Chapel Hill speaks out on the Downtown Development Initiative.

The Chapel Town Council has a big meeting tonight. I meant to blog about it in advance, but since I didn't I will start this thread and hope to post live comments as it goes along.

Here's the agenda. I'll stick with this at least through the Public Forum on the Downtown Development Initiative.

  1. Ceremonies:
    1. None.
  2. Public Forums and Hearings:
    1. Public Forum: Draft Chapel Hill 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan Socio-Economic Projections. (Staff Presenter: David Bonk, Long Range and Transportation Coordinator) [Estimated Time: 15 minutes]
    2. Public Forum: To Consider a Potential Change in Cablevision Public Access Fees Paid by Cable Television Customers. (Staff Presenter: Catherine Lazorko, Town Information Officer) [Estimated Time: 10 minutes]
    3. Public Forum: Downtown Development Initiative.(Presenter: Mayor pro tem Bill Strom, Negotiating Team Chair) [Estimated Time: 30 minutes]
  3. Petitions by citizens and announcements by Council members. [Estimated Time: 10 Minutes]
    1. Petitions by citizens on items not on the agenda.
      1. Inclusionary Zoning Task Force regarding the Task Force Report.
      2. Petition from Citizens for the Preservation of Lincoln Arts Center.
      3. Petition regarding the Completion and Priority of Widening Shoulders on Particular Roads.
    2. Petitions by citizens on items on the agenda.
    3. Announcements by Council members.
  4. Consent agenda: action items (R-1). (Any item may be removed for separate discussion at the end of the Council meeting.) [Estimated Time: 5 minutes]
    1. Nominations to various boards and committees (R-2).
    2. Resolution Amending Council Calendar (R-3).
    3. Telephone Franchise for BellSouth – First Reading (O-1).
    4. Resolution to Accept SAFER Grant Award and Amendment to 2006-2007 Budget (R-4) (O-2).
    5. Adoption of Composite Countywide Plan for Parks and Trails (R-5).
    6. Report on Developing Public Information Sign Program and Improving Street Name and Directional/Information Signs (R-6) (O-3).
    7. Clarification to the 2006-2007 Community Development Program (R-7).
    8. Request for Expedited Processing of a Concept Plan Proposal and a Special Use Permit Application for the Bradley Ridge Development (R-8).
    9. *Process to Appoint Members to the Hollow Rock/Erwin Road Property Park Planning Advisory Committee (R-8.1).
  5. Information items. (Any item may be removed for separate discussion at the end of the Council meeting.) [Estimated Time: 5 minutes]
    1. Quarterly Report.
    2. Report on Budget Process.
    3. The Peoples Channel 2006-06 Annual Report.
    4. Response to Petition requesting Bicycle and Parking Overlay Zones on Several Streets in Meadowmont Area.
    5. Report on the Operations of the Street Scene Teen Center.
    6. Orange Water and Sewer Authority Quarterly Report. (Continued from November 6, 2006 Meeting)
    7. Follow-up Report on Merritt’s Pasture Maintenance. (Continued from November 6, 2006 Meeting).
    8. *Update on Wireless Initiative.

Main Discussion

  1. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. (Staff Presenter: Kay Johnson, Finance Department Director) [Estimated Time: 20 minutes]
  2. Fairway Hill Subdivision: Application for Preliminary Plat Approval (Staff Presenter: Gene Poveromo, Development Coordinator) [Estimated Time: 30 minutes]
    1. Continuation of a Public Hearing for a Preliminary Plat Approval at Fairway Hill Subdivision
      1. Swearing of persons wishing to present evidence
      2. Introduction of recommendation by the Manager
      3. Presentation of evidence by the applicant
      4. Presentation of evidence by citizens
      5. Comments and questions from the Mayor and Town Council
      6. Applicant statement regarding proposed conditions
      7. Motion to adjourn hearing.
    2. Consideration of resolution to approve a Preliminary Plat Application for Fairway Hill Subdivision (R-9a, b, c; d, e, R-9f would deny).
  3. Acceptance of Bid for Homestead Park Aquatics
    (R-10). (Staff Presenter: Bruce Heflin, Assistant Town Manager) [Estimated Time: 15 minutes]
  4. Southeast Chapel Hill/Southwest Durham Collector Plan (R-11). (Staff Presenter: David Bonk, Long Range and Transportation Coordinator) [Estimated Time: 20 minutes]
  5. Process for Revision of the Comprehensive Plan
    (R-12). (Staff Presenter: Gordon Sutherland, Principal Long Range Planner) [Estimated Time: 20 minutes]
  6. Appointments: [Estimated Time: 5 minutes]
    1. Orange Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors.
  7. Petitions:
    1. By the Mayor and Council Members.
    2. By the Manager and Attorney.
  8. Reserved for discussion of consent agenda items if necessary.
  9. Request for closed session to discuss property acquisition, personnel, and litigation



That's fine Will. I live by myself and make no noise.

