The Big Show in Chatham

Perhaps I'm the first back from the packed house at Dock side so I'll get the ball rolling.

What impressed me most was the strong group of progressive activists assembled from Chatham County. These folks are committed to achieving the kind of sustainable land-use planning and economic development strategies that progressive orangepolitics would surely endorse.

Based on last year's election, we can see that real change is coming to Chatham. Allies in Orange should acknowledge their leadership on their own turf (as was the case tonight) and work in solidarity where possible.

Some tidbits:
Wasn't expecting Kevin Foy who apparently carpooled with Bill Strom, Cam Hill, and Mark Chilton. The way my brain works, I noted that they comprised a group of Town Council members elected in 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2003 and a mayor to fill in the missing year of 2001 if you count Foy twice. I guess Alderman Chilton counts twice too.

Nearby was a table with Joe Capowski, Terri Buckner, Laurin Easthom, Alex Zaffron, and Mary Rabinowitz. Now there's a fivesome Roy might balk at coaching!



Too bad. I just drove by there after a NC Defending Health Care Meeting, but there were only a few straglers left and the wait staff was cleaning up the tables. Perhaps next time...

I had to dodge out fairly quickly after things were over so I could get back and finish a term paper for my City & Regional Planning class... But I have to say, I was very impressed with the turnout. Estimating crowd size is not a strength of mine so I threw in a photo I took. I'm pleased that the crowd seemed to be made up pretty equally of both Orange and Chatham folks, and that both groups seemed interested in making sure that this sort of development doesn't end up right here in our backyard.

The talent in that room was phenomenal! Where else in America could you find that?

'Dan's Society Column'--- a new OP feature? Do tell, Dan, what was everyone wearing?

Also, you forgot to mention that David Marshall was there. He came to our table for introductions. He seems quite lovely...

Sorry, Mary, fashion's not really my thing. All I can tell you is Zaffron and Chilton were both wearing white shirts.

How refreshing to find an intellectual discussion of the issues going on. How come you and the Chapel Hill crowd cut out so early Dan?

I'm curious about something written in today's Herald. "Lee-Moore Oil Co. owns the site and has already begun the process of filing for the permits that it would take to build a shopping center." I thought Keith M (Chatham Planning Director) told us last night that no permits had been filed. Did I hear wrong?

I submitted the following question to last night's organizers: "Are we fighting Walmart or are we fighting any large development on the Starpoint site?" A nice political response was given--we want to make sure growth is thoughtful and moral (paraphrase). Good answer but not complete. Walmart may be a good rallying cry, clearly it generated a large crowd last night. But what happens if after all this effort fighting Walmart, Lee Moore Oil turns around and brings in a Target or a Costco or multiple businesses that also require building out up to or more than 36% of the tract? The landowner has a right to develop its property within EXISTING restrictions (20 acres commercial), but nothing beyond that would be acceptable to me.

I agree, Terri. It is hard to see the argument that Lee-Moore should not be allowed to develop some type of commercial development on the part of the site that has been zoned for that for 25+ years. I think a big-box store would be a very poor choice for that site. Target etc. would be no real improvement over any other big box.

Who are y'all to dictate what sort of business goes on a piece of private property that has been zoned commercial for 25 years?

If they try to get a variance--THEN folks have a right to complain.

And y'all certainly can make it known that y'all would prefer to shop lots of little businesses than one big superstore (I know I do--that's why I do MOST of my shopping locally) but then you'd best SHOP there and support the development.

I won't be shopping there often--too far (and a waste of gas) for me.


Melanie, Chatham's planning process gives only 2 weeks for citizen's to complain once a developer requests a variance. Those comments are taken in a quasi-judicial hearing and commissioners are limited to making decisions based on the record of that hearing. So if, for example, citizens wanted to challenge a developers soil tests, they would have only 2 weeks to get the developers report, find their own expert, retest the soil, and prepare a response. That's the impetus for preparing to fight this proposed development before it has even filed for any permits.

According to the planning director's presentation last night, the Chatham commissioners (in response to the Chatham Citizen's Coalition) are considering a new process that will ensure more citizen input throughout the planning process as well as more flexibility for commissioners/planning board to take comment outside of the formal hearings.

It was great to see such a turnout last night, and to see many faces from Orange Co. It's this sense of community that makes Chatham and Orange wonderful places to live.

