UNC to Tear Down Odum Village Apartments

Built in the 1960’s, Odum Village is comprised of 36 apartment buildings that hold nearly 500 students on the southern end of UNC’s campus.

The UNC General Administration required that all residences halls have sprinkler systems installed by 2015, which Odum does not have. Odum Village was granted a one year extension but now the time has come where students can no longer live there.

Anna Wu, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Services, said the cost of the renovation did not add up.

“It just didn’t make financial sense for us to provide the utility infrastructure and the building infrastructure to upgrade to provide those fire sprinklers,” said Wu.

The demolition of Odum Village had been planned since 2001, according to Wu, for several different reasons.

“Because of a couple of things, one we intended to demolish those buildings to free up the development of open space, the development of future projects and the development of the light rail transit we knew that Odum was going to be impacted by those three,” said Wu.

Wu discussed the demolition with the Chapel Hill Town Council at their meeting on March 7.

Wu told the council that there is enough vacancy in other residence halls to accommodate Odum Village’s demolition and they would encourage students to stay on campus. But Council Member Maria Palmer said that cost was an issue for students to continue to live on campus.

“That’s a lot of money for students who are struggling with the tuition and the economic situation,” Palmer said. “Kids are going in debt. Parents are going in debt. When your child tells you ‘I can save $200 a month by moving off campus’ how many of us are going to say ‘you’re going to stay on campus’ when money is a concern?”

First year students are required to live on campus at UNC but after that many move off campus. For the 2016- 2017 school year, a standard two person dorm room at UNC cost $3,136.

Odum Village historically housed student families but that population of students has since moved to Baity Hill Student Family Housing off Mason Farm Road.

“The campus is a mature campus but there are buildings that reach the end of their useful life,” said Wu.

About half a dozen Odum Village apartments buildings have already been removed in the last few years to make room for new projects.

Several of the old apartment buildings will be repurposed into office space.


UNC, Town Council Discuss Student Housing

UNC officials and members of the town council discussed the issue of student housing Monday.

Council members expressed concern over the upcoming closure of Odum Village Apartments, a student housing complex that can hold nearly 500 residents.

UNC representative Anna Wu said if they wanted to keep Odum Village open, the university would have to install sprinkler systems in the buildings.

“However, since it’s not cost effective for us to provide the additional infrastructure and sprinkler the buildings, we have decided that these buildings are really at the end of their useful life,” she said. “We’ll be soliciting for a designer to work with us on the demolition.”

Once the buildings close, the students who might have chosen to live there will have to live somewhere.

Wu said the university has a high vacancy rate for other on-campus residence halls and will try to encourage students to stay on campus.

“We can encourage a certain behavior but our students still have that opportunity to make their own choice,” she said. “But we will be trying to work on our assignments and encourage them to stay on campus.”

In recent years UNC has closed two of its residence halls due to lack of occupancy.

Wu said it was their hope to open them again after the closure of Odum Village, but councilwoman Maria Palmer said UNC might have to consider lowering prices as a way to keep students on campus.

“That’s a lot of money for students who are struggling with the tuition and the economic situation,” Palmer said. “Kids are going in debt. Parents are going in debt. When your child tells you ‘I can save $200 a month by moving off campus’ how many of us are going to say ‘you’re going to stay on campus’ when money is a concern?”

Freshmen students are required to live on campus, but all other students have the option of living in an apartment or a house off-campus.

Mayor Pam Hemminger said the town currently has a petition to analyze how much space is available for off-campus living.

“We’re very conscious of the student population we have in town,” she said. “While we welcome them we want to make sure we’re being good partners with making sure students have that opportunity to be on campus.”


Census Report: Off-Campus Students Inflate Local Poverty Rates

A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau sheds light on a question many local leaders have been asking for a long time- how do college students affect town and county poverty rates?

Rebecca Tippett is the Director of Carolina Demography at UNC’s Carolina Population Center. She says off-campus students significantly inflate local poverty rates.

“In Chapel Hill the poverty rate cuts in half when you exclude them from the population, because the poverty rate among those students is so high, largely just because they’re in school full-time and might not need to be working,” says Tippett.

When off-campus students are not counted, Chapel Hill’s poverty rate falls from 23.7 percent to 11.5 percent. At the county level, the rate drops from 18.8 percent to 14 percent.

The report used data from the 2009-2011 American Community Survey. It examined three groups of students, those living in dorms, those living with family members, and those living off-campus.

