owner of the house, but Lambden says those landlords have been passing the fines onto their tenants.

“The stories that I’ve heard have been that landlords have got a $1000 fine for having more than four unrelated people living in a house,” he says, “and they’ve turned around and said to the students living in the house that they’re going to need to front the money to pay for that bill, because they’re the ones benefiting from it.”

And on Thursday, Lambden told the UNC Board of Trustees he’d heard “multiple stories” of students even being evicted altogether.

“We are devoting considerable effort into looking into the current policy, making students aware of their rights as tenants, and ending the predatory habits of landlords that knowingly allow their students to break the ordinance and ultimately pass fines along to them when discovered,” he said at the meeting.

At Town Hall, not everyone is a strong defender of the current ordinance. Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says he’s long believed it’s a “blunt” way of dealing with issues that should be better addressed.

“For me the real issues are parking, trash, noise – (things) that sometimes particularly people who rent for short periods may not be as concerned about,” Kleinschmidt says. “And I think those are the issues. I don’t think the fact that there are more than four people living in a home – (and) particularly any inquiry into their relationship status – is necessarily relevant to whether they’re loud, whether they park their cars all over the front yard, (or) if they bring the trash can back in.”

And Town Council in 2012 did enact a more specific ordinance limiting the number of cars that could park on a lot in Northside and Pine Knolls.

“Nonetheless, that is the ordinance in town,” Kleinschmidt says. “Enforcement is driven largely by complaint. And the student body and landlords have long known about this.”

But while the Town has stepped up its efforts to educate citizens about local housing policies, Lambden says a lot of students—including many who live off campus—have still never heard of this ordinance.

“I don’t think most students do know, which is something that we really need to work on,” he says. “We need to make sure that students do know, if there’s a town ordinance in place, that they need to observe that.”

And Kleinschmidt says much of the responsibility falls on the landlords—who, he says, know full well the ordinance exists.

“The injustice that’s happening here, I think, is that landlords are allowing this to happen,” he says. “I mean, they’re putting people in a position where they’re at risk of losing their home. And I think that’s where the villain is. There isn’t a landlord in town who doesn’t know about this town ordinance – and they may agree with me that it’s inartful and hamfisted and imprecise and not narrowly tailored, but it’s the law nonetheless, and they’ve known about it for quite some time.”

Whether the town will revisit the law in the future remains to be seen. The ordinance is only slightly stricter than the state fire code, which prohibits more than six unrelated people from living in the same residence.

Mayor Kleinschmidt says he might be willing to take a second look at the policy either way—though he says town officials might be better able to respond to students’ concerns if they had a closer relationship with Lambden, as they had with previous student body presidents.

“I wish (Lambden) would actually respond to an invitation that I’ve had out to him for a long time to actually discuss this and other issues he might want to talk about,” Kleinschmidt says. “But we haven’t been successful at establishing (a connection) or having any kind of a meeting.”

In any event, it’s worth noting that the housing situation could actually be worse: while more than 60 percent of UNC students live off campus, 55 percent of UNC’s undergrads actually live on campus—a far cry from many of UNC’s peer institutions, where more than half of undergrads often live off campus as well.


Chapel Hill-Carrboro Officially Welcomes Northside

CHAPEL HILL – Under the gray skies, the spirits were high Saturday morning as members of the community came together to officially dedicate Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s newest elementary school, Northside.

The district’s 11th elementary school, built on a well-known and historic educational site, offers a new facility that promises world-class learning for its students. During the dedication several speakers addressed their joy in the new Northside School.  Principal Cheryl Carnahan said that the school already shows it commitment to students.

“Our school is full of friendships, positive, supportive relationships that will make life special for all of our staff and all of our students,” Carnahan said. “We have a committed, competent, and caring staff who will bring our mission alive for all of our students.”

State Representative–soon to be Senator–and former student of Northside, Valerie Foushee, says the new school is a dream people made true.

“That dream has come true, and so we say thank you to the school board, to the Town of Chapel Hill, to the commissioners, to the parents, to the staff, to the students, to everybody who not only jump started, but are now continuing the legacy of Northside Elementary,” Foushee said.

Another former student, Dave Mason, said he was honored to see the school built.

