Town Council continues hearing for Chapel Hill apartment redevelopment project

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 1, 2013 

  • Project Stats

    •  Name: Timber Hollow Apartments

    •  Location: 101 Timber Hollow Court, Chapel Hill

    •  Developer: Ron Strom, Blue Heron Asset Management LLC.

    •  Acres: 19.5

    •  Residential: 198 existing, plus 109 new apartments

    •  Affordable housing: 14 apartments, priced for a family of four earning up to $54,150 annually

    •  Parking: 287 existing spaces, plus 100 indoor and outdoor spaces proposed

    •  Zoning: current Residential-4; seeking Residential-5-Conditional

    •  Open space/amenities: new clubhouse, pool, expanded transit connections

— The Town Council ran out of time last month to ask questions about a proposed redevelopment of the Timber Hollow Apartments on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The discussion will start again Nov. 18. The council could vote on the plan Nov. 25.

Developer Ron Strom, with Blue Heron Asset Management LLC., wants to add 109 new apartments to the 198 existing apartments at the 19.5-acre complex. Fourteen apartments would be priced at 80 percent of the area’s median income, or an annual salary of $54,150 for a family of four.

The plan also shows a new clubhouse, pool, and roughly 100 more indoor and outdoor parking spaces. The council would have to rezone the property to allow more apartments and taller buildings. Town staff is asking the developer to connect the ends of Mendel Drive for emergency vehicle access and leave extra space along MLK Boulevard for future transit amenities, such as bus shelters.

Strom, who served this summer on Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, said the project could help address the town’s need for workforce housing, and more densely built and populated development. If the land is sold, any stipulations would remain in effect, town officials said.

“When factoring in costs of housing and transportation – and rendering a living experience more compelling – we are anticipating that our vision for Timber Hollow will be embraced by a diverse cross-section of the community,” Strom said.

Roughly 70 percent of the current tenants are graduate students and about 15 percent are university and health care workers, he said. A one-bedroom apartment rents for $758 and two bedrooms for $975. The rents for the renovated apartments haven’t been set.

Nancy Oates, who blogs on Chapel Hill Watch and writes a column for The Chapel Hill Weekly, said the project will be “precedent setting.”

It would replace 198 affordable apartments with 14, she said. However, the town could ask Strom to include two- and three-bedroom affordable apartments, accept Section 8 vouchers and add more affordable units, she said.

“A dramatic option to get the attention of developers in town would be to deny the rezoning … until the developer comes up with a serious affordability plan,” she said.

If an affordable apartment isn’t rented within 30 days, it could become a market-rate unit and the next vacant apartment would become an affordable unit. Don Evans, also a Chapel Hill Watch blogger, said that could ensures there wouldn’t be any affordable rentals.

“Mr. Strom has provided a very good fantasy to you about what this property could be and how it would be used … ,” Evans said.

The developers said they are working with affordable housing advocates to rent the units to lower-income families.

Council member Sally Greene suggested they also talk with housing nonprofits about managing the affordable apartments separately.

“We’re trying to do something creative and something that’s never been done before, and we really want to minimize and make this a seamless mix of people of all income levels,” Strom said. “The logistics of bringing in a third party to manage the property, manage the affordable units, causes us to lean more toward simply making a payment in lieu (of providing affordable housing) … .”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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