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Chapel Hill Community Upset Over Proposed Habitat For Humanity Development

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The welcome mat is not out in one Triangle neighborhood. A Chapel Hill community does not want Habitat for Humanity to build affordable housing next to their homes.

The two sides met Monday night for the third time, but the meeting seemed to do little to satisfy those residents.

Habitat's latest plan is to build up to 68 mixed-income, single-family homes, and possibly townhomes, on 17 acres along Sunrise Road, between Interstate 40 and Chandler's Green.

"Our mission is to eliminate poverty housing in this county," said John Tyrrell of

Habitat for Humanity of Orange County


People who live nearby worry about the number of houses going in the development and what they will look like.

"We will not let you destroy our neighborhood to achieve your greater goal," said Dr. Richard Surwit, a neighbor of the proposed development at Monday's meeting.

"I don't think that everybody shares that exact sentiment. I may be wrong, maybe they do," Tyrrell said in response.

There are other issues, too. Habitat may partner with other builders, some of them working for profit, which makes these opponents uneasy.

"You are asking us to take who you are and try to determine who you will be," said a Chapel Hill resident at the meeting.

"We at Habitat for Humanity of Orange County have always behaved in a responsible manner with regard to the homes we have built and the neighborhoods that we have helped to create," Tyrrell said.

This time, Habitat has created controversy.

"I hope you can hear us, because if you can't hear us, you are going to be listening to us over and over and over again because we are not going away," Surwit said.

Many Chapel Hill neighbors complained they have been left out of the loop.

"I would describe it as secretly deceptive," Surwit said before Monday's meeting.

Thr neighbors claim Habitat has never given them a straight answer about the development, which at one point, considered 200 units -- some rentals -- subsidized by public dollars.

"I'm a taxpayer here and this is being funded by taxpayer dollars. So in effect, I'm purchasing part of these homes," neighbor Doug Schworer said.

"In hindsight, we are aware, of course, now, that we confused some people," said Glen Greenstreet, Habitat For Humanity of Orange County board chairman.

Greenstreet admitted the plans have been uncertain, but the organization wants to ease neighbors concerns.

"A fundamental part of the Habitat mission is to include the community in the process of creating this housing," he said.

Critics still believe Habitat has gotten too aggressive in this case, pushing up density, increasing traffic and noise and changing the neighborhood.

"We are objecting to Habitat stuffing a high-density housing project down our throats -- one which does not fit with the neighborhood," Surwit said.

The residents' concerns may be moot, because Habitat has already bought the land. Most of the $400,000 came from the county and city.

Habitat will begin the development process and plans to start building in early 2006.


Cullen Browder


Scott Mason


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