I sent the letter below to CHTC on Sunday, December 4, one day before the meeting, and four days after the public was first notified of the proposed purchase of the property for $7..9 million.
Dear Mayor Hemminger and Council Members:
On December 5 you will consider a proposal to spend $7.9 million to purchase the 36-acre property owned by American Legion Post 6. This transaction follows this very same Town Council’s decision in November 2015, after several months of study by the Town manager and Town staff, to decline to purchase the property for $9 million. There are substantial uncertainties regarding the ultimate outcome of this transaction, including 1) the impact that the purchase will have on other Town needs, 2) the amount the Town could receive for selling off part of the land, 3) the extent to which the property’s neighbors who have been largely opposed to the use of part of the site for residential will acquiesce to any reasonable non-park use of the facility, and 4) the cost of designing, implementing, and maintaining a public park. Therefore, I suggest that the Town Council postpone a decision regarding the purchase of the property until there is greater clarity regarding these issues.
Since Town Council declined its right to purchase the property in 2015, there has been community discussion about the future use of the land. These discussions, and Town staff's research, have uncovered several points of agreement:
- In November 2015, the Town did not have the funds available to purchase the property. In December 2016, the Town continues to lack the funds to purchase the property. The plan to pay $3.6 million now, and the remaining $4.3 million over two years from unidentified sources, is irresponsible. It’s very different than the way the Town has planned for other major capital investments, such as the library renovation or the package of projects recently approved by Town voters by November 2015, including significant street/sidewalk, greenway, solid waste, stormwater and— yes— recreational facility improvements including park expansions. Those projects were determined to be fundable given the Town’s financial situation and were financed by bonds with a scheduled payback period. There is no such assurance here.
- There are no plans for a park on the site. As Town staff pointed out, the Parks Master Plan “did not include resources in the Capital Improvement Plan that would allow the Town to pay the offer price.” There is no concept of how large the park would be, what amenities would be included, how much it would cost to build, or how much its existence would increase the Town’s maintenance costs.
- The American Legion site’s neighbors have expressed their opposition to one significant development on the site. With Chapel Hill voters as the owners, and the general (although not unanimous) concern about any development that would increase vehicular traffic, it is uncertain that there could be an agreement to allow a level of that would meet the Town’s goals for increased commercial and office development and allow the Town to recoup a reasonable amount of the purchase price for the land
Notably, the materials provided to Town Council and the public provide no information about how the $3.6 million payment would affect the Town’s ability to withstand the financial stress of one or two ice storms similar to the one that afflicted the region last winter. In addition, it is quite possible that the assumption of an additional $4.3 million in debt may have a significant impact on the Town’s ability to provide services for the next two years, or even beyond when the Town becomes wholly responsible for upkeep of all 36 acres. There has been no discussion of this whatsoever.
Finally, it is interesting that the Town is willing to on short notice pay nearly $8 million to purchase property that has not been identified as an immediate need in any of the Town’s extensive planning processes, including Chapel Hill 2020, the Parks Master Plan, and the development of the bond referendum passed just 13 months ago. Meanwhile, it took decades and careful budgeting before the Town would contribute $560,000 to provide the Rogers Road community with sewer lines, even after subjecting the community to the Town’s trash for decades longer than promised.
I urge Town Council to slow down. The Town should request an extension from American Legion and immediately start a public planning process to determine the costs and benefits of different scenarios for use of American Legion site before spending millions of dollars the Town doesn’t have and has not identified. I understand why the neighbors opposed to the development of the site are excited; however, I ask that you fully consider your fiduciary obligations to residents of the entire Town.
Thank you for your consideration.
Very truly yours,
Geoffrey F. Green