What's Up With Pacifica

I haven't been keeping up with Carrboro's supposedly-controversial Pacifica development, but it seems to be making headlines a lot.

The planners of Pacifica say they will move ahead with the housing project, despite town officials' refusal to cap the developers' share of the financial burden.

Pacifica, a controversial subdivision approved by the Board of Aldermen last June, will add 46 units to an 8.3-acre lot at the end of Hanna Street and Watters Road.

Touted by some developers and aldermen as a tool for integrated affordable housing, Pacifica sparked criticism from those who argued the subdivision would increase traffic and noise in the surrounding community.
-Chapel Hill Herald, 2/5/04

It always seemed to me to be a good proposal, and I've assumed that opposition came from the anti-infill NIMBYs in the area. Am I right or am I missing something? Pardon the bad analogy, but is this Carrboro's Meadowmont? What's this "cap" business?

Total votes: 129

Comments

Not to speak for Jeff, but perhaps he is remembering the sidewalk proposed for Hannah Ridge? It's estimate came in much higher than the figure quoted by Blunden (when he was trying to get the Aldermen to cap his contribution.)

Melanie

Mark, Thanks, that's great news about the separate bidding. I look forward to sidewalk grading that will last, well, forever.

Melanie: Carrboro Aldermen and voters passed a sidewalks bond referendum last fall, in which the Hannah Street sidewalk was listed in the $180,000s. By early January, the same street's sidewalk was listed in the $90,000s.

Having worked on and in the streets/sidewalks/curbs etc. of Carrboro as an affordable housing developer, I can say with confidence that David Poythrees, the Carrboro Streets Supervisor, is a real stickler for the quality of the Town's infrastructure. I can't see him compromising on the Hanna Street sidewalk.

The sidewalk will be built by a contractor engaged by the Town and built to the specs that David and our engineers dictate to the contractor.

I am not sure what you mean when you say "the qualitative differences in the respective projects " - there is only one sidewalk project proposed for Hanna Street as far as I know.

As for the varying costs estimates that have been circulated, the nature of public construction is that it is competitively bid. We cannot know just how much the bids will be and indeed it is hard to even estimate without having completed the surveying and engineering work.

I share your concern that there may be quite a bit of variation between the estimates and the actuals on the cost of construction of the various sidewalk projects that were recently approved for construction in the next two years or so. If the cost of the various sidewalk projects is higher than the amount of money approved by the Board of Aldermen, we may need to delay the implementation of one or more of the sidewalk projects (but presumably not Hanna Street).

Thanks for inquiring,

-Mark

PS Based on your comments above, I spoke with the Town Manager last week. I understand that the Hanna Street sidewalk will be bid separately from other sidewalk projects in Town. Thanks for the suggestion.

Good. What IS up with the sound at the Carrboro Aldermen's meetings? You know--it was so bad on Time Warner, that even with the sound ALL the way up on both the digital cable box AND the television, it was nearly inaudible.

Melanie

It is our sound system at the Town (at least that is most of the problem). It will cost like $10,000 to get a better system (supposedly). Alex Zaffron is working with his sound geek friends to find a more cost effective solution.

Perhaps you could get someone to close caption it? As a public service?

Melanie

So, Mark Chilton, Carrboro Alderman and formal OP guy, you've been absent on the sidewalk side here. The Hannah Street sidewalk is such a high priority for the BoA that the Board designated it for special, accelerated funding. It will be great to get the affordable housing in Pacifica, and I'm sure you're following all this closely. Here's an open letter from me to you.

Could you please tell us here:

(1) What is the full explanation for why the cost estimate for the Hannah Street sidewalk dropped nearly in half in the span of a few months, whereas we're not seeing this happen across the board with town sidewalks projects?

(2) What are the qualitative differences in the respective projects between the two estimates?

(3) How does the lower estimate ensure a reinforced sidewalk on a slope that will not need repair any more quickly than any other sidewalk?

