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Board passes six-month development moratorium

By Kirk Ross
Staff Writer

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen approved a six-month development moratorium by a vote of 5-2, Tuesday night, putting a temporary hold on future development of roughly 3,700 acres while the town considers new rules for the area.

After roughly an hour and a half of public comment followed by debate by the board, the majority agreed that the relatively low density of projects proposed in the area in recent years along with the lack of commercial development necessitated a timeout to find ways to encourage developments with those goals.

Mayor Mark Chilton and Aldermen Dan Coleman, Alex Zaffron, Joal Hall Broun and Randee Haven-O’Donnell voted for the moratorium. Aldermen Jacquie Gist and John Herrera voted against it.

Gist said she knew it was “against the progressive canon” to vote against the plan, but she said she did not think a pause in development would add to the town’s stock of affordable housing or significantly contribute to the town’s effort to reduce greenhouse gasses.

Rules to spur denser development and more commercial enterprises closer to the growing number of northern residences have been discussed as possible outcomes of an effort to re-write guidelines for the area.

“I’m not a big fan of density,” Gist said. “I don’t believe it has a positive effect.”

Like efforts to add density downtown, she said, more density means more of a strain on the schools and civic and social infrastructure of the town. Pointing to downtown developments, she said the results are likely to be high-priced condos, not more affordable housing.

The town, Gist said, is creating “a very hip and groovy community for trust fund radicals” who will buy up expensive condos and still feel good about themselves.

Coleman said Gist’s point was well taken, but that a pause in development is needed to find strategies to implement the town’s vision for the area.

“All it [the moratorium] says is we’re going to take a breather for six months,” he said.
Zaffron said that while he supported the moratorium, he considered it important for the town to meet its goal of having a new strategy in place within six months. He put his fellow board members on notice that he would not vote to extend the moratorium, which by state law, can be renewed for six more months once the initial six-month period expires.

Both Broun and Haven-O’Donnell said they supported the moratorium because of the need to include some commercial projects in the area.

“I think it’s important to have economic vibrancy spread throughout Carrboro,” Haven-O’Donnell said.

In the public hearing, the board heard from developers Omar Zinn and Phil Post, who said they were concerned that the moratorium would hurt small, local developers and not result in much of change in the overall dynamics of the market.

Post said that he has had enough strong feedback trying to convince neighbors in the area on the merits of a one-acre per dwelling development. “If there’s concern over one unit per acre, what’s going to happen when I show up with a development at 10 units per acre?”

Aaron Nelson, executive director of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has had a serious debate over the merits and downsides of the moratorium. While the goals are laudable, he said, chamber members wanted the board to consider something short of a moratorium.

Carrboro Planning Board chair James Carnahan said the moratorium was an essential step in helping implement the town’s original plan for the area, which advocates denser development and commercial spaces. Changing land use patterns, he said, represents the community’s response to the latest thinking about global warming.

“I want to see something done about it in our community,” Carnahan said.

The move by Carrboro came less than 24 hours after the Chapel Hill Town Council scheduled a public hearing for May 7 on its plans to consider a moratorium for northern areas under its jurisdiction.

For the Carrboro moratorium to take effect, the Orange County board of commissioners must also agree to a moratorium. Of the 3,700 acres under consideration, most of the remaining developable land is under a joint planning agreement between the county and Carrboro.

In other action Tuesday night the board unanimously approved a request to split a 10-acre parcel off of Fayetteville Road into two five-acre parcels. Residents of the Swansea Lane subdivision had complained that Philip Marshall and Caroline Wallner’s plan, which includes setting up a small organic farm on one of the parcels violated their subdivisions covenants.

Town Attorney Mike Brough told board members that state law does not allow them to use the covenant rules to reject the proposal. Brough also noted that the board was bound to rule only on the request to subdivide the lot. Any request for the farm use or for the housing on the property would come separately

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