You Gotta Have Faith

Last week I rounded the corner of McCauley and Merrit Mill as I have a million times before. But this time my mouth gaped open in suprise. It wasn't just the radical clearcut of what used to be Cam Hill's funky little nest. I think it was the crane that seemed to be hungrily eating the last bit of the structure left on the property. Even though I knew it was coming for at least a year, I was shocked to see this acre of mud replace what was once an attractive corner of town. It's all the more tragic because I know what's coming: a parking lot.

I strongly suggest that you take a drive by that corner now and see what's there. This is an object lesson in town-gown relations for two reasons:

1. It demonstrates University priorities. They pressured local homeowners until they gave up their property, then UNC demolished this block of modest homes and nice shade trees to lay out a slab of concrete for parking. Houses like these on the west end of Cameron Street are exactly what the town needs more of to meet the needs of the increasing number of students and young families joining our community.

2. The University sped up it's destruction process on this lot as a result of recent state legislation that would give the Town more control over tsuch pojects. Until now, the Council only had some say over buildings, but not other uses like parking lots. This law would not have barred construction, but it will give the Town the ability to review proposals as it does for other property owners, and to require changes that safeguard the long-term welfare of the whole community. It appears from their actions, that UNC is not interested in hearing how their project could be designed to benefit the community at large. They are more interested in bulding parking in our neighborhoods, and fast before somone stops them.

This is a perfect example of why so many people in the Town feel unable to trust the University. It's especially problematic when we have Carolina North looming on the horizon. UNC proposes to build a small city in the center of our community, but as yet has not allowed the Town to participate in shaping that plan. I will save my copious concerns about Carolina North for another post. My main question is this: How are we to negotiate 'in good faith' with University, when it's clear from their actions over the last 5 years that our faith in them is misplaced?

It appears that UNC is committed only to getting what it's leaders want, with no regard for the long-term impact on the community. It has also become apparent that our rules mean nothing to them, but simply represent another hurdle to either overcome or go around. How can you negotate with a partner who doesn't play by the rules?

[Bonus cute story, only slightly related: In the 1970's the stand of treets that bufferred Amity Court from Rosemary Street was razed to build a chain restaurant and large parking lot. That restaurant closed and is now the home of Breadman's. Next time you walk by there (or am I the only one who ever walks on Rosemary Street?) have a look at what someone wrote in the pavement to commemorate the trees that used to be there. The lyric isn't quite right, but the sentiment is all there.]



While I am often frustrated by the actions of the University myself, I don't agree that this was one of their unilateral actions. We've all known for at least 2 years that they were planning to build a parking lot on that corner. The legislative change should be used to change the way CN is being handled but in this instance I support the university's action while hating their decision to put a parking lot there. Not only is is unattractive but we're now going to have a lot of cars entering and exiting on a small road (Merritt Mill) right at the point where the bike path crosses that road.

It's going to get even worse when/if the Merritt Mill apartments are built on across the street on the Carrboro side. Carrboro governs one side of the road, DOT maintains the road, University owns the big corner, and Chapel Hill governs the other side of the road. None of these entities have to talk to each other--and can make decisions in isolation. I hope someone (soon) proposes a mechanism for joint decision making.

I'm also bummed by the threat of a parking lot on that corner. There's no great place for a parking lot, but street corrners seem especially ugly.

The whole Merritt Mill Rd. area will likely be changing over the next few years. Manly Estates is just a couple years old. Now the parking lot. The next possibilities include a new homeless shelter and a remake of Lincoln Center.

The homes in this area are largely rentals, either to students or low-income families. This, of course, makes it less likely that the residents will be active in the development process.

Finally, the house next to Cam Hill's was owned by Rebecca Clark. It was also a rental property. I asked one member of the Clark family (not Rebecca), and was told that she was not "pressured" to sell. However, I'm sure that her tenants were pressured to move.

Unilateral: Performed or undertaken by only one side. How are UNC's actions not unilateral? They are building a parking lot in a residential neighborhood where it is not a permitted use. They've made it clear from the start that they were going to build a parking lot and because the law allowed them to do so, they never consulted anyone. Does this show concern for neighbors? the town's wishes?
What action do you support Terri? They ARE putting in a parking lot, that is their action. Ruby's points are well taken.....