Melanie, I hear your (and the letterwriter's) point. I think there is a need for affordable housing in a lot of different formats. That includes SOME one-bedroom units. We definitely should not (and did not) allow the developer to build ONLY one-bedroom units. That would be totally unacceptable.

-Mark Chilton

Site just ate my post. How irritating.

Let me try again.

There is a letter to the editor in today's Herald :

http://www.heraldsun.com/opinion/chhletters/index.html#447183

The meat of the letter is as follow:

"The board was easily convinced to allow Blunden to eliminate 1,200 square feet of affordable housing previously approved in two larger units. The two new 600-square foot units would be combined into one structure. The new savings of the newly created "affordable duplex" are tremendous: one foundation, one roof, one set of plumbing chases, one electrical system.

Blunden argued that current cohousers chose smaller units. What about the next cohousing owners? These units will become part of Orange County's affordable housing inventory. The choice made by Blunden eliminates a small family or single mother from ever owning these two units. "

It's a valid point. Earlier in this thread Mark Chilton stated:

"FYI, the developer marketed the affordable units in several different forms with several different square footage amounts available. The final mix ended up reflecting the mix of housing that low-moderate income buyers signed up for. So I concluded that the low-moderate income buyers probably knew what they wanted and went for it. The Board could not see forcing the low-mod buyers to take something they didn't want . . ."

I can't comment from PERSONAL observation of the meeting, because the sound has been so bad on the cable broadcasts I can't really watch. Well I could WATCH---but I couldn't hear. What is up with THAT? Is that a town issue or a cable issue?

SO--I'm hoping Mark Chilton will weigh in. This IS an issue for all tax payers in the county--NOT just people in Carrboro, because of the affordable housing units...

Melanie

You're not intended "to infer" anything. When I lauded Town Staff, I meant it.

To OP-anon #X: Ruby has asked us for info about Pacifica. You seem to have some, but instead of sharing it, you direct us to call Town Hall. Why not explain to us why the sidewalk estimate dropped in half, and how that's going to ensure top quality in a tough spot?

If you're in (or related to someone in) Carrboro town government, I completely respect your anonymity. If you're not, you should ask yourself why you have a moral right to challenge my motivations without exposing yourself to the same. For that matter, even if you have good cause for anonymity, you might consider using it only in ways that can be reciprocated.... You assert more knowledge of state law than I would, and please excuse me if I think public debate and public service should be open to people with unrelated jobs.

I can't believe I'm hearing about having faith in state rules, after Phipps, the state DOT, and innocent convicts spending decades in prison.

I don't know where the anonymous 'no thanke' writer gets his idea of accusations of illegal dealings. Calling for competitive bidding is hardly accusatory. I am glad Vanke states his ideas about what has worked and what has led to washouts (literally) in other locations.

Vanke's post refers to people (town employees, we are to infer) talking contractors into lowering' their estimate of the portion of a bid to be ascribed to the Hanna Street sidewalk. This would be a form of bid rigging.

Vanke's wild accusation is veiled as a call for competitive bidding and your post tries to re-emphasize that, but the fact is that state law determines how projects are bid. The state rules provide safeguards against such practices.

But how would Vanke know? Without research, he wouldn't. But that's okay he can just throw out wild speculation instead.

I suppose that anyone could just throw out accusations (like that a local person was arrested for criminal stalking), but it really would not be responsible unless the accuser had actually done enough research to know the facts.

On Pacifica & its predecessor, Hannah Ridge: I'm sure there are people who will oppose anything in that place. But a key concern is traffic, and a key difference is that Pacifica has 55-60% more units than Hannah Ridge would have had. Both required a sidewalk, but the developers walked away the first time (Hannah Ridge), given the sidewalk costs.

(I wasn't back in the area during Hannah Ridge, and I'm sure there are important details I don't know about.)

I think being a NIMBY requires a certain amount of hypocrisy, the classic example being the community that accepts the idea that its waste has to be buried somewhere, but not near them. If you dislike a project on principle, and don't think it should be built anywhere, then I don't think you're a NIMBY. You might be a BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), but not a NIMBY. Note to the etymologists: I'm not being prescriptive, I swear.

