Town of Cary– not so bad after all?

The other day a student of mine asked me the difference between Cary and Apex, NC.  I explained that, “Apex is what people think Cary is.”  I.e., Homogeneously rich and white. Of course, pretty recently I quoted extensively from a recent N&O Op-Ed about Habitat for Humanity in Cary and drew some pretty unsavory conclusions:

But, alas, it looks like some Cary-ites in the wealthier western part of town cannot even stomach lower income folks living near them…

Anyway, this is only one side of the story, but it’s a pretty damning side.

Well, at least I recognized it was only one side of the story.  Honestly, I figured if the N&O was running an Op-Ed which seemed to be largely based on facts, I could count on it.  Well, maybe not so much.  I received a  very pleasant email from Alicia Angell, a nearby resident, to set me straight.  With her permission, here’s some excerpts (I’ve highlighted some of the most compelling arguments):

First, there have been significant flooding problems in the neighborhoods surrounding this property, and a home 3 doors down was bought and demolished a few years ago by the Town of Cary.  Also, the residents’ concerns about the proposed development blending in with the rest of the neighborhood are valid and supported by the policies in the new Cary Community Plan as well as by the Land Development Ordinance. Check out the Planning and Zoning members’ comments from the link below(at 2:11) and the reasons they voted against the rezoning at their April 17th meeting.   Also, the Town Council and P&Z cannot consider the developer when deciding on rezoning cases, they are required to make their decision based solely on land use.

Another fact to be aware of, is when the neighbors on Trimble first learned that the buyer was planning a townhome development there, no one knew it would be Habitat. Neither Bethel nor town staff revealed who the developer was, but the neighbors begin to organize because they wanted a development build that would blend with the neighborhood. It wasn’t until a few weeks before the December neighborhood meeting that the neighbors became aware that the buyer was Habitat.

The editorial says that Habitat reduced the number of units because of neighbors’ concerns.  Actually,  Habitat removed the townhomes from the plan because a few days before the February Town Council meeting they discovered that a buffer would be required which would prevent them from building the density they wanted.  If you watch the Town Council meeting from February 23rd, Kevin Campbell of Habitat explains why the number was reduced (starting at 29:20). “That requirement for that buffer makes the plan that we submitted not practical from our perspective.”

Cary has long been a big supporter of Habitat, and has contributed several millions of dollars over the years. There are nearly 50 Habitat homes in Cary and if this rezoning is denied, the $283,000 that has been allocated to this project will likely be transferred to a new Habitat project, and maybe one where they can build the higher density they want.  All of the other Habitat developments in Cary were built to blend with the neighborhoods around them.  If you go visit these developments, you will see that they do, and that they are nearly indistinguishable from the market rate homes nearby.  On Habitat’s website they state  ”Our houses are  designed to take on the look and feel of their neighborhoods”.   The plans for Trimble don’t.

In addition to the Habitat homes, there are also 10 apartment complexes in Cary that are designated for low income residents and a town sponsored program to help lower income homeowners make expensive repairs to their homes. The assumption by some that Cary doesn’t support affordable housing just isn’t true.

Finally, the neighborhoods surrounding this property are not wealthy.  In fact, the area is one of the more affordable parts of Cary.  Homes sell for around $250,000 and townhomes nearby sell for as low as $100,000. The residents here are diverse in ethnicity, income level and religious affiliation and hold many of the occupations mentioned in the editorial; teachers, tradesmen, policemen, etc. 

Now, I’ll be honest, this issue is not sufficiently important to me to do any further research, but given Angell’s compelling case as well as what I’ve heard in-person from a very liberal fellow Cary resident, I think it is safe to say I blogged too soon on this last one.  Or heck, maybe Habitat really has been wronged.  But now you have both sides.  Fair and balanced ;-).

But wait, there’s more.  Wrote this up, was ready to post, and then the N&O comes out with a big article.  Finally found time to link and include some of it’s highlights:

The town’s planning board sided with neighbors last month when it voted 5-3 to not recommend approval of the project. The Cary Town Council, which has the final say, is set to vote on the plan May 25.

“I’d say it’s the most organized opposition I’ve ever seen to something like this,” said John Donachie, a Cary planner who works on affordable housing.

 The controversy highlights the challenges faced by affordable housing efforts in Cary, where land is pricey and scarce and homes are increasingly beyond reach for many families. The average home price in Cary is $340,000.

When organizations like Habitat find land for homes, neighbors sometimes make it clear they’d prefer such projects go elsewhere.

Much of Wake’s affordable housing is in eastern Wake County, where land is cheaper and “the opposition isn’t as sophisticated,” said Kevin Campbell, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Wake County.

About 10 percent of all housing units in Knightdale, Zebulon and Wendell are publicly assisted, either through the federal Section 8 program or through tax incentives for developers.

In Cary, about 1 percent of the housing supply is publicly assisted…

Scottish Hills is an older neighborhood, where homes cost about $250,000.

Campbell said he’s wary of neighbors’ arguments.

“When you say something’s not compatible, you’re saying, ‘We don’t want anything different than what’s here already,’ and it’s not a large step to saying, ‘We don’t want any different people,’ ” Campbell said. “That’s something political leaders need to look out for – that zoning doesn’t become an exclusionary tool.”

You know, that “not compatible” or “doesn’t fit” argument certainly can be problematic.  But my guess is they really just didn’t want townhomes or small homes and were thinking of property values, not necessarily the type of people who would live in the home.  I think it is important that evidence seems to indicate that the objections were to these smaller homes, period, not “Habitat” homes.

I do like the N&O’s bigger picture focus on the difficulty of building more affordable housing in Cary vs. other parts of Wake.  Anyway, was the opposition just a bunch of Cary snobs?  I think not.  Should we be concerned when communities and local opposition make it hard to build affordable housing?  Yes.  As Donald Trump would say, “who knew affordable housing could be complicated?”

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Town of Cary– not so bad after all?

  1. Nicole K says:

    I can support some blend of neighborhood arguments to a point. If they wanted to build a trailer park there I would think that would be going too far. But I think saying that townhouses would diminish the value of your mcmansion is pretty much the definition of snobbery.

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