Monday night, Jan 23rd, was an exciting night for the Elkin Hills neighborhood. After 6 years of hard work the Town Council voted to create a Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) in Elkin Hills, one of Chapel Hill’s oldest neighborhoods.
Elkin Hills is one of the last relatively affordable neighborhoods near UNC. It consists almost entirely of small, single-family houses, built in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when a typical American house was less than 1,000 square feet. Many houses in Elkin Hills are even smaller, at 800 square feet, but most include modest front yards and backyards that give residents a feeling of spaciousness. Elkin Hills is a modest, pleasant, leafy place to live. The NCD will allow the neighborhood to retain its current character as a quiet, safe and walkable area with plentiful vegetation and birds.
Part of the neighborhood’s appeal, in addition to its location within walking and biking distance of downtown Chapel Hill, is that the mix of small to mid-size houses attracts a diverse population of owners and renters that include families with children, senior citizens, students, UNC faculty, single people and couples of all ages.
Several years ago the neighbors began meeting to discuss their concern that future development of Carolina North, along with the rapid pace of town-wide development, would destroy the peaceful character and affordability of Elkin Hills. The Council vote represents the culmination of countless meetings and discussions with Elkin Hills residents and town staff. The town manager is recommending that the council create the NCD, but the council needs to hear from all citizens that they wish to protect what makes Chapel Hill special.
Chapel Hill is under tremendous pressure to urbanize. Some people believe that replacing single-family houses with duplexes and multi-family units will result in more affordable housing for everyone. But does this argument make sense? Development and redevelopment inevitably come with higher per-unit costs, as builders seek to maximize their return on investment.
The NCD is a tool for preserving moderate-priced housing. Preserving existing moderate-priced housing is always cheaper than trying to build new affordable housing. It’s impressive that neighbors have worked together 6 years and come up with a result that has required substantial compromises.
It’s important for Council members to respect the long process and the result of their work. Adding duplexes would not make this neighborhood more affordable as new construction is more expensive. But it also would undercut their work.
Finally, approving the Elkin Hills, NCD as your Planning Commission has recommended, will help to preserve one of Chapel Hill’s few remaining neighborhoods of reasonably priced single family homes and thus will promote our town goal of providing “a place for everyone.”