That said, I think some of the neighbors on Hanna Street have worn out their benefit of the doubt by uniting against one planned development because of certain concerns, and then uniting against another one that addresses those earlier concerns. That's just me.

( I once had a run-in with a certain owner of what amounted to a gated compound on Hanna Street when I failed to notice the multiple "No Trespassing!" signs posted everywhere. I didn't get a very friendly vibe from that neighborhood, and maybe I'm predisposed to think the worst, as a result.)

Melanie, I raised the question here because I honestly wanted to hear the case against Pacifica so I can decide for myself if the neighbors sound "NIMBY." So far I'm not impressed with arguments agianst it, but I'm no expert and my opinion is nothing more than that, so feel free to disagree.

If OP-anon #X thinks I'm going to change any votes for or against me by my participation here, then not only does that person misascribe my intentions, but also must think that there are a lot of undecided people out there reading deep into these threads. I'm trying to make a difference in outcomes in Carrboro. If I can get local activists to consider micro-perspectives that they have not previously known about or entertained, then I will have accomplished my task.

I will try to make the time for the phone call you suggest, but you ignore my efforts that I previously described. I think Carrboro has an excellent Staff, in both qualifications and integrity.

There are varying estimates because they are estimates.

I can understand that you do not know that the state mandates the bidding prcedures that municipalities use, but as I pointed out, a quick call to town hall or public works would reveal what the procedure is.

But you are not actually interested in the procedure.

Nor are tou interested in institutional safeguards.

You are just trying to start your campaign a bit earlier this time around - and by accusing the Town of activities that amount to crimes in North Carolina.

Seems irresponsible.

I dont' know enough about what's going on around Pacifica, so I'll just speak to my own experiences. In Northside there isn't very much blanket opposition to any new development, especially before it's built. We welcome all kinds of new neighbors. Rather than trying to stop new development in Northside, we hope to make it consistent with the neighborhood so that folks can continue to enjoy the qualities they move here for.

Have you seen the monstrosities built in Northside in the past few years? They strike me as the polar opposite of the kind of thoughtful, high-quality work I think is proposed at Pacfica. They simply don't compare.

And again for the record, I voted AGAINST banning duplexes in Northside (or anywhere). I think it only addresses a symptom of the problem instead of the cause.

But Ruby--don't you think the people on Hanna and the surrounding area have the right to be concerned for their neighborhood without being labeled as NIMBYs? Would the Board of Aldermen have required Blunden to put in a sidewalk if they hadn't kicked up a fuss? (Either against Pacifica or the plan put forth by the previous developers--Andrews and Wisnant?) Hanna is a SERIOUSLY narrow street that drops off on one side in a SCARY manner. All I'm asking for is some dialogue that doesn't involve trite, sweeping generalisations.

Infill on the scale of Pacifica is bound to raise concerns forthe immediate neighbors. I don't think those concerns are paltry, or even completely reactionary. And I believe it behooves us to address them in a thoughtful manner.

Just my commie/pinko/humble opinion....

Melanie

This ties in with a discussion going on over in "Our roll in the global economy." I really want to know why the people who were opposed to Pacifica--primarily,as I understand it, people who live in close proximity to the development, are classified as NIMBYs, while the folks in Northside, who want to limit duplexes are "protecting their neighborhood." I lived in Carrboro for 15 years. If we had found a house large enough for our growing family, NOT in a subdivision with all sorts of rules about what one can plant, what color one's house can be, etc, we would be living there still. (I know myself well enough to know that I CANNOT live someplace where there are rules prohibiting tomatos in the front yard...)

I keep up with Carrboro's politics because, like it or not, in some ways CH/Carrboro IS one big town. SO--can someone please answer my question? Why is it PC to fight infill in CH but not Carrboro? Because I'm certain the folks on Hanna street, and Pine street, and even over in Quarterpath trace, (or is it Bolin Forest?) love their neighborhoods just as much as the folks over in Northside.

