Town Council to decide on Lot 5 and UNC campus growth

A few interesting items are on the Chapel Hill Town Council's agenda tonight:

Three public hearings, the Downtown Development Initiative (aka redevelopment of Lot 5), safety improvements (presumably for pedestrians) on the by-pass, UNC's massive third development plan modification, establishing a small area plan for the neighborhood next to the county landfill, and a few other fun things.

I'm not sure if I can make it there in person, but I'll try to tune in while the meeting is in progress.

By the way has anyone visited TownOfChapelHill-dot-com lately? It appears to be owned by a squatter trying to game search engines with a bunch of commercial links. Didn't the town used to own the dot-com domain? How did this happen?



Did I hear right? Did the president of RAM development say that he wouldn't consider keeping condo fees affordable for the affordable housing unit owners (as requested by Laurin Easthom) and that the energy efficiency goal requested by Jim Ward was also off the table? Please tell me I misunderstood!

I anticipated most of the comments tonight - didn't expect a turnaround - pretty much knew I was on the wrong side of the steamroller.

Then Jim Ward made some on target, passionate critiques. Thanks Jim, it takes some courage to swim against the RAM Development tide.

I'm going to reserve extensive commentary until I have the video up tomorrow (don't worry Ruby, I'll post it elsewhere).

You heard absolutely correctly. Weird that Bill and Mark, both "green" candidates, managed to water down Jim's request.

Jim is right. If we're asking UNC to adhere to better standards (and Leeds is really just a starting point), then we should try to "walk the talk".

Also, Mark's comments about paying affordable condo fees making folks second class citizens...sorry Mark, that's malarkey. These units are going to be pricey enough - I'd think someone that committed to housing their family in 850' would welcome additional financial buffers.

I'll get RAM's Cummings statements up 1st thing Terri...

For those who weren't listening Jim Ward asked for a friendly amendment requesting LEED Silver certification and 20% energy efficiency, consistent with ASHRAE standards. Laurin Easthom made several negotiation requests, including affordable condo fees for affordable unit purchasers. After a brief bit of discussion the Council passed the resolution with the amendments. The RAM prez stood up after the vote and said that he wasn't going to negotiate on the energy or the condo fees. It sounded like a gauntlet was dropped to me.

Is anyone else still awake and watching this slightly heated debate among the Council about UNC's development plan modification? They are mostly focused on pedestrian safety at Manning Drive & the by-pass, and on the environmental impacts. Jim Ward got pretty pissed off as he feels they are holding UNC to a higher standard than their own development on Lot 5.

Cam also raised some interesting questions about allowing the Carolina Inn to compete with local businesses (it is slated for expansion in UNC's newest plan).

When the Planning Board reviewed this, I was amazed to find that this "modification" includes more than a million additional square feet, where previous modifications have been around a quarter of that much. I still feel incredibly frustrated that the process negotiated for UNC's hand-made OI-4 zoning doesn't really include much time or energy for adequate analysis of these changes.

Action: they just approved the development plan modification by a vote of 8-1, but didn't say who the one was and I couldn't see. Maybe Jim? Laurin? They reserved the approval of Carolina Inn to a later meeting.

The no vote was Laurin. She said earlier she would not vote for the approval without carbon reduction standards (to which the planner responded that energy is not a criteria of LUMO or OI-4).

Ruby, I've looked at the modifications and made some comments earlier in this cycle. I was also amazed that most folks haven't responded more strongly. This is a major upgrade to some of UNC's footprint.

Tomorrow you guys are reviewing Greenbridge - have you had a chance to look at the details? I'm going to get the 3DS model of the development and place it on the virtual Chapel Hill in GoogleEarth. Once I tweak downtown's elevations I'm going to check the changes into Google Warehouse so anyone can build on my work. Until then, I'll host virtual Chapel Hill (and contact Jason B. to see if it's alright to make a permanent home for these models on Orangepedia).

Terri, it was kind of strange to see Cumming's comment after he "won". He had a small discussion with Stancil during the Council debate - he didn't look happy. I talked to him afterwards, and not knowing the guy at all, I'd say he seemed unhappy.