“As someone that attended this school on this historic site that shaped my mind and character, what a great honor and privilege it is to participate in the dedication of this modern and beautiful elementary school building,” Mason said.

Many people at the dedication ceremony were former students or had been involved in developing the school.  Superintendent Tom Forcella said it took several groups to make this happen.

“It takes both the facility and what goes on inside to really make the difference,” Forcella said. “And I would like to offer recognition to two different groups that were very much involved with both of that.”

Before the ribbon cutting ceremony began, people went on tours to look around at the new school that sits on the same land as that which many of them had once gone to.  After talking with several former students like Pat Mason and Dolores Clark, it is clear that the community fully backs the school.  Many of them said they were proud that the school kept the name Northside and that it was nice reminder of their time there.


“Neighborhood Night Out” Welcomes Students, Residents

CHAPEL HILL – Thursday evening at the Hargraves Community Center, you’re invited to come out for the Good Neighbor Initiative’s annual Neighborhood Night Out and Block Party, an event designed to build connections between UNC students and Chapel Hill residents, particularly in neighborhoods near campus.

“We plan all year long for this program,” says Aaron Bachenheimer, UNC’s director of fraternity/sorority life and community involvement.

It’s a free event, co-sponsored by the Town of Chapel Hill, UNC-Chapel Hill, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, Empowerment, Inc., and LUX Chapel Hill (formerly Bicycle Apartments). Buns and Ben & Jerry’s will provide food; there’ll also be music, games, kids’ activities and prizes–plus information about local and community resources.

“It’s just a great event,” says Bachenheimer. “Get there early, because (at 5:00) we actually do a fun little community pride walk…(and) folks who participate get a free t-shirt and get first place in the food line.”

The Block Party is one of the biggest projects of the year for the Good Neighbor Initiative, which works all year long to promote strong relationships between longtime Chapel Hill residents and students living off-campus–especially in neighborhoods like Northside and Pine Knolls, where the influx of students has sparked some tension.

“We visit students and non-student residents and talk about what it’s like to live in a neighborhood, what community involvement and good neighborliness means, (and) some of the rights and responsibilities of living off-campus,” Bachenheimer says. “(And the Block Party) is a really important event, in terms of helping to set the tone of what it means to have a positive community relationship.”

Bachenheimer says the initiative has been successful, though there’s still work yet to be done. “These events make a difference,” he says. “They help inspire both the year-round residents and the students to reach out to one another, to get to know one another–which ultimately helps build relationships and improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.”

The Neighborhood Night Out and Block Party runs from 5-9 pm Thursday at the Hargraves Community Center, located at 216 N. Roberson Street. Bachenheimer says it usually draws several hundred attendees every year.


In Orange County, Housing Crunch Is Here To Stay

Aaron Nelson and Chamber board chair Paige Zinn compare notes before the State of the Community presentation. (Photo by Donn Young, courtesy of the Orange County Visitors Bureau.)

As the country, the state and the region pull slowly out of recession, the state of our community is strong — but still could stand to get stronger, particularly when it comes to housing.

That was the takeaway from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s sixth annual State of the Community report, delivered at the Friday Center on Tuesday by Chamber president Aaron Nelson.

View the full presentation here.

“(We have a) strong, educated workforce (that’s) increasingly diverse,” he says. “Our economy and community are resilent — we were late into this recession and we were first out — and many of those indicators look good.”

Generally speaking, Orange County ranks among the best in the state in most indicators of social wellbeing, from educational achievement to the crime rate to public health. Fittingly, though — for a region so often concerned about its perceived status as a ‘bedroom community’ — many of the more worrying statistics relate to movement.

“We are growing, and we will still grow…(and) we’ve got to figure out where these folks are going to live,” Nelson says. Orange County’s population in 2012 was just shy of 138,000, up 22,000 from the turn of the century — and by 2025 Orange County is projected to add another 30,000 residents, for a total of more than 166,000.

“That’s a lot of folks,” Nelson says. “Let me give you some perspective: 140 West Franklin downtown, the big tall thing, that holds 300 people. I just said 30,000.”

And the local housing market is struggling to keep up — a fact that’s contributing to the already-high cost of renting and buying homes.

More than half of all housing units in Chapel Hill are occupied by renters — in Carrboro it’s more than 60 percent — and affordable housing remains persistently scarce. More than half of all renters in Orange County now pay more than 35 percent of their income in rent, well above the “affordability” threshold.

