Published: Jul 28, 2012 01:30 PM
Modified: Jul 28, 2012 01:33 PM
UNC to fund Northside neighborhood study
University wants to protect the historic neighborhood from student encroachment
CHAPEL HILL - UNC will spend $210,000 to help protect the historically black Northside community from too many students moving in. The university announced Thursday it will contract with the Center for Community Self-Help to promote affordable, single-family housing and preserve the history of the neighborhood, which stretches along West Rosemary Street downtown between Columbia Street on the east and Sunset Drive on the west. Self-Help, a financing and advocacy organization based in Durham, will develop a 5-year plan to evaluate current zoning and building ordinances and find ways to promote public-private affordable housing partnerships and home ownership in the community. Self Help began working on the plan this month.Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings, a not-for-profit corporation founded by the UNC Foundation will fund the plan. The organization is also seeking Town Council approval to redevelop the University Square strip mall on West Franklin Street.Self-Help staff will also collaborate with residents, the university, the town and the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, a nonprofit located in St. Joseph CME Church on Rosemary Street that works to record and preserve Northside history.The university has been concerned about Northside for years, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said Thursday.The Northside neighborhood is somewhat in danger because theres a lot of student rentals there, and we worry that the historical nature of the neighborhood will be disrupted, he said. Northside was a black working-class community during segregation. Today, students rent about half of the homes there, according to estimates by the university and the Jackson Center. The town created a special conservation district for Northside with ordinances that eliminate new duplexes and restrict new construction in the neighborhood in 2004. The Town Council passed additional restrictions on building height, additions to houses and parking earlier this year after a coalition of residents and housing groups said some property owners who build student rentals were finding ways to skirt the rules.The number of African Americans in Northside dropped by hundreds between 1980 and 2010. In 1980 there were 1,159 black residents; in 2010 there were 690, according to census data.Some Northside residents fault the university for not providing enough campus housing. UNC has added housing as its enrollment has grown, but Thorp said it will continue to find ways to keep more students on campus and design the kind of housing students want.We want as many students on campus as we can get, he said. Over time more apartment-style housing on campus with parking is something that will help. But bringing that many more cars on campus is something wed have to work through with the town."The university needs to support the town in its efforts to enforce the parking ordinances for individual houses in town, Thorp said.Were behind them 100 percent when it come to the things they can do to restrict the number of cars in a neighborhood, he said. All of those things have to go together.Three-phase planThe Northside plan, will have three phases: research and analysis, program design and implementation. The first phase will include a housing market analysis, baseline report and review of zoning and related regulations. Self Help will also research best practices on student rental enforcement, form an advisory group, facilitate collaboration between nonprofit developers and the neighborhood, promote home ownership, and explore community-based land banking. Preserving the historical character of Northside and promoting economic sustainability with more home ownership benefits downtown Chapel Hill and the university, said Gordon Merklein, executive director of real estate development for the university. Its in all of our collective best interests to ideally see the neighborhood stabilized, which in my mind is a good solid balance between historical ownership that is there and what is the right amount for the future, he said.If families want to live downtown, they should have the opportunity to do so in houses that are affordable, Merklein said.What we see today with places like Greenbridge and 140 West ... are wonderful projects, [but] theyre more geared towards people without children, he said. Northside is the more affordable of those, [and] its very important for us to maintain that socio-economic diversity near campus. Della Pollock, a professor in the department of communication studies at UNC and the executive director of the Jackson Center came up with the idea for the study and partnership with Self-Help, which is renowned for its work revitalizing and preserving neighborhoods in Durham and across the country, Merklein said.Pollock said the study is a creative and proactive way, seven years in the making, to protect and promote the vitality of Northside as a family neighborhood and not let it disappear at the expense of student housing.I see this as really the first time in as long as Ive been here ... where the town and the university and the community are coming together about a real vision of vitality ... and all the partners are playing together, she said.The Jackson Center has helped unite residents, property owners and housing groups, lobbied for more building restrictions and built partnerships throughout town, she said. Self-Help was willing to do work in Chapel Hill because of the community effort that was already behind Northsides preservation, she said.