Maybe it was Ed's comment that a SUP isn't a given in Chapel Hill.

I wouldn't be happy if I was him either Will. He said they've invested over $1 million so far, opened a new office in RTP (why not CH?), and now he's been given notice that if he doesn't meet council expectations he won't get an SUP.

What surprises me most is that RAM has done some very creative projects else. Why is this one so not creative? Would this one be different if they owned the property and weren't doing it as public-private partnership?

I saw this at home, and I have to say that the words of the RAM developer were pretty shocking to me. It seemed to indicate a strong 'my way or the highway' sort of attitude that I found sort of repugnant in the face of what are reasonable requests (and I think I'm still for the development).

There's no reason, for example, that condo fees can't be made a la carte if it comes down to health club membership dues and so forth, and condo fees at developments like this can be really excessive.

I appreciated Will's presentation and markups at the meeting. Thank you will for those.

Although I am myself in favor of greater hight and density across town in general, I thought it was a necessary corrective to what seems to be a pretty obnoxious RAM end push.


One more question before I sign off for the night.

The council talked about the need for more environmental oversight of new plans, and I believe they referred that issue back to staff. Was the expectation that energy standards would be added to the OI-4 ordinance or to LUMO in general? In other words, were they discussing imposing energy standards on ALL developments (which I would support) or just on UNC?

Tol, part of the problem is we still don't know the give and take that went on in the negotiations. Cumming's public reaction and Cam's comments (about not having Stockholm Syndrome but feeling captive at times) makes me wonder about RAM's tenor throughout...

I've requested all the documentation that was previously sealed and will be both reviewing it to understand Sally/Biil/Cam's enthusiasm and publishing it for further comment....

Did you notice the "plaza" graphic they decorated their presentation with? The smiling couple pushing a stroller (I think) leisurely across Franklin St. at Church? I work on that corner and even with the light folks still don't meander across....

I appreciated RAM's disclosure, FINALLY, that 10K sq./ft. of the public space they were claiming was extent infrastructure - sidewalks, devil strip, etc. but I wonder when they'll start showing the mockups using real topology and buildings.

Finally, I don't know if you could tell from my or RAM's presentation of the layout but closing Church between Rosemary and Franklin, at least with the projects current footprint, is really necessary to restore some balance.

Will, et al.,

No reason to give up on the condo fee issue yet. It would certainly be great if RAM was able to assure it through their financing plan, but ultimately the solution, if there is one, will have to come through deed restrictions or some other agreement involving how the HOA is set up. We've been talking about this issue on the Inclusionary Zoning Task Force for some time. Hopefully we'll soon have options we can apply to these circumstances. Solutions to complicated issues like this one are going to have to come through many sources.

Mark, I haven't found any estimates on the revised condo fees - are those discussions public yet?

No, Will, they are not public. They haven't even happened yet. But Mark is right. There are a number of potential solutions.

Thank you Sally, Mark and whomever else is lurking that's part of the deal. A free flow of information, as it becomes available, should ease the concerns of even the most critical among us...

Getting what details you can out there ASAP should help you move this deal along...

Sally, a double thanks for your gracious response on the property assessment this evening. Putting specific numbers to elements of the deal helps size the risk-reward. Nice to know some of the numbers you're working with...

Not a single citizen speaking at last night's hearing or at the first public hearing on Lot 5 challenged the Council to ensure energy efficiency. There seemed to be an assumption that "LEED certified" means the development will be energy efficient. However, LEED certified is the lowest level of LEED and even at Platinum status there is no assurance that a LEED building will be energy efficient. To get around that problem, the state of North Carolina has adopted ASHRAE 90.1 for all state constructed buildings.

However, if I understood Casey Cummin's post-vote comment correctly last night, the negotiating team knew in advance of last night that LEED Silver and ASHRAE 90.1 were off the table (along with the condo fees).

Can someone please confirm or deny my understanding of the SUP process. Since energy standards are not part of LUMO, when RAM comes back for the SUP, can they be held to a 20% energy efficiency or can it only be requested but not used as a basis to deny the SUP?