“The rental market is growing, but the lack of supply is driving (the) rate,” Nelson says. “This huge increase in those rates — folks are moving into our community and (adding) pressure.”

And the cost of homeownership remains elevated as well. Nelson says the average closing price for an Orange County home has dropped slightly from its peak in 2010 — it’s now about $319,000, down from $330,000 — but that’s still far pricier than an average home in our neighboring counties, and it’s not just because the houses are bigger.

“The price per square foot in our market is dramatically higher,” Nelson says. “(It’s) $134 a square foot (in Orange County)…in Chapel Hill city limits it’s $180 a square foot. That’s — my editorial comment — a supply challenge, because folks are able to build it in Durham for $93 a square foot.”

Compounding the housing crunch, of course, is the demand coming from UNC: of the 29,000-plus students at UNC-Chapel Hill, 63 percent live off campus—more than 18,000 in total, all seeking housing in and around Orange County. That’s already caused some controversy in the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods, both very near campus—where Town officials have had to step in to address parking concerns, and longtime residents have been driven out by the rising cost of housing (and the resulting property tax hike) that came with the increased demand.

But Nelson says it could be worse: in fact, 55 percent of UNC’s undergrads live on campus, a far higher percentage than many of UNC’s peer institutions. (At Indiana University, for instance—in the Chapel Hill-esque town of Bloomington—only 40 percent of undergrads live on campus.)

And there are also several housing projects currently in the works near downtown that are specifically geared for students—a development that Nelson says will also go a long way toward alleviating the problem of affordable workforce housing as well.

“(In) my view, the greatest growth of workforce housing, workforce rental, has been new student rental,” Nelson says. “If you go back in time (and) take a look at all the apartments that were student apartments in the late 1990s, early 2000s — when new student housing got built, students moved to that, and what was backfilled into the old student housing was workforce housing.”

Still, with 30,000 more residents projected to move into Orange County in the next twelve years, the housing crunch is not likely to go away anytime soon—and Nelson says that’ll be the case across the entire Triangle, where half a million more residents are expected to flock in by 2025.

We’ll have more from the Chamber’s State of the Community report throughout the week, but you can see the entire presentation for yourself at this link.


“Welcome Navigators” To Northside Elementary

CHAPEL HILL – School has restarted for our students, and the new Northside Elementary is getting positive feedback.

Northside Elementary is the newest school built in Chapel Hill and it serves the Northside neighborhood and surrounding areas.  The Northside Elementary School site is the former home of the Orange County Training School, Lincoln High, and Northside School.  Parent, Nicole Clark, says she’s confident the school will be a good fit for  her son.

“He’s nervous,” Clark says. “He has his nervous first day jitters, but interesting enough, I think it’s going to go okay.”

Nearly 500 children are in attendance at Northside elementary. This marks the first time in more than 50 years that children from the neighborhood will be able to walk to their school.  Clark’s son says he is excited to be going to school with his friends from the area.

“I’m mostly excited about having a new school and having to do it with my cousin and my friends, and it’s so great,” he says.

The CHCCS Board of Education decided to name the district’s 11th elementary school after the historic segregated school that occupied the same land.  School Superintendent, Dr. Thomas Forcella, said that he has high hopes for Northside.

“We’re looking forward to the entire school year, especially Northside Elementary,” Dr. Forcella says. “It’s a beautiful school and it’s great to see the smiling faces walking in. I think everyone is going to be pleased with the facility that we have here.”

Northside Elementary has also implemented many green technologies into the school to save on future spending and create a longer life for the school.  These technologies may help the students to learn new things that they might not have at other schools.


For Northside And FPG, New School Year Marks Dawn Of New Era

Northside Elementary School principal Cheryl Carnahan shows off the new building.

CHAPEL HILL – Students in Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools head back to school on Monday morning–and for two elementary schools in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district, the first day of the new year also marks the first day of a new era.

Frank Porter Graham Elementary School reopens Monday as a dual-language magnet school, the first in the district. “We’re delighted to be the district’s first magnet school,” says principal Emily Bivins, “and (we’re) looking forward to the opportunities in using bilingual education to close the achievement gap, particularly for students who historically have not been successful in our schools.”