My gut feeling is that the new Conditional Zoning process soon to be considered in Chatham (vs. the two other processes currently used - Conditional Use and Zoning) is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Sure, it may allow more citizen input, but it does not insure the developer or elected officials have to *really* consider the input. The developer just has to show who they invited to provide input and who showed up to do so. No meeting minutes are required, for instance. The Conditional Use process, though disadvantagous for citizens in some ways, at least gives required "standards" which the Commisioners must use in their decision-making (the "5 required findings"). The Commissioners are less than fond of the Conditional Use process currently in Chatham because their decisions have been appealed in almost every major development in north Chatham over the past two years (the 5 findings are a bit subjective and so are easily challenged). Perhaps I'm just too suspicious of Chatham government, but it seems that Conditional Zoning would just make it even easier to approve big projects, and more difficult for citizens to appeal.

When Keith Megginson was asked last night why the 10/70 rule is being discussed, he stated that our EDC is claiming that no industry will build here given the current 36% impervious surface restrictions. Did I hear that right?! Well, I'd venture to say it's because we don't have the infrastructure for such industry. Be glad y'all depend on OWASA for drinking water, because Chatham seems hell-bent on polluting Jordan Lake for the sake of "economic development."

I was also surprised by Keith's suggestion that Lee-Moore Oil Co. would seek a Conditional Use Permit rather than request rezoning of the 43 acres that remains zoned R-40.

Terri ~

I personally am against any big box being put at the Lee-Moore site; it's the wrong location for a huge retail center (Wal-Mart or not). Your question is a good one.

About the Herald's story - my guess is that the reporter was referring to the permit Lee-Moore Oil Co. was seeking from DOT.

That DOES put a different light on things...somewhat.


CHL is interested in having some debate on this. I'm offering to open up the commentator time limit from the usual 90 second mazimum to three minutes (per comment) and work on a format that would try to accommodate all sides.

so if you oppose any possible WalMart or would put up a welcome sign in your office window, this is a call for factual, emotional, historical and hopefully reasoned (read: civilized) argument.

drop us a line at or give a call to the newsroom: 967.8363 to set up a time.

keep up the energy, this is some of the best summer reading around!

Daniel Siler
News Director
News Talk 1360 WCHL

I talked with Gary Phillips last night about the
property tax revenue from WalMart to Chatham County.
I'm sure that with some research (that I haven't done),
on other WalMarts, one could estimate the revenue. But
Gary said something that surprised me. He said that
because the mailing address (yes the US Postal Service)
of the site is Chapel Hill, that the prop tax revenues will
go to Orange, not to Chatham, even though the site
is in Chatham. Do any of you experienced lawyer-
legislator types understand this? What about sales taxes?
Obviously if Gary is correct, one of the major motivations
of the Chatham County commissioners to approve the
store is deleted.

Joe ~

I can't believe that tax rev from a Chatham Wal-Mart would go to Orange because of a CH address. All businesses in Cole Park Plaza have a CH address, and y'all aren't receiving those revenues. Are you sure you heard correctly?


Thanks everyone for coming out last night. It was rejuvenating to see the outpooring of support.
Some of you who want to become more active in Chatham First should contact me soon. Some of you may have wanted to hear the answer to, "Okay, so what are y'all going to do, exactly?"

Wow, that was wierd. My post was sent in the middle of typing.

As I was saying, we need to work on the "y'all" part. We're going to meet in two weeks to discuss strategies, roles, duties, etc. This meeting is for people who want to roll up their sleeves, not just voice an opinion. There will be other meetings to come and shout and listen, but this is not one of them.

And just in case there's any confusion, we're not going to debate whether Wal-Mart is good or bad. We've already decided to be against it. If you want to debate, use this marvelous forum.

At the meeting we can decide who'll do what, but when I run a meeting my first rule is that you can't suggest things for OTHER people to do. If you suggest it, be prepared to do it, or at least head it up. This has the remarkable effect of reducing the time it takes to discuss matters.

So my email is Are you ready to rumble?

