Belen Alvarado, a single mom who works two jobs, saved for two years to buy her daughters a safe home in the Lakeview Mobile Home Park across from Timberlyne shopping center.
She is thankful that her mother also lives there, she told the Chapel Hill Town Council at Wednesday’s review of the Hanover project on Weaver Dairy Road.
“But now you want to come and take away these memories from us, take away these experiences. Take away what we share together as a community of neighbors,” Alvarado said through an interpreter.
“I have two beautiful princesses,” she added through tears. “Please, don’t take my castle away from my princesses.”
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While not an official application, the concept plan for Hanover Chapel Hill would replace 33 mobile homes and two duplexes on 10 acres. Texas-based developer Hanover Co. has proposed 303 apartments in five-story buildings, 18 townhomes in three-story buildings and a 5,000-square-foot, one-story commercial building, which could be a coffee shop, restaurant or other use that serves residents.
The project also includes 387 parking spaces in garages and lots, and a new road that would create a stop light at Timberlyne’s main entrance. The land would have to be rezoned for an application to move forward.
Hanover has offered to lease roughly 15 percent of the housing units at an affordable rate. Half would be affordable to a family of four earning 65 percent of the area median income, or about $47,645 a year, and a family earning 80 percent of AMI, or about $58,650 a year.
The developer has a June 30, 2019 deadline for relocating the residents, said Bo Buchanan, property management director. They are offering $75,000 – just over $2,000 per family – and to work with local governments and nonprofits to help the families, he said. They were planning to talk with the residents after the concept review, he said.
“When I was preparing for this, I had to soul-search about do I think this is right,” Buchanan said.
“I think the angst and everything you feel is because we’re talking about family, we’re talking about home, we’re talking about shelter and we’re talking about community,” he said. “It’s what every human desires.”
But the land on which they are living is ripe for development, he said, citing other projects built around the site and its potential economic value.
The council had little to say about the project Wednesday night, asking Hanover to reconsider the large parking lot, how the buildings would be arranged on the site, and the small commercial space.
Look at what’s already been built, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said, because “we have plenty of luxury apartments.”
The town owes Lakeview residents an apology, Council member Michael Parker said, because they knew for a while developers were looking at the mobile home parks and did not come up with a plan. It’s not just Lakeview that will be affected, he said, and it won’t be inexpensive.
“We really need to buckle down and get to work,” Parker said. “We have got to work collaboratively and collectively with the county, ourselves, with our affordable housing partners, certainly with you, the residents who are most affected, who know what kind of community you want, what kind of lives you want to have and where you want to lead them.”
The council will talk Jan. 30 with the Orange County Board of Commissioners about the potential relocation of the residents. The commissioners initiated a study Tuesday of whether new housing, including tiny homes, could be built at a future 78-acre regional park on Millhouse Road. The site, a few miles from Lakeview, will keep the children in their respective schools and is near Chapel Hill Transit.
Lakeview families pay taxes, are part of the community and “are not criminals,” said Alberto Franco, a 17-year resident, said in Spanish. For them, the project means worries about how they will get to work, to school, and if they will lose the neighbors on whom they can depend.
“We’re not asking for anything for free,” Franco said. “We just want to know that we can go someplace that’s safe. We also want to know where we can be, and where we can live with our families, and we’re also asking that if we do have to be relocated, that we be treated like human beings.”
Several neighborhood children also spoke about what the Hanover proposal means for them. Some cried as they talked about the worry on their parents’ faces and their own fears for the future.
It’s not fair to have to move, or to lose their school, teachers or friends, said Faith Fernandez, an Estes Hills fourth-grader.
“I want you to know that lots of us have lived (at Lakewood) our whole lives, like me. We’re all happy here,” she said. “I have a question: How would you feel if you had to move and it’s a very important part of your life. Me and my family are very sad. I’m begging you not to make these houses where someone already lives.”
‘Struck and humbled’
Council members leaned forward to listen closely to the roughly two dozen residents and advocates. Some held back tears, and they expressed wide support for an NAACP recommendation that the residents have a role in deciding their future.
“My first choice would be to keep the community where it is. The fact is we don’t own that land, so I don’t know yet if that is an option,” council member Karen Stegman said. “I’m very committed to not moving forward without a plan that keeps families in Chapel Hill, in the schools, with access to transit and resources and health care and all the things that you’ve talked about tonight that are so important.”
Council member Rachel Schaevitz, whose daughter attends Frank Porter Graham Elementary with children from the community, noted that the Hanover review came during the first council meeting for her and three other members elected in November.
We “are struck and humbled by the awesome responsibility that our community has given us, and it feels daunting but empowering, because I feel like you ... have folks here who are going to fight for you and work hard to do the best that we can for you,” Schaevitz said.