FPG Principal Emily Bivins (in Northside library)

FPG Principal Bivins speaks at a press conference Thursday at the new Northside Elementary School.

More than 500 kids are enrolled at FPG, about half of which are new students in the district’s Spanish dual-language program.

Meanwhile across town, the new Northside Elementary School is finally open for business after years in the making–with 496 students enrolled and 80 employees on staff–and school officials like principal Cheryl Carnahan (formerly of Estes Hills Elementary) say they couldn’t be more excited.

Carnahan says Northside’s mission statement is “Thinking, learning, and growing, with purpose, persistence, and pride.” Purpose, persistence, and pride are joined by a pedagogical approach that’s eminently forward-thinking, while still nodding back to the past.

Northside principal Cheryl Carnahan 1

Carnahan speaks at Thursday’s press conference. (The sunbeam is intentional: Northside is designed to maximize natural light.)

A tour of Northside Elementary is striking: every facet of the new building is consciously tailored to be both eco-friendly and high-tech, from the placement of the windows to the design of the students’ chairs. Reflectors and skylights throughout the building maximize natural light to save on electricity; that electricity is channeled instead into a wide variety of state-of-the-art technology–including iPads (one for every two students), high-speed wireless Internet, and interactive whiteboards that also function as massive touch screens. (Chalk on a slate is ancient history.) Students sit on chairs designed to allow for wiggle room (they’re even comfortable for adults), and the teachers wear microphones to ensure sound quality.

Northside Elementary School classroom

Moseley Architects construction administrator Steve Nally (L) points out some key features in a Northside classroom.

“It’s a different way of thinking about technology,” says Carnahan. “Our focus is always on what (we can) do to collaborate, communicate, and create with our technology.”

But even as Northside looks to the future, it’s also making a concerted effort to stay rooted in its historic past. Its location at 350 Caldwell Street is also the site of the original Northside Elementary, which served as Chapel Hill’s elementary school for African-Americans prior to integration. That history is preserved on the first floor of the three-story building, with a commemorative wall, a trophy case, and a gallery of decades-old photos–a veritable museum of the Northside community’s educational history.

Northside Elementary history wall

The history wall, downstairs.

That history will make its way into the classrooms as well: Northside’s approach revolves around student-driven, “project-based” learning, and Carnahan says the first schoolwide project will focus on Northside.

“(The project) will be about 12 weeks and will start in October…building community and looking at the history of our school site,” she says. “The essential question is, how can we as historians document what has happened in the past, and use that for the present and project to the future?”

And since the school is seeking to look in two directions at once, it’s only fitting that Northside’s symbol is the compass–there are dozens of them on the walls, floors, even the clocks–and the team name is the Navigators.

Neither Northside nor FPG are opening without controversy, of course. In 2012, parents at FPG protested strongly against the school board’s decision to convert the school to a dual-language magnet—and earlier this year, parents across the district spoke out against the new redistricting plan, which moved a large number of students out of their previous schools to ease overcrowding and make way for Northside.

And as students across Chapel Hill-Carrboro return to class, school officials behind the scenes are still contending with another round of budget cuts at the state level–not to mention the threat of an even more difficult financial strain next year, when the district’s fund balance is projected to run dry.

Still, Monday is a day of pride and optimism for local schools–Northside, FPG, and everywhere–as thousands of Orange County students return to what remain two of the top-rated districts in North Carolina.

“It is going to be a great school year in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools,” says district spokesperson Jeff Nash. “It was a great year last year, and we have every reason to believe that despite anything you might see coming outside the Beltline, this (too) is going to be a great school year.”

Northside Elementary rooftop garden

Northside Elementary’s rooftop garden. (Yes, it has a rooftop garden.)

Northside Elementary cafeteria

Skylights abound in Northside’s cafeteria.

Northside Elementary Playground

One of Northside’s three playgrounds. (They’re divided by grade level.)

Northside Elementary Playground artificial grass

A closer look at the playground: that’s actually artificial grass down there.

Northside Elementary auditorium gym

Not far from the history wall, Northside’s gym/auditorium–complete with elevated stage–nears completion.

Northside Elementary School plaque

(No school is perfect.)