Joe C., Lee-Moore Oil's property stradles the county line. There are many such properties. I believe that Orange and Chatham Counties worked out a deal under which they divided up the properties that stradle the line, such that some of them are treated as though they are entirely in Orange and others are treated as entirely in Chatham. Lee-Moore's property is 95+% in Chatham County and is listed in Orange County tax records as having a taxable value of zero, so I assume that it is treated as though the proeprty were entirely in Chatham and its property taxes are paid entirely to Chatham.

I'm curious, and would appreciate answers from our potential local leaders. Aren't big box stores in some incarnation a necessary evil? With real estate prices in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, it'd be tough for a local entrepreneur to make a living selling toilet paper and granola bars ( and other ultra low margin items) at a competitive price. That requires the power of volume that can only come from a "big box" retailer. The fact that this shopping center is projected to generate 21,000 car trips a day should signal that people both want and need the products a big box provides.

There are a lot of low income residents of our towns that can only make ends meet with big box prices. If our community position is anti big box, even the good corporate citizens, how do you propose these citizens feed and clothe their families ?

Excuse my ignorance here, but what are the real differences in prices between toilet paper at, say Food Lion or the Dollar Store, and Wal-Mart?

This thread has taken a turn against all " big box retailers" not just Walmart. I don't shop at Food Lion, the Dollar store, or Walmart, but according to my step daughter, who goes to school in Culowhee where her only choices are the stores you mentioned, she insists that Walmart is less expensive.

Why aren't we talking about bringing retailers that would pay a living wage and offer benefits into southern orange county. We sure could use the sales tax revenue.

When those of us who are not "low income residents [who] can only make ends meet with big box prices" consider these questions, we might also reflect on some of the following:

-the full systemic environmental cost of shipping products from China and other distant lands;
-the full environmental cost of our travel to make big box purchases;
-the life-cycle costs of short-lived products that low-income consumers purchase because they appear to be less expensive;
-the health costs associated with the typically highly processed foods that are available at big box stores;
-the cost to communities where stable local businesses are driven under by big box competition (often only to find the big box close up in favor of a larger, less convenient location);
-the waste processing and disposal cost of the packaging and typically non-reusable, non-repairable, non-recyclable goods sold at big box.

Obviously this list could grow very long. The point is that when you add all these costs together you will likely find that the big box is not a very good bargain, not even for toilet paper.

Here on OP we might ask ourselves how we can stop colluding with a system that externalizes all these costs to give economic advantage to the Waltons of the world and disadvantage to so many millions of others. Katrina's post above this one hints at diminishing that collusion.

In contemplating these questions, we might find that our attention is drawn away from the rationalizations of "necessary evil" and toward a deepened understanding of the "banality of evil."

It occurs to me as I ponder this dilemma in which we are economically blackmailed into having to support the "Wal-Mart economy", that the deeper problem is the lack of awareness of the type of issues that Dan mentioned just above. We see a solipsist world-view in almost every issue we face. Like the Iraq War that exists in some abstract & generally ignored region of our collective consciousness, our self-centered acceptance of "low prices" is done without a mature contemplation of the externalized costs and various effects of our economic system.

My question is: How can we make the study of interconnectedness and impacts a centerpiece of our educational system? I know it is not, because the results are painfully obvious. Maybe there are local examples of such teaching?

Until value is placed on understanding the overall impacts of decisions we make and the sytems we work within, then we are stuck. See the Herald-Sun's new editor's sophomoric editorial in today's paper for the sort of vapid and cowardly bs that passes for issue analysis.

You have done an excellent job of pointing out the long-term disadvantages that are often (usually) associated with the low-price, big-box stores. Unfortunately, convincing someone who is just making ends meet financially that they should pay more now in order to reap benefits in the future can be a difficult sell. The fact that a large number of Americans have seen their real wages decrease during this latest economic recovery and that our savings rate in the U.S. is now essentially zero does not bode well for asking people to pay more to secure the future. For many of these people the future is tomorrow, or next week, or next month. I'm not saying that we shouldn't try but I think we need to be aware of how difficult it will be unless we begin to get a handle on the economic issues that help fuel the increasing numbers of these low-priced stores.

I raised the issue of prices because the stores I mentioned, Food Lion and Dollar whatever, are already here in Carrboro, and seem to bustling.