Students living in dorms, who account for 11 percent of the total student population nationwide, are never counted in the poverty rate.

Students living with family members account for 63 percent of the total. They are always included in poverty measures, as are the 25 percent of students living off-campus.

The report shows excluding the off-campus population has little impact on state poverty rates, but can make a big difference at the local level.

When it comes to estimating the need for social support services, government officials usually assume students are only temporarily living below the poverty line while they are in school full-time.

But Tippett says that’s not always the case. She warns against excluding the student population from discussions of poverty all together.

“I do have some concerns about wanting to remove students from the impoverished population entirely,” says Tippett. “I think it many cases, particularly when you’re having conversations about the increasing challenge of student debt and the current job market, we do want to keep in mind that just because people are in school they don’t all have parental support. They might be trying to work full time and can’t make it. I think there are important nuances to this to keep in mind.”

Tippett says this is an area where local governments should coordinate with schools and institutions to make sure student needs are met.

“Just because people are students, doesn’t mean they don’t have needs that are not being met by their work and loan packages,” says Tippett. “I think this is a very tricky population and what it points to is the need to coordinate local government and school interaction to address this, to better understand what the student population is; who they are; what their needs are; how that might impact and interplay with the local government.”

You can read the full report here.


Council Hears Plans For Graduate Housing Downtown

Jay Patel, one of the co-owners of the Franklin Hotel, wants to build a six story, 105-unit apartment building and parking deck behind the hotel between Kenan and Mallette streets. He told the Town Council the project is unlike anything else being built in Chapel Hill.

“Our project is going to be focused specifically on graduate students and working professionals and we don’t think there’s anything like that available in the immediate downtown on a rental basis,” said Patel.

At a public hearing before the Council on Monday night, Patel said the project, known as The Graduate, represents a $20 million dollar investment that would generate more than $200,000 in property tax revenue each year.

An earlier concept plan called for student rentals aimed at undergraduates, but that plan has since been revised to target graduate students and young professionals, with no per-bedroom rentals.

The proposal also promises 15 percent of the units will be maintained as affordable workforce rentals for 30 years, in return for increased density. Project engineer John McAdams says size is key to the project’s success.

“This is urban infill and indeed, the proposed building is large,” said McAdams. “In order to be financially feasible the building simply has to be this large.”

However, neighbors said the scale of the building and the traffic it might generate are major sticking points.

“Our big issues with this are twofold,” said Kurt Ribisl, president of the Cameron-McCauley Neighborhood Association. “It’s the massing of the building on the Mallette Street eastern side that is really too big, and number two, a lot of the traffic dumps out just on one side, to Mallette Street.”

The Graduate proposal will return to the Council for a vote on October 27.


Town Council Warms To Senior Housing Plan On Homestead

CHAPEL HILL- The third time might be the charm for developers looking to build a new subdivision on nearly 18 acres at 2209 Homestead Road across from Weaver Dairy Road Extension.

Ed Bacome of Epcon Communities told the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday he wants to build 65 single-family homes aimed at empty-nesters.

“We are proposing to create what we believe are America’s best ‘Boomer Homes,’” said Bacome.

In 2010 and again in 2011, developers made a pitch to bring student housing to the site, but each time met with stiff resistance from neighbors and the Town Council, who worried the projects would be too dense and too loud for the largely residential area.

This new plan, called Courtyards of Homestead, was warmly received by the council, as members commended the developer for offering moderately-priced homes to the town’s aging population.

“It’s to me, very refreshing to have a developer here who’s not pitching us on dense student housing plopped down next to a neighborhood where nobody can argue that the two could ever really coexist,” said Council member Matt Czajkowski.

The main sticking point for Council members was the developers’ initial reluctance to commit to building affordable housing on the site, instead offering payment-in-lieu to subsidize affordable housing elsewhere. Council member Lee Storrow told Bacome that’s not what the town needs.

“I would be challenged to think of a payment-in-lieu that would large enough that I would find compelling,” said Storrow.

Council members also pushed for greater connectivity to make sure residents could walk to nearby facilities like the Seymour Senior Center and the Homestead Road Aquatic Center.

However, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt challenged the idea that the homes would be sold to retirees rather than families with school-aged children.

“I don’t see how you’re able to get these sold to people of 50, 55 or older, if you don’t actually have an age restriction” said Kleinschmidt.

No formal plan has been submitted to the town yet. The developer will review the Council’s comments before deciding whether to move ahead with the project.