Janet - keep lot #2/Wallace deck development alive...

Former Council Member Al Rimer: for.
Former Council Member Joyce Brown: against.

Folks, I am making dinner so please keep the reports coming.

Counting Joyce Brown, who's currently up and opposed, I would say it's 9-4-1 favored-opposed-talked both positive and negative

My battery's about to die.

Joyce Brown - "it's much to tall, it's the wrong orientation" (paraphrase) we don't want to make the same big building mistakes we made in the past....

Look at the mistakes of the Wallace deck, luckily we could fix that...

Folks are confused about the lease agreement. I believe the proposal says after 50 years the corporation gets to convert the property to private use for $2 million. What an incredible deal.

The current speaker is opposed (worried about costs) and I know the next one, David Gottschalk, will be too. That will make it 9-6-1


RAM over-promised and under-performed... They said they were happy with $26M equity, %2.98 return, a PROMISE to eat construction cost increases, $500K - now $7.3M, Wallace deck infeasible, $12.5M, etc.

Glad this speaker punched the conversion costs...

Every development project starts out with rosy projections.... no market conditions control public-private development... egos... lifesupport... a typical pattern.... great quotes..."design by deception", etc. Hope Tom captured them...

Godschalk - "isn't it time for a review"

Lex Alexander's up now and next is Roger Perry. Pretty sure they're both in favor. That would be 11-6-1. This is very impressive turnout.

Lex: "Retail works on density" Chapel Hill "it's just not big enough".. (Wonder if he's factored in the new green development over in his neck of his woods).

Hey, I'd head over to 3-Cups more if they had Wifi (I understand they have part-time now).

Look, I'd rather distribute the $7.3M in smaller chunks to build up business and JOBS downtown.

Perry thinks it's a great deal (but then he thinks Carolina North's financial ROI is not "pie-in-the-sky").

Roger lost in the original rounds and criticized the then financing... now that the financing is totally out of whack he finds it great...

Gene Pease is up now and he is in support. 12-6-1.

Gene has been a bulldog on the budget so his words should have some strong credibility.

Robert Dowling now and Scott Kovens next. I know they're both in support. 14-6-1.

The question isn't whether we want a vital downtown, we all do, it's whether this new plan is the best path to building vibrancy...

Pease "it will increase the tax base"... but the taxes are redirected to pay off what's essentially a private investment. Projections will hold if economy remains strong.... but will it stay strong with the weakness the Bush madministration has injected in our national underpinnings.

Robert is reiterating the point I made about the rural buffer- if we want to keep it, and I think most of us do- we're going to have to build up somewhere.

Tom, why don't you break out the numbers by those with a vested interest, etc.


I don't know who would be considered to have a vested interest. You're certainly welcome to do that yourself.

Tom, why not build a shorter structure more in keeping with the character of our downtown.

Don Stanford up now. He seems to be opposed- says he's a life long resident. That would be 14-7-1.

Heavy duty artillery - the domino theory of high-rises...first the NCNB building which led to the "towers in a sea of asphalt"...
"I defy you to find anything in the [character] of this building that says Chapel Hill, says college town..."

He's one of thousands that live downtown that's contributed to the "renaissance of West Franklin St."...

Bill Thorpe and the Dean Dome story....

It appears Bill Thorpe is armed when he walks down Franklin St. - some interesting shocked expressions on that....

Don Stanford is a professor of business law at Kenan-Flagler School of Business. His brother is the clerk of court. long time CH family.

Now we're hearing from members of the Inclusionary Zoning committee. This idea is long overdue. Folks have been talking about doing it for at least 8 years.

Some good research and thought on the inclusionary ordinance...

"Surprised that there are so few options..." I believe their research wrapped before RAM proposed to take the affordable 100+ units of Townhouse Apts. off the market and replace them with 335 high-priced units.

The Mayor is proposing moving up the Collector Streets and Fairway Hill items because there are people waiting to speak on them. They are still on petitions from citizens.

Now Blair Pollock is asking the Council to work with Carrboro to widen the shoulder and/or bike lanes on the rest of Estes Drive. I support!

Now Mayor Chilton is talking about Estes. I'd like to see the map, they are talking about connecting Wilson Park, the Adams tract, Greensboro Street, Umstead Drive, MLK Blvd.

He says DOT will let this be funded easily if both towns agree.

Council refers to transportation staff. Bill Thorpe has something more to say.

I don't understand. In Carrboro the talk is about how to get away from a residential tax base. But Chapel Hill thinks that the downtown economy is dependent on residential?