Mark, I agree with your analysis: The bigger problem seems to be that Americans have come to consider low prices to be a right somehow accorded us. It is amazing how much we'll spend (in gas and mileage and time, even when we don't consider the bigger issues Dan mentions above) to save a few pennies. I read recently (sorry I don't have the citation--I'll look for it) that real dollars for consumer goods have barely budged in 15-20 years, so we're paying little more for some things than we were two decades ago. Of course, the stagnation of wages doesn't help this.


I resent the implication that I don't understand the long term implications of preditory pricing strategies. Apparently you don't seem to understand that there are many people for whom the extra $15 to $20 a week saved at a big box isn't going toward their "Range Rover fund". They don't make it to the "long term" if you take that money out of their household budget. That $1000 a year is the difference between them affording health insurance or not, of paying the rent, or not. Of fixing the car so they can get to their jobs, or not.

As incredible as it may seem to you, many big box stores sell produce, meat and dairy, not just twinkies. Local retailers, are for the most part, selling the same China made t-shirts, just for 30% more. The big boxes advantage is in the volume, not just the selection of merchandise.

By recruiting responsible large scale retailers to the county, we accomplish three things.
1-Help to keep prices low for the poor, who need it most.
2- Job growth. Many "big box" retailers pay better than small local employers, and are able to offer health benefits at more reasonable rates.
3- Tax revenue. Chapel Hill and Carrboro both need to diversify their tax base to keep from raising the already high property tax rate. How can you call for affordable housing, when you're taxing people out of their homes. BTW, if you don't think that's happening, look how many houses have gone up for sale since Carrboro annexed the Rogers Road neighborhood. Is it pure coincidence that all the homes for sale are on the Carrboro side of the street ?

And, finally, I truly believe that if we are ever to get acceptable wage & benefit packages for the working class, we are going to need to support an organized labor movement in this state. As you know, small companies are exempt from most labor laws, and so will never be required to pay "union" level wages. So by encouraging only small local retailers, you undercut workers ability to effectively organize.

There is an effort in Chicago to develop a cooperative big-box as an alternative to Walmart. Such a cooperative alternative has kept Walmart at bay in Spain. Go to and scroll down to 'Surrendering to Walmart...' and click on the link.

Off-topic, but looking for some help. Word in Southern Village is that the square parking lot will be removed and replaced with condos. No one (businesses or citizens) seems happy with this change. So, I'm hoping someone here can help me out. How do I find out if this is real or fairy tale. If it is real, what steps will the developer have to take where citizen input can make a difference. Lastly, how can I work to stop it?

I know many of you dislike S.V., but I'm hoping you can help me out anyway. Thank you.

Here's what you're referring to:

July 20, 2005 Chapel Hill News
Southern Village to double condos

Jack Hagel Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL -- Continued strong demand from homebuyers has at least two Triangle developers deciding to add more condominiums to their developments. Montgomery Development of Chapel Hill wants to double the number of condominiums at Southern Village. The Chapel Hill mixed-use development already has 47 condominiums. Now the developer wants to build 45 more on a parking lot at the center of the development starting this spring, says John Fugo, a Montgomery vice president.

Katrina, I apologize for offending you but I must say that I don't understand where you find me offering any opinion at all on your understanding of "preditory pricing strategies." I also apologize for not recognizing that you are someone for whom saving $15 at Wal-Mart makes a big difference. In my defense, I can only offer that my post above states at the outset that I am addressing those outside that category.

Thanks go to Steve Sherman for pointing out that there are alternatives being formulated to the kind of Faustian bargain that Katrina seems so hell-bent on justifying.

To George C: I agree with you. However, I believe that those stuck with poor choices can still reflect on and organize to make better choices available. My hunch is that your own work on the Transportation Board might fall into that category.

Robert, for information about the application process for the
proposed Southern Village Condos, and the options for
citizen input, contact the planning
department of the town of Chapel Hill, 968-2728 or

Thanks Dan and Joe,
Does it seem like this is a done deal, or is it something concerned citizens can bring to a halt?

Two takes in the Chapel Hill Herald/Herald-Sun: (perishable link, will disappear when next JP draws). (Executive Editor Bob Ashley's preliminary recon. BTW, it's more obvious to me now that I'm in Durham that Bob gets around to a lot of community events. I had a crushing early-week schedule last week but felt I was getting stalked by the boss because he was showing up for the same things.)

"Against the Wal" informational meeting (40 minutes) audio clip available
RSS podcast feed in MP3 format available at


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