Carolina North report a tidy piece of PR

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday May 28, 2005

The leaders of the go-go-growth crowd are true believers. Since they hold fast and firm to a common principle, the ethic of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" holds sway. In truth, it is often the same back.

Thus, when UNC released its Economic Impact Analysis for Carolina North last Wednesday, it was not surprising that the contact provided for "economic impacts on the local community" was Aaron Nelson of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

UNC's report was all good news and Nelson's e-mail to chamber members matched it with effusive praise. He characterized Carolina North as "relieving pressure on the housing market." Let's see: 1,400 to 1,800 new homes to accommodate 7,500 new employees. That's about a 6,000 unit deficit, an odd notion of relief.

Nelson touted "the creation of high-wage jobs for Orange County residents." While those 7,500 new jobs are predicted to average $58,000/year, there is no indication that even one of them will go to a current Orange County resident. Market Street Services, authors of the analysis, use the recent figure of 52.2 percent of UNC employees living in Orange County as the basis for their projection, but there is no evidence provided to support that assumption.

The chamber gushes over the "generation of tax revenue to fund municipal, county and school operations and community initiatives and projects." But there has been no analysis of the costs of Carolina North to the local community and therefore there can be no understanding of whether the net effect is positive or negative. Market Street Services throws around some big numbers, but in isolation they don't mean very much.

Fortunately, our elected officials have a sharper eye for such matters. Cam Hill was on target when he said, "if they came out with anything less than this, it would be shocking. This is what people do to get support for what they're up to. It would be very simple to come up with a forecast for 15 years in the future and say that the future's going to be rosy, if that's what you wanted it to say."

Bill Strom, who along with Hill is one of the two council members who have had success in the business world, added "these numbers are easy to manipulate and highly speculative, and often associated with sophisticated public relations campaigns."

One might infer that UNC's vice chancellor of research and economic development agrees. Tony Waldrop is quoted on the testimonials page of the consultant's Web site as saying "Market Street Services provided exceptional service to the University of North Carolina. ... Their work was of the highest quality, which reflected their listening closely to what we needed."

Part of what was needed was a set of favorable assumptions. Among those was the prediction that future projects at Carolina North would leverage 90 percent of their funding from federal and private sources. Along with other uncertainties, this overlooks the huge federal deficits being amassed by the Bush administration and the consequent budget cuts.

The rosy job scenario might not materialize either. Last winter, a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that American teens placed 27th out of 30 member nations in mathematical problem-solving (Korea, Japan, Canada and France topped the list).

No one can really say if by the year 2020, the key date in the UNC report, businesses will want to locate research facilities in the United States, to say nothing of North Carolina.

Indeed, our region already has an abundance of technically proficient, well-educated workers whose jobs have gone overseas.

If you are inclined to give credence to the report's optimistic assumptions, you might reflect on the words of Market Street Services CEO Mac Holladay.

He told a Virginia legislative commission, "I happen to agree with John Kenneth Galbraith, who says that economists who make forecasts can be divided into two groups, those that do not know and those that know they do not know."

Thursday morning, after hearing the presentation on the economic impact, the trustees endorsed the Carolina North plan as "a catalyst for the economic transformation of our state." Now there's an interesting forecast given that just one sector of the state economy, tourism, generates $1.1 billion in tax revenue (as compared to the $48 million claimed for Carolina North) and nearly 200,000 jobs (versus 7,500 for Carolina North).

The Carolina North Economic Impact Analysis is a tidy bit of PR that will well serve the project's boosters.

For UNC's trustees and administration, Carolina North seems to have become a kind of raison d'etre. The tendency of those who want something too much to overstate their data is a familiar one in contemporary America. But it is not a healthy tendency for either our nation or our state.



Civil suit: MSFT broke the law by being using monoploy tactics. I was not intending to imply criminal charges. I could have added Martha Stewart, but I thought she got a more severe penalty than she deserved for her crime. She should have JUST gotten a big fine.

But none of this is really on the topic of Orange County...

Thanks, Mark, for your insightful explanation of obscenity.

Mary, there are many good works on that relate to the question of growth. Some are economic, some environmental, some planning. One article you might enjoy as a starting point is Murray Bookchin's Death of a Small Planet. It is a bit dated with its references to Thatcher, Gorbachev, and the Exxon Valdez but the points are still relevant.

You might also enjoy Daniel Chodorkoff's article Redefining Development. (Both articles found at the Institute for Social Ecology)

Mary, those familiar with my record as an activist know that I am not anti-growth. If you hold out the hope for a healthy and harmonious future for all of humanity and for our planet, then you will recognize that much must be refitted, much torn down, and much grown anew before we get there.

I'm curious to know how the UNC doctors and nurses are compensated for the AHEC work they do. I was always under the impression that their time and effort was strictly charitable volunteer work, but an article in today's Daily Tarheel mentions that they may have to be compensated for the extra time it takes them to get to RDU for a flight. Does anyone know if they get paid by AHEC above and beyond their regular salary?