I did live downtown back in the 1970s when the downtown was vital. Fewer people living there but basic services were available along with cool, funky locally owned businesses.

The least the town could do with this development if it must go forward is to put a couple of floors into office space.

They've postponed their financial report for another meeting, but the Council meeting is still going. They're discussing the Homestead Aquatics Center now...

We're buying a bunch of $45,000 parking spaces. For that money we could build 30 or more standalone homes. Weird twist on progressive values...

The Council is now discussing the process for updating the Comprehensive Plan. The staff proposed a process for revising one chapter at a time with feedback from the Planning Board. They didn't mention ANY public input which the Planning Board has repeatedly emphasized as a necessary part of this process every single time we talk about the CP. Grrr.

There are a couple of speakers:

Amy Ryan of the Community Design Commission, talking about how to evaluate infill development adequately. We are lacking standards. She proposes a visioning process to establish the character that we want to preserve.

Thatcher Freund and Alan Rimer were appointed to the OWASA Board... and this meeting is OVER!

Hi, I'm new to town and the community, and live on the CH side a few blocks from Carrboro.

I went to this meeting, and it was pretty crammed, but I have to say that I found a lot of 'progressive' viewpoints expressed which seem to me to be exactly counter to reality.

The dominant one was the idea that a 5 story building was too dense, was not envirnmental enough (one citizen noted that it wouldn't allow for optimal future solar power (???)). Another idea was the rupture of ''spirit'' or a unique architecture of ''the South" in such a project.

I have to say, high-density and environmental design (which this one is) are here on the table. And high density is itself a tremendously weighty environmental plus. Additionally there is the issue of social justice, vis affordable housing.

I guess I'm pretty perplexed about this because I've been living in Madison, Wisconsin for 7 years and we have much much larger condo developments all over our downtown, and though they have been a mixed blessing, no thinking progressive opposed them on those grounds- what we fought for was the affordable housing component. Otherwise we largely ROOTED for them, on density grounds alone! And these were at times very egregious developments in some ways - much of the capacity I suspect is owned by Chicago speculators and the moneyed elite, and they often have security foyers and such which seem to smack of a distate of us madison hoi poi. But overall there is much greater capacity now downtown, in a place where there is a roaring demand for it. And all the side effects brought up in the proposal (Iread the entire thing at the meeting) are real effects in Madison. Greater business sustainability, greater rents to commercial landlords (a possible downside, btw), a more vibrant 24 hour downtown less driven by the student consumers, and perhaps most important in a way - dramatically better property tax revenues, which means progressive government with muscle, as well as (theoretically) property tax relief for other taxpayers (not in Madison, we spent that money baby!). So even if progressives don't get the perfect, they get the good, and we all understood this.

But here at this meeting - I have to be frank - it sounded like a lot of Nimbyism dressed up in moonbeam environmentalism. It may sound good to be against a big development, but think of how selfish it is that you can't buy housing here in the city for under 1/4 a million dollars that's convenient by walking or biking to downtown. That's a tremendous cost premium to Durham in other areas, which is stunning. (I met someone in Durham who bought what must have been a 1.5 acre space in the city with a 2 bedroom for 90k about 2 years ago - she could build an apartment complex on her lot!).

Now, here's where I come in. I'm seeking housing near downtown, so I can bike like I did in Madison, but I understand why it is so unaffordable - because the housing and layout of CH is some of the most inefficient and wasteful I have ever seen. Small houses on huge lots. Low level density on major thoroughfares despite an absence of an aestetic view or landmark to protect (as with the Wisconsin Capitol, which could be seen despite the condo developments downtown through careful siting and tailoring). Large lots of single level asphalt parking by the UNC and the city. Many single family unattached houses, and small ones, on large lots, rather than rowhouses or semi-attached houses, or at least larger houses more proportional to their lots (and no, I don't mean McMansions).

It's really quite surreal if you've lived in another ''bright blue'' progressive area, where we assume density is a social and environmental good, and where that density creates a tremendous number of forces to eliminate sprawl (the greater the density, the fewer cars both in the community and among outsiders, and the greater demand for bike paths, etc.) It's a funny consequence of a dense downtown, by the way, that carlovers find themselves preferring masstran downtown than taking their cars, because it becomes a major hastle to park, and the downtowns don't need their business to sustain themselves, so don't have to pander to them with single level parking lots (!!!).

This all seems to confirm CH as a place where if you got here 10 years ago, you can afford your house, but you're effectively locking out new citizens from doing the same. But such a model isn't realistic, largely because UNC is growing. It is hiring new staff, such as myself, who are progressive and want to participate in a more just and sustainable place, who want to live close to work and yet not pay - as the greenbridge development charges - 280000 for a 1 bedroom (700 sq ft) condo (before fees, parking, utes, etc). That's not realistic on a middleclass salary.