Anyone?

Melanie

Jeff, if you are curious about the bidding procedure for the various sidewalk projects, you can call Chris Peterson at Carrboro Public Works. You can reach him by calling 942-8541. Seems like that would have been a good first step before implying that town officials are engaging in some kind of bid rigging scheme.

-Vanke Nothanke

The question about wildly varying estimates was posed repeatedly, to Mayor, Aldermen, and Staff, at the January 13 BoA meeting, without a satisfactory response. We read more recently that it has to do with how extensive the sidewalk project is. I spoke to that in my previous posting.

At one of our campaign forums last fall, Mayor Nelson claimed that Pacifica was paying for the entire cost of the sidewalk. That was a flagrant misrepresentation of the sidewalks bond referendum, already passed by the Board of Alderman, and I called him on it. So please excuse me if I am very curious about the esimate dropping in half, while I call for institutional safeguards for the finances of Carrboro taxpayers.

(In another instance of Nelson inspiring little faith, at the same January 13 meeting, Alex Zaffron suggested that the public be included in early stages of development applications. Nelson rejected the idea, and told Zaffron that he would explain the reasons, but outside the meeting. Nelson could supply a reason right here in this space, but I wouldn't rely on it, since he wouldn't speak to that publicly and spontaneously.)

Now THAT was a reasoned, reasonable response. Nice trolling!

Melanie

Watch the cost of that sidewalk.... Its estimates have varied by a factor of two, from the $90,000s to the $180,000s.

If the same contractor will build all of Carrboro's first-phase sidewalks, for over $1.5 million, then that contractor could easily be talked into lowering the "estimate" for the Hannah Street sidewalk. I have NO evidence or reason to believe that anything like that is happening.

But because the Town's finances are affected by this estimate, I would prefer to see Carrboro contract the Hannah Street sidewalk separately, and to invite competitive bidding for that project on its own.

That sidewalk will be on an impressive slope and must not be done on the cheap. I am not qualified to comment on what is and is not necessary. But if the grading, for example, is insufficient, then the Town will have to step in later and pay 100% of the difference. Something like this recently happened on Westbrook Drive (off Hwy 54), which was in danger of washing away.

I think that people who choose to provide some of their own power should be barred from using grid power. They make their choices and they should live with the consequences. If they don't like grid power for all their needs then they shouldn't get any. I'm not totally sure why this is a good idea, but it would at least be consistent with the idea that homeschoolers should not have access to any public school programs because they made their choice and didn't take the whole package. Also, we all support the grid and can't have people making thier own power or not contributing to the power system.

Mark

I have never heard of a developer asking for a cap on their share of paying for something that is a required part of their development. How lame! Glad Carrboro didn't go for it.

600 square feet - that's downright urban! I guess their target market is employed, single hispters or something. There aren't very many of those to go around, but if there are they'll be in Carrboro (or Durham).

But shouldn't there then be Four of them? I realize the "letter of the law" for "affordable housing" is probably a "per unit" kind of thing--but I would contend it SHOULD be by square footage as well. Not to draw conclusions--but it would seem to ME that by halvingthe sq footage the developer is taking a unit that would go fo MORE on the local market and substituting one that would sell for LESS. At least in all the real estate dealings I've had, more square footage, of comparable qualitiy, usually costs MORE. Or am I too unhip to understand?

Melanie

FYI, the developer marketed the affordable units in several different forms with several different square footage amounts available. The final mix ended up reflecting the mix of housing that low-moderate income buyers signed up for. So I concluded that the low-moderate income buyers probably knew what they wanted and went for it. The Board could not see forcing the low-mod buyers to take something they didn't want . . .

-Mark Chilton

Ummmm--yeah. Works out nicely for the developer, doesn't it? (Cynical side showing through.) What about the lights? DO they have "on the grid" back-up? Since they got a variance on the road back there I guess they don't HAVE to meet code...

Melanie

Just received a call from Mark Chilton. The lights DO have land-line back-up.