I may be wrong but it's my understanding that AHEC compensates these people above and beyond what their UNC salary is. Whether they charge for travel time or not, I don't know.

Looks like the Chamber's Aaron Nelson didn't catch all the devastation that H1539, as reported in today's HeraldSun could wrought:

"The Umstead Act has been watered down over time, and these efforts would nearly extinguish it," Nelson said. "Already the activities the university is conducting within the law on campus ? are having a significant impact on the amount of dollars being spent by faculty and students with local small business."

Yes, he's probably right that

even with the present restrictions, campus sales have taken business from local entrepreneurs

but that isn't the total extent of the damage this bill could create.

Business has cynically used the threat of Umstead to try to squelch beneficial attempts by government to improve citizen's lot, so I understand local representatives attempts to fine tune its strictures to increase the economic benefits of those tax dollars spent on our research universities, but I'm not sure they've calculated and accommodated for all the potential negative impacts this "tuning" will unleash.

For instance, when the UNC system asks for a "blanket exemption"

"We've had a whole lot of requests from our campuses, all the campuses, asking for special legislation to exempt one specific request from the Umstead Act," said Mark Fleming, the UNC system's chief lobbyist. "It was getting so that we did a study over the summer and came up with the idea of getting a blanket exemption from the Umstead Act."

in a bill that promises to allow the system to both

engage in activities that enable people in their host communities and the state to "utilize the university's facilities, equipment or expertise."


allow the UNC system's 16 campuses to sell goods and services in competition with the private sector when doing so would further the teaching, research and service mission of the university.

does that mean they have a blank check to create new business entities?

I worry that this just bolsters the disingenuous "economic" argument for UNC/North. When UNC says "when we build it, they will come" and "they" don't, will they then say "so we failed to attract business just as Centennial Campus has, so we'll just create it ourselves"? Sure, it'll be bad enough, as Aaron has pointed out, if a chunk of UNC/North is set aside for campus sponsored eateries like McDonalds or campus sponsored boutiques like the current student stores, economic activities which could be construed to directly impact Nelson's clients, but when the weakened Act is used to create larger ventures, ventures at odds with the proposed character of the HWA development, then aren't we treading on dangerous ground? Maybe not. The local UNC Hospital "business" venture seems to be doing alright, so maybe my concern is misplaced.

Maybe the hard to resist urge to "cash in" on university research entails developing and siting an organization like MCNC in our backyards. MCNC seemed to be an organization which had an acceptable low-impact on its neighbors. It was unique for its time, its charter didn't greatly conflict with established business and its research not only spurred the local economy but attracted further economic development so we could have a winner.

What if, though, in its attempt to be more business-oriented and to spur "statewide economic growth", UNC creates an organization that they argue furthers the "service mission of the university" but is more akin to the Global Transpark in its wastrel ways? What if, under the weakened Umstead Act, UNC creates "public" businesses to cover a paucity of private businesses at UNC/North? Either case seems to be a far greater loss to both the local and statewide community than Mr. Nelson worries about, let's hope this isn't the case.

Has anyone heard anything about what Dean Roper (or a spokesperson for the med school) has said about the Board of Trustees' decision to move AHEC's flights to RDU?

And, it sounds like everyone's catching up to where Citizens for Livable Communities, the Orange County Greens, Alliance of Neighborhoods, Sierra Club, and the New Hope Audubon Society were a decade ago when we brought in Doug Kelbaugh (now dean of Michigan's planning school) to lead a day-long discussion on the possibility for compact "pedestrian pocket" transit-oriented development at Horace Williams.

From Beth Velliquette's N&O article, 4/30/1995:

A noted urban designer told a gathering of planners, architects and town officials Saturday that Americans are willing and ready to reduce the time they spend driving in their cars...

Kelbaugh, an expert on transit-oriented development and urban villages, spoke generally about trends in growth in the United States, and about suburban sprawl and car-oriented shopping centers that require people to drive every time they leave their homes.

To reduce time spent driving, new developments must be designed for people to walk or ride bicycles to services within that development and to take mass transit when they leave their neighborhoods, he said.

Kelbaugh... said the town needs to find ways to force the university to build in a way that is compatible with the town's values.

"The university is going to probably treat this as a real estate investment rather than an act of goodwill," he said. "Somehow there's got to be a mixed development with trade-offs and incentives, carrots and sticks, to make it a real community out there."

Last night the VIllage Project presented their conception of how Carolina North can be designed "to mitigate the adverse effects on our towns of the intense use being proposed."

I'm sure I won't do their plan full justice, but hopefully others will add to whatever I miss.

Their foundational design guidelines are:
--compact footprint
--affordable housing for more than 25% of CN employees
--public transportation
--local commerce
--all human construction fits within current land patterns

Construction will occur in those sections of the Horace Williams tract with impervious soils (don't drain well naturally). The desire is to not interfere with natural drainage patterns (stormwater, etc.). After mapping the soil types, 6-7 "areas" were identified suitable for building. The VP plan divides the 260-acre footprint of those areas into:

1. "precincts" or combinations of university buildings, residences, and commercial buildings and

2. "villages" or residences, public buildings such as schools, and commercial buildings.