CHTC Mulls Mallette Street Apartment Concept

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council is cautiously optimistic about a plan to build a six-story apartment building behind the Franklin Hotel, but Council members say there are still questions to be answered before the project moves forward.

Jay and Anup Patel of Wintergreen Hospitality want to build 55 apartments on Mallette Street behind the Franklin Hotel. The apartments were originally billed as student housing, but John McAdams told the Council on Monday they are rethinking that concept.

“Franklin Student Housing is a concept name and we will be changing it because it is meant to appeal to more than just students,” said McAdams.

However, Council member Lee Storrow said it wasn’t clear how appealing that mix might be to non-student renters.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that some of our older residents who are low-wage workers, even if you are providing some affordable housing, are going to have the same interests to live in a project that sounds like it is going to be about 90 percent undergrads,” said Storrow.

The developers are proposing a five- and six-story building on just less than one acre of land currently used as a parking lot. They told the Council they need to add density above and beyond what the area is zoned for to make the project economically feasible. In return, they hope to designate 20 percent of the apartments as permanently affordable rentals.

Council member Sally Greene pressed for details about the affordable rental plan, but Jay Patel said that’s still up in the air.

“For us, the priority now is to figure out the strategy and what the intent should be, based on your feedback and the community’s feedback, and then the logistics of figuring out how to make that happen,” said Patel.

Council members also urged the developers to rethink the buffer between the buildings and the Cameron-McCauley Historic District adjacent to the property.

“I don’t know how you do that, I’ve got no clue,” said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. “But right now it just seems too high, too close.”

Council member Donna Bell said this could become more of a problem in the future as new properties are developed downtown.

“We should work in coordination with the developer to think about how these bufferings should work and think of it as sort of a pilot program to figure out what we’re going to do long-term,” said Bell.

The Franklin Housing concept is still being developed and no formal plan has been submitted to the town.

A separate plan to redevelop Timber Hollow Apartments on Martin Luther King Boulevard was scheduled to come before the Council on Monday, but developer Ron Strom asked to delay deliberations until February.


“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.


Trinitas Groundbreaking Ceremony

Trinitas, a national developer of student housing, broke ground on Wednesday for a new site being developed over the next few months for students who are looking to live within biking distance of classes and community. Dubbed a “bicycle community,” Trinitas celebrates both the housing’s location and tailored Carolina style.


Fall Awakening & Food Trucks

The beautifully produced ads for The Rite of Spring commemoration by Carolina Performing Arts get my attention every time I hear them.  As taken as I am with the story   behind the upcoming season, I am much more a “rites of autumn” person.

Though it will be a while before I enjoy that first touch of crispness in the air, I still get a thrill from the seasonal school supplies in stores and the first apples coming on the heels of peaches.  I appreciate the crackle of the fireplace more than the splash from the pool.

Living in Chapel Hill means there’s one seasonal marker more than any other that I relish: the awakening of campus.  Yes, there’s more traffic and it’s more difficult to park.  Yes, lines are longer at grocery stores and I have to wait a few more days when I decide in a panic that it’s time for a haircut (if you know me, I’ll pause here for your laughter).  

But those inconveniences are far outweighed for me by the sizzle of energy brought back by thousands of busy people, each one here for a reason important to him or her.  It is that sense of purpose, seemingly united by the calendar but as individual as each dream and ambition, that lights up fall for me.  

My personal delights aside, this is a welcome sign even the most grouchy curmudgeon should post.  For it is the university and all of its traffic and all of its students with all of their parking that is the bulwark of our economy.  Though all is not rosy in our local economy, we are faring so much better than many and the stabilizing behemoth colored in light blue is much of the reason why.  

Aside from the university’s deep, systemic roots in our economy, let’s celebrate and appreciate the return of UNC students who buy meals, books, haircuts, clothes, etc. from our local businesses.  

While we’re celebrating, a small detour here to thank the organizers, participants, and attendees of WCHL’s food truck rodeo last week.  Food trucks have been controversial in Chapel Hill because of the fear they take business from restaurants.  Had I not been there last Thursday, I would have been at home, not a restaurant.  Instead I spent money in town, like the thousands of others who gathered at the rodeo.  An added plus?  I saw lots of friends and acquaintances while enjoying a beautiful evening.  

To torture the rodeo imagery, it’s too late to lock the barn door on food trucks, Chapel Hill. 

Agree, disagree?  Leave a comment below or write to me at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com