Northside Elementary exterior

The exterior of Northside Elementary School. (Note the light reflectors installed in each of the windows.)


Landlord Sues Over Northside Parking Limits

Parking at a residence on Carver Street in the Northside neighborhood before parking limit was put in place. Photo courtesy of Hudson Vaughn.

CHAPEL HILL – You could see a change in Northside neighborhood, as landlords who rent property there are suing Chapel Hill over a parking regulation.

Mark Patmore is the owner of Mercia Rental Properties and one of the landlords suing the Town. He’s challenging a limit put in place by Chapel Hill last fall limiting the number of cars that can be parked in front of Northside properties at four vehicles per residence.

In addition, duplexes and triplexes are allowed up to six vehicles and renters can get five street parking permits per lease.

A state Superior Court has already denied the motion to get rid of Chapel Hill’s rule, but Patmore says this is expected and this case needs to go to the state Supreme Court because it is a state issue.

“That authority comes from the state, so that’s where it belongs, which will be, not in superior court or appeals, but supreme.” Patmore says.

Benjamin Sullivan is the attorney with Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP who is representing Chapel Hill in this case. He says there is precedent for even the state Supreme Court to side with towns when it comes to parking restrictions.

“Towns and counties have had parking regulations in one form or another and those have been challenged, based on the idea that they were beyond the authority of the local government that adopted them,” Sullivan says. “Our Court of Appeals and our Supreme Court have said, ‘No, those are regulations that are within the zoning powers that local governments have in North Carolina.”

Sullivan adds that, although parking is not included in the zoning statues, it is still within a town’s legal authority to make regulations like the one in Northside.

“The zoning statues are intentionally very general,” Sullivan says. “They’re a pretty broad grant of authority and it’s up to the towns, cities and counties to decide which regulations are appropriate.”

Parking at a residence on Carr Street in the Northside neighborhood before parking limit was put in place. Photo courtesy of Hudson Vaughn.

Parking at a residence on Carr Street in the Northside neighborhood before parking limit was put in place. Photo courtesy of Hudson Vaughn.


Patmore says that Chapel Hill’s restrictions on parking not only hurt him as a landlord, but force visitors to homes in Northside into an unsafe situation where they have to park away from the residence and then walk there, possibly alone or at night.

“I think every resident in this town has the right to be able to park at their home if they have the place to park,” Patmore says.

Part of Chapel Hill’s parking limit in Northside was to prevent visitors and others from parking on lawns and crowding yards and streets.

Hudson Vaughn is the associate director of Northside’s community development center, the Jackson Center. He says that before the parking limit, there was a high volume of cars being parked on Northside properties.

“It felt in the neighborhood like a lot of the front and back yards of houses were turning into, basically, parking lots,” Vaughn says.

Now, Vaughn says there are still parking violations, but overall the neighborhood looks better.

“There’s a lot fewer cars and cars are often parked more in the back now and there’s tighter regulations that landlords are putting on for front yard parking for the look of things,” Vaughn says.

Patmore says when he built rental property in Northside, the town required him to put in a parking area.

“I went ahead and constructed that parking area and now, 10 years later, they’re turning around and saying, ‘You did a good job, but now you can’t use it,’” Patmore says.

At trial, Patmore also argued that the fines imposed by the town for the parking violations are unfairly distributed because they go to him and not the residents doing the actual parking.

Patmore says he passes the fines onto his tenants and includes in his leases that tenants must obey the parking ordinance.

Sullivan says this method of fining better enforces the parking limit than directly fining the renters.

“The landlords have the ability to better regulate what they’re tenants do than we can,” Sullivan says. “It’s a more effective enforcement mechanism if the property owners are held responsible by the town, because they’re in a position where they can have these lease agreements with their tenants and can control what their tenants do.”

Patmore says he sees it differently.

“It’s arbitrary and capricious,” Patmore says. “They’re fining the landlord or the owner of the property for something they absolutely have no control over. I have no control over my tenants when they have visitors over.”

Vaughn says the issue with parking in Northside is symptomatic of property in the neighborhood being over-occupied by student renters.

“It’s all connected to the impact that student rentals in particular are having, especially when there are more than four students in a house,” Vaughn says.

Violating the vehicle limit results in a $100 fine from the city, with an additional $100 for each day the excess car remains.