Open thread for Lot 5

Tonight the Chapel Hill Town Council approved General