Was looking over the forum--found it interesting that when the Universtiy clears woods down by Mason Farm it's BAD--(see World Class-It AIn't Always Pretty) but when people object to the Pacifica Development they are accused of NIMBY-ism.

Still wondering about the loss of close to 1200 square feet of "affordable housing" space. Another thought occurred...what happens if the people who are slated for those 600 SQ ft apartments pull out? Does the developer then get to keep THOSE as the affordable housing units---(a change the council approved because they didn't want to "force" residents into larger-than-wanted-units) or must he revert to the original sizes? Wish I had thought of this while I was speaking with Mr. Chilton.

Note--I no longer live in Carrboro--lived on West Main for 13 years, and in various apartments for 2 years prior to that. Imay have no VESTED interest in the town, but I still care.

Admittedly Playing Devil's Advocate,

Melanie See

And I'm interested in the solar street lights...do they have any kind of backup? Or, after a few cloudy days, will Pacifica be dark? And what's up with making the lights from 4x4's and bicycle parts? Does that meet town code? I'm all for reusing and recycling--AND art--but street lights are supposed to be FUNCTIONAL.

As to the units--I don't know whether they were to be free standing or not--but I believe the new units are 600 sq ft each. SO--if I am NOT misinformed (and I came in at the tail end) they HALVED the sq footage of those units.

Comments?

Melanie

I think the article gives an excellent summary of what's at stake with the cap. The Pacifica people are splitting the cost of putting in a sidewalk with the town. The estimates of that cost has widely varied and is not finalized. The Pacifica developer wanted some certainty about how much they'd be spending on it, and so they offered a figure. (I suppose it shouldn't surprise anyone that the figure offered was on low-ball end.) The Board of Aldermen understandably balked at agreeing to cap Pacifica's share of the cost. Rose pointed out that capping it would likely increase the town's share to more than 50%, and Gist argued that a 50% share was perfectly fair and that the town shouldn't be paying a premium to reduce the developer's "uncertainty." I agree with that position, personally, as a matter of proper stewardship of public funds -- good on ya, Carrboro.

I'm more interested is this bit about the request to reallocate some of the affordable housing units to condos, rather than (am I assuming this right?) free-standing units. This results in a net loss of 1180 square feet in affordable housing space, according to the article. I'm interested to know if this was a request to reduce the number of units (or, even worse, the number of bedrooms), or not. And if not, where did all that "excess" square-footage come from? You could fit another three bedrooms into 1180 square feet, including fairly generous common spaces. And that question leads to my puzzlement over what Mr. Blunden said, as paraphrased by the newspaper:

"Blunden said the development association needed to relocate certain affordable units because the units previously selected were not preferred by those who qualified for the units."

What does that mean? Doe that mean that they showed the units to potential tenants and they said, "No, no, that's way too much space for us?" Or is it that, by moving the units to condos, they're going for a different group of qualified buyers -- that is, the larger group of people in need of affordable housing who could afford condos rather than free-standing units, and who wouldn't be so picky? What's the cost difference between the units originally identified, and the condos?

I like the Pacifica development and I've admired the work of Mr. Blunden. I don't think this is Carrboro's Meadowmont by any stretch.

But speaking of Meadowmont, a little birdy told me that the Meadowmont people have their eye on the property next door -- you know, all that land with the brick house on it, where that guy who apparently walked off the cover of a romance novel keeps his white horse? On 54? A quick trip up to the clerk's office has revealed that the property is held in a life estate by the older gentleman who lives there. Still looking for who the eventual inheritors will be, but I understand that the folks at Meadowmont are well aware of the situation.

Unfortunately for Chapel Hill, that land falls in Durham -- even though the effect of development would be disproportionately borne by Chapel Hill. Durham seems to have written off that part of the city, considering how little they put into infrastructure support -- intersection improvements, sidewalks, lights and other traffic controls, etc -- for the developments mushrooming at the corner of Farrington Road and 54.

Meadowmont Smackdown II in the house!

 

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