So, the solution is what Madison has done - offer smaller but more centralized housing through big, high density developments downtown - with rigorous civic oversight - but with an eye towards increasing capacity dramatically. The developers in Madison may have thought they would be able to sell all that stuff for 300k a condo, but the actual price becomes through competition more like 160k, which is reasonable. Indeed, if we can get 12-14 of these sorts of projects up and down the downtown area, we create through the market a whole dynamic glut of housing that lowers purchasing price through supply demand forces, and long term we stop the sprawl for which the current (I would say criminally) misallocated spaces in downtown are partially responsible. I'm seeing already a ton of young middle class singles and couples who are - all - it seems, living on the far outskirts of carrboro (which is a great place!) or on the southern edges of Durham, then commuting themselves back to the UNC area to work, often by car.

Now, is this worth 7.5 million that will be paid back in a few years? I think so. I think the increased vibrancy and the long term savings from decreased car accomodation etc., as well as the increased commercial district health and property tax revenues more than make up for it, not to mention the social justice, livibility, sustainability, and environmental rewards.

Well, thanks for this forum. I'm brand new to the area, but I care a lot about these issues, and I love the voices I read here.

Given the vastly different evaluations of the project, the financial model, who's for it and who's opposed, and the "goodness of fit" arguments for downtown Chapel Hill, which way will the December 4th vote go?

Doubt there's much chance of its not passing, just interesting to see whether it's unanimous or not.

Hopefully it will be.

I agree Tom. Guess it's also OK (since we haven't heard a lot of criticism this time) for council members to work long, hard, and closely with a contractor to hammer out deals behind closed doors.

Tol (and welcome to CH!) is right, we are plagued around here with mixed perspectives dressed up to disguise what they really are.

What's your opinion on the project Fred?

I like the project and think it will imporve our community. Like we saw on the Madison trip when we weren't "smoozing," taller and more dense can work if we do it right. I have concerns about the financial model, however, so I guess I know in the end it will cost us more than what we are saying today.

Yeah, this has juggernaut written all over it.

The documents outlining the "new deal" were not published online until after close of work on Friday. When I got a copy of the agenda item I expected a few things:

1) Minor tweaks on the design
2) Some incremental movement on financing
3) Specifics on public access, accommodations, etc. (the "rules of engagement" for the plaza)
4) A detailed site layout, drawings, etc.

I was astonished to find that the whole financial underpinnings of the project had been completely trashed, the Wallace Deck component was "off the table", that we were ceding this public property (even if 50 years out) to the developer (for $2M - why not for the %80 of the then value?), that detailed specs. were missing, the public policy component was missing, RAM reneging on their PROMISE to eat construction costs, etc.

The hoohah about the steady deliberative process, the slow evolution of this proposal is bunk.

This proposal is a completely new ballgame. And we, the citizenry, are being given extremely little time to digest the consequences of this rework.

It's not nimbyism to challenge this project on those grounds alone.

With a leap from $500K to $7.5 million how can you be confident that this is the end sum? The tax revenues generated by this project will be redirected to paying off a private debt - just like TIFs (a type of financing supposedly "off the table") - yet the same folks that howled about Amendment One seem to be just fine with this new arrangement.

How progressive is spending $7,8,10 million on parking spaces wedged under this building? Not very. How progressive will you feel, Tom, when the Town's debt ratio precludes our borrowing for other, maybe more worthy, projects than your new digs downtown?

If this isn't such a ridiculously bad deal, why rush it out over the Thanksgiving holidays?

Why not let the private sector increase downtown density? We can see the consequences, learn and move forward from there...

How many former Council members trumpet their approvals of NCNB Plaza? University Towers? The Wallace Deck?

5-10 years from now, if we go forward with the deal as currently configured, I expect the same...

I want to credit this thread as an example OP at its best: live blogging plus lots of informed perspectives, pretty much all constructive in tone. 100 comments in around 18 hours.

It also seems worth recalling the Sierra Club's historic involvement in this discussion. I dug up this chestnut from the Council's 1/29/1997 minutes:

Kevin Foy, representing the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club, encouraged the Council to consider retaining ownership of the underlying land for parking lot number five. Mr. Foy said that this property was a critical piece of land which knitted together East and West Franklin Streets, especially in light of the Council's recent decision to relocate the Hudson-McDade house to this location.

[Note: that's 10 months prior to Foy joining the Town Council.]

I'm not aware of the club taking a position on the current iteration of the project but I imagine Foy at least considers what's on the table today to be consistent with what he was advocating a decade ago.



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