Having announced in advance that they were going to build a parking lot if they obtained those properties, are then the people who sold UNC their land accomplices in the actions that led to a parking lot in this neighborhood?

Main Entry: ac·com·plice
Pronunciation: &-'käm-pl&s, -'k&m-
Function: noun
Etymology: alteration (from incorrect division of a complice) of complice
: one associated with another especially in wrongdoing

Fred, I don't think that's really fair. It's not like they can negotiate with the University as equals. Individual propoerty owners are even more powerless than the town as a whole. Have you seen the one onely house that is holding out on that block? Would you want to stay under those conditions? To live next to a parking lot?

Graig, I'm ceratinly disappointed to hear that Mrs. Clark gave up without a fight. But we can't blame her for cashing in on that opportunity. When UNC has purchased all the lots around you, what is left to hold on to?

There have been plenty of opportunities over the past 2 years for citizens, candidates and/or town officials to challenge the university's publicly and clearly stated plan to build a parking lot on that corner. Since no one has stepped up to oppose the intended action, I see implicit approval/acceptance of the plan.

Maybe they are moving quickly now because of the change in legislation, but there's also a lot of other motivation since well over 500 parking spaces were lost over the summer to new construction and faculty, staff, and students are being very vocally unhappy about the lack of parking space. I'm not willing to jump to the conclusion that the admin is only trying to beat the Oct 1 date.

Cam asks what I approve of--I support the university's right to implement a plan that they have clearly and publicly stated over a 2-year period. I still don't like the plan, but, like others, I did nothing to try and stop it from being implemented so now I have to live with it.

Terri, many of us tried many times at many levels to change, but not to stop, UNC's plans for expansion. I apologize for not sending out a press release every time I objected to something at a public meeting (planning board, town council, etc.), but it seems that the media don't think it's really newsworthy when we little ants nip at the giant's shins. I can't blame them.

I can understand you not complaining if you didn't take the time to learn about what they were doing or engage in the process. But you don't speak for me in that regard.

Finally, I'm not arguing we should lay down in front of the bulldozers and stop it (although I might cheer if someone did). I am simply telling this story as an illustrative example of how the University "works with" the town on projects that have a community-wide impact. That part I think we can and should change.

"Maybe they are moving quickly now because of the change in legislation, but there's also a lot of other motivation since well over 500 parking spaces were lost over the summer to new construction and faculty, staff, and students are being very vocally unhappy about the lack of parking space. I'm not willing to jump to the conclusion that the admin is only trying to beat the Oct 1 date."

I don't consider the loss of 500 parking spaces to be a bad thing. Its about time faculty, staff and students get off their lazy arses and do some walking or in the very least park and ride. Even if I wasn't fortunate enough to live within walking distance, I'd still do park and ride since 500 spaces isn't going to make that much difference for a campus that has had parking problems for as long as I can remember.

Rule #1 - Life is not fair!

We are faced with choices, we then make decisions; decisions have consequences.

Ruby, you say that you can't blame Rebecca for "cashing in on that opportunity." Looks like it takes both parties to do the deal, and even if one has more clout than the other, do you want to completely overlook the role of the other? Just curious given your mixed message above.

I never said I supported the university's expansion plans. I said I support their right to implement a plan that has been out and in the open for a couple of years. Perhaps, Ruby, if the town would follow sunshine laws and post the minutes from meetings of the planning board, etc., then citizens would know more about what's happening behind the scenes. That's why I'm so actively promoting the idea of digital government.

So how could this have gone differently? Does the university have to come to the town for everything they want to do? How are decisions made when the town and the university don't agree? Did the town council say to the university "you can't build this parking lot as proposed" and the university said "just watch us"?

I understand that individuals cannot stand up to such a large organization, but I also remember the residents in the Gimghoul area actively fighting the boiler plant and using their vote as one of their weapons. I just don't recall that kind of public outcry about this parking lot. Sorry--there's a lot of controversy in this town; sometimes too much to keep up with.