Many SUP applications request variances of one sort or another from the LUMO standards (parking, height, recreation space, affordable housing, etc). These requests are usually the basis for "negotiating" with the applicant to get agreement on stipulations that might not otherwise make it into the SUP approval.

Thanks George. RAM doesn't need a variance on energy efficiency though since it's not part of LUMO or any other aspect of town code. If I understand what you are saying, the only way the 20% energy efficiency standard is going to get added to the development is if RAM wants a variance on something else (sidewalks, open space, affordable housing) and then energy efficiency will become a trading point for the council. Is that an accurate statement?

terri, 3 minutes is a short, short time... i've said Leeds Silver is a starting point - not an end... jim was dead right, what's good for the goose... if the town doesn't at least meet the same req. as UNC, w.t.h. - and talking precedent, we have an opp. to either set the best of or to set a mediocre - we're on the way to mediocre... greenbridge is presenting this evening to planning board... wonder what the environmental delta between lot5 and it will be?

georgec, lot5 is a juggernaut...if the council could swallow lastnights deal and take it on the chin as far as reasonable modifications, then the sup is hardly leverage...and remember, this time we're the developers...council might not have the stockholm syndrome but they are captive of conflicting interest...don't count on the sup to get what you want...

One of the things that came out our meeting last night was that a meeting of the Council SEE committee (sustainability, energy, efficiency) will be occurring soon to address changes or additions to LUMO regarding energy/efficiency (amongst other things). I am on that committee, and I am generally surprised that we don't have energy stipulations as part of resolutions before us, like the one last night. I want to include provisions in LUMO to address energy efficiency, and the sooner the better!


I wouldn't count out the leverage power of a SUP approval. Last night RAM made it sound like all the negotiations were over as far as they are concerned but the cost of construction isn't the only thing that goes up over time in Chapel Hill - so does the value of undeveloped or underdeveloped property. Developers always moan & groan when asked for concessions and they complain constantly about how hard it is to do business in CH but do you see a shortage of developers wanting to come into town and start new projects? I certainly don't.

Agree that we have no shortage of interested parties, that is why we can be prudent in our choices....

Cam says he'll have deal with the consequences of a poor choice daily - every time he walks by the Lot 5 dev. Wonder how many folks who were involved in NCNB Plaza get a twinge when they walk by OR are they part of the great mass of citizens that supposedly never come by....

BTW, maybe the behometh I showed last night looked like a large red pustule on Chapel Hill's downtown (and maybe it will become one) but if you look at my presentation [PPT] you'll see I used various shades of orange.

When I get some time I'm going to do a translucent overlay of Lot5 on top of Granville Towers, University Square, Top-o-Hill, my building, NCNB Plaza, Town Library and few other places to give folks a comparison point....

My question is how do we preserve the unique identity of Chapel Hill as we redevelop town properties?

I have created a photo gallery, "A Sense of Place," which illustrates distinctive features of the West End and 100 Block of East Franklin. I invite folks to take a pictorial stroll through town.

On a parallel path with new development, I recommend setting aside these specific corridors of Franklin Street for preservation. The accomplishments of the CH Preservation Society serve as a model for maintaining the qualities that create our town's unique identity. It is these cherished aspects of our "village" that are at the heart and soul of our community.

Laura Shmania

Laura, those are absolutely amazing photographs. Chapel Hill is full of character, but the way you capture it is quite something. Related: Ruth Little's book The Town and Gown Architecture of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1796-1976, published by UNC Press for the Preservation Society, published just in time for holiday gift season, does a great job of describing and preserving our architectural heritage too.


I appreciate all your effort to develop the overlays, etc. but they present the proposed building(s)as big, blank box(es). In reality, good (hopefully great) architecture can soften those lines considerably and are likely to create an entirely different feel. That is why I think the true test will come when we get to see the applicant's proposed building elevations in the context of the existing structures.

Thanks GeorgeC. I'm going to get the Mar. 20th models from the Planning dept. RAM's Cummings, out in the hallway, asked me to call his folks to get the latest and greatest. I appreciate his offer but am not sure if I'll take him up on it...

Laura, quite nice and underlines what our "human scale" assets are...

Can anyone explain what role the BAFO plays in these next steps?


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