3. A central rain bank runs throughout the site (canal)

In precincts, buildings are 4-5 stories high and each precinct has its own courtyard. They plan 1.3 parking spaces for each 1000 sq ft of building (same as currently on campus). Residences within the precincts are all townhouses (1000-1600 sq ft) and studios.

The 4 villages are primarily residential, about 18 acres each. Residences are a combination of studios and single family structures. Each village has a playground, garden spaces, and civic spaces (school, worship, etc.)

Transit alternatives include sidewalks, bike paths, fare free bus, and light rail. One road bisects the area: narrow lanes with a center median to make it easy for pedestrian crossing. The rail line will loop around from the existing RR tracks over to MLK Blvd down to Estes and back. Since full build out of the development will occur over time, transit alternatives will not be available from the beginning. Therefore, they recommend that 3 parking spaces per 1000 sq ft of construction be built in the first phase then reducing the ratio as more transit alternatives become available. At build out the ratio would be 1.3 spaces per 1000 sq ft of construction.

The project has not done any financial calculations, but one issue that I feel needs to be addressed is financing of all these transit alternatives. According to Patrick McDonough, a parking deck costs about $7500 per space to build. With a parking deck, the university can recover some/all of its investment through parking fees. So on first glance, a parking deck is more financially sustainable than a sidewalk or bike path or fare free bus/light rail service. But although alternative transit options do not pay for themselves on a financial ledger, they certainly do in 'costs to society' (air and water quality, public health). UNC has demonstrated their commitment to environmental protection on the main campus through their green building initiatives, water reuse, and support of Chapel Hill Transit. Does the difference in parking spaces in this plan vs. their plan have anything to do with cost recovery?

The Village Project has provided an amazing service to this community, including UNC, by integrating university plans, the HW report, and their own expertise in sustainable design into a single visualized model. Making ideas concrete improves the ability to discuss from a reasoned stance. What we need now is a financial model to overlay on top of their designs. We especially need to analyze the costs of public services (fire, police, road maintenance, etc.) associated with such a large development.

See for more info.

Sounds like the Village Project is catching up to where the Herald's editorial page was a year and a half ago.

We called for doubling Carolina North's housing allotment and making sure it includes 3,000 beds for students:

We're a lot more skepical than James and his folks about the prospects of selling people on the virtues of high-rise living:

We've been very critical of the Town Council's muddying of the waters on transit:

And we've insisted that Carolina North has to have three public schools, not just one:


I watched the presentation on TV. James and Patrick (et. al.) make a good team, and approach CN development with thoughtfulness and vision. I applaud them for their efforts at community education.

I liked their emphasis on >staying flexible and continuing to incorporate community input,> reducing parking as we transition from automobiles to other alternatives,> preserving corridors for further connectivity to outlying areas,>coming up with a model project that the Towns and the University can be proud of, and > emphasizing that, with a creative mindset, we can make CN an outstanding example of attractive, sustainable growth.

Two big questions I have are:
1) How badly do we need an economic hub 1/3rd the size of RTP in this location?

2) How much of a company town will this be? Will it be integrated into the larger community or will it feel off-limits to those who don't live and work there?

One piece of info that I forgot to include above is that CN will be about 1/3 the size of RTP (acreage)--right in the middle of Chapel Hill. The implications of that size make Mary's questions extremely important.

The land mass size is important but to me the increased population is most overwhelming. The VP project is planning on 8,000 residences vs. the 1800 projected by UNC. While the VP plans are more socially responsible, I can't see how the town can support that type of population growth. If even 1/2 of those 8000 residences have 2 people, that's 12,000 additional residences or 25% of current population (approx 50,000). And we're worried about Briar Chapel? I'm all for affordable housing, but affordable housing units don't pay enough property tax to cover the cost of the city services required to support each household. Since the residences will be on state-owned property, they won't be subject to all the same services as other CH residences--but which ones? If the financial equity study UNC and Chapel Hill have agreed is going to be useful we must have more solid plans to work with than the university has provided so far.

If you read between the lines of comments made by some of the regional legislators (including Bill Faison) quoted in todays's Daily Tarheel ( regarding the importance of keeping AHEC where it is, the NC Assembly may well decide to vote for Carolina North AND Horace Williams airport. I don't know about the rest of you folks, but to me that seems like the worst possible scenario that could happen to this area. Anyone out there have any ideas on how we can help to keep this from happening?

But if you don't believe me when I say we may well end up with both, just ask AOPA (The Airline Owners and Pilots Association), the powerful political action committee lobbying to keep HWA open for the convenience of their 10,000 North Carolina members. Their website advocates that Carolina North and the airport can easily live side by side compatively. Take a look:



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