Terri, the moment UNC told me they wanted to build a parking lot next to me. I petitioned the council for help. I was told that the state could do anything they wanted as long as they didn't build a building. The Town Manager wrote UNC a letter and UNC promised to keep the town posted on their plans (making it clear that they weren't interested in the town's opinion). You may not have heard it but there was a protest.
Fred, When UNC made it clear they would build a parking lot on each side of my fifty foot lot I made a decision to sell. I am not complaining about my deal, I'm not a victim and if it pleases you to call me an accomplice, go ahead......

A couple quick observations/comments (I'll try to aim before I fire Fred):

1) I saw the beginning and ending demolition of Cam's old house and block. The workers showed some real zest as they smashed 50 years of history. Not their fault - just kind of a "hard to build, easy to destroy" moment.

2) No accommodation was made for keeping the trees in the interior of the block. Seems like it''d be easier (and cheaper) to "keep'em" rather than "plant'em".

3) This rather extensive lot adds a lot of impermeable surface in an area with fairly poor drainage. As UNC doesn't want to participate in the storm water control project, at least to the extent of financially defraying the cost of the additional burden they just added, I guess I'll end up paying twice for that lot (of course, I don't particularly like the idea of paying the storm water 'tax', maybe I should incorporate as a college?).

4) UNC has learned to push their advantage ("passed pawns should be pushed"?). A quick demolition followed by a quick pave job and any bad mojo will soon be forgotten. It's like the DAR house on Columbia - did it ever exist? Or, soon, West House - will it only be a fiction of those poor souls trying to save it ?

5) I was reminded of the Mason Farm Rd. clearing: quick, excessive and ugly.

I asked a question that to me is legitimate. Nobody answered, but it appears some are willing to make an assumption about what my answer might be. Why is that?

I would love to hear Cam give a more detailed answer as to why his realtor feels like he is the one who has been stiffed:

Sounds fishy to me to call it a misunderstanding...

I think being an elected official, answers are warrented.

OK Fred, Rebecca, Cam and UNC are the Three Amigos; a laugh riot trio that are in cahoots to wreck the neighborhood at the west end of Cameron. Are the customers of Dook Power complicit in the Utility's pollution? After all if we didn't use the power they wouldn't have to pollute. How 'bout the neighbors of the Horace Williams Airport? The airport pre-dates all the neighborhoods that surround it. Should we ignore the concerns of these people because they chose to move next to an airport.
If I had chose not to sell to UNC I would be living in the center of a parking lot, if not being willing to do that makes me an accomplice, then make me a badge.
Why do you choose to ignore the legitimate questions posed by Will and Ruby. Is it proper for UNC to run roughshod over it neighbors? Why does UNC need you to defend it?
Todd. My lawyers name is Martin Bernholz, he lives on Harkers Island, he has advised me not to comment on pending litigation. But you should call him and ask him.

Obviously, Cam, you are reacting personally to my question that was, as I said, a very legitimate one. How that gets turned into me defending UNC is a mystery. If you want, why don't you answer the question instead of making me your issue? If you don't think the sellers bear any responsibility for the outcome that some are upset about here, say why not. So please read my question again and note that I never said you were an accomplice, I only asked the question. Is it not correct that there were sellers other than you?

I saw both Ruby's and Will's questions as rhetorical, but for the record, I do not think UNC ought to run roughshod over anyone, just as the Town and the School Board shouldn't their powers in that way. But we know they can and have legally taken someone's property for their purposes, can't they?

And when you bring up the HWA case, again you are missing the point. I disagreed with UNC because of how the system president unilaterally changed the utilization rules, not that the airport existed.

Rebecca put her property on the market and UNC bought it.It was appraised as and marketed as a RESIDENTIAL property. I do not know if UNC shared their intentions with her prior to the purchase. I knew what UNC planned when I sold. UNC is the one who is building a parking lot. To act as if we are all equal partners is a stretch. To act as if we are complicit is also a stretch. UNC is the 800 pound gorilla who chose to sit on my house.

The Town Council and the School Board are elected locally and are accountable locally, not so with the folks who populate South Building.

Fred, it's difficult to answer your question because it makes no sense to me.

If I bought all of your neighbor's home and planned to put busy parking lots on all sides of you, would you even want to stay in your house? Would you be my "accomplice" if you finally gave up and made the best deal you could with me so as to avoid losing everything? Of course there is more you can do to resist my steamrolling, but it's not your fault that I want to build a parking lot on your land.

So the answer is no, I do not think you are my accomplice. You are more like a victim, caught in the crossfire of my paving frenzy, making the best of a bad situation.

If a citizen decided to tear down her house and put in a parking lot, would the town have the right to say no? I know there are some zoning restrictions so let's just say the house was there on Cameron. I'm asking a serious question.

Cam--I can't really imagine what it must feel like to see your home destroyed like this. It must hurt and for that I am very sorry.

According to Chapel Hill's Land Use Ordinance:
For areas not located in the Watershed Protection District, the following impervious surface restrictions apply to all new development except single-family and two-family dwellings constructed or to be constructed on existing lots created prior to January 27, 2003 (or for which a Preliminary Plat has been approved by the Town Council prior to that date):The maximum amount of new impervious surface on a lot, including building footprints and paved parking areas, is derived by multiplying the gross land area of the lot by the ratio following ratios. The Impervious Surface Ratio is .24 under a low-density option. For residential development under a high-density option the Impervious Surface ratio is .50. For development with a non-residential component, under a high-density option the Impervious Surface Ratio is .70. The impervious surface ratio calculation does not include impervious surfaces existing on the lots previous to January 27, 2004. So, if an ordinary citizen owned a property where 76% of their lot was impervious before Jan 27, 2004. They could apply for a permit to tear down their house and build a parking lot. The difference between that ordinary citizen and the University, is that that citizen would then be facing the Chapel Hill Planning Department, Planning board, and Town Council (all entities trying to serve to combined needs of the town of Chapel Hill).

Fred, as I read your question, you ask if the owners, including Cam and Mrs. Clark
were accomplices in the destruction of this portion of the Cameron neighborhood. I
would suggest that they were more victims than accomplices. First of all, for years
they endured the noise, light and air pollution of the co-gen plant. Second, as we know,
when dealing with a government that can and does employ the power of eminent domain,
the individual is far from an equal negotiator -- he can take only what is offered him.

For three decades now I have watched the UNC pattern: buy one house in a
neighborhood, accept another as a gift, work with state-paid lawyers to break a will that
expresses an owners dying wish not to leave her property to UNC, etc.

After UNC accumulates several homes in a neighborhood, they convert them into
individual offices, then finally raze them in unison to construct an office building,
parking lot, dorm, or other facility. Witness what has happened to the east side of
Pittsboro Street, and the north side of Mason Farm Road. Then in an attempt to mollify
the chutzpah of the UNC administration, the chancellor promises repeatedly that UNC
wants to be a good neighbor, and feigns surprise that campus neighbors look with
disfavor at the university.

I would suggest that we all remember carefully the UNC actions in 1994 when the
business school planned a new entrance to campus for an executive training center
located next to the current business school. The UNC Board of Trustees voted
unanimously, including the vote of its (then) only Chapel Hill resident Anne Cates, to
"approve the acquisition of the properties at 1303 and 1307 Mason Farm Road, including
by condemnation, if necessary." (quote from the Sept 23, 1994 minutes of the

I believe that the metaphor of the gorilla/elephant/rhino/hippo is accurate.

Thanks Joe for answering the question in the way you did. As the person who wrote me initially (and didn't want to post it here) offered, in these cases, there is the person in a neighborhood who sells first (for whatever reasons) and then it is downhill from there. His take was that that person shared in the outcome that some will later decry. Sure, subsequent sellers may be acting rationally and without other options, but he felt that the first seller had some responsibility for making what happened possible. This was the basis of my original question, even though some tried to personalize it. I still think it is an interesting question, and worth pondering.

Interesting also that when the very conditions that you mention that affect a neighborhood cause them not to want another "facility" in their neighborhood - say a shelter - then they are engaging in NIMBYism. Interesting.

Thanks Donna.

In addition to the impervious surface regs that Donna cites, off-street parking is only permitted as an "accessory use" (as opposed to a "principal use") in all of Chapel Hill's residential zones.

I suspect these lots are zoned R-3, which is the same as my street. I sure don't want a parking lot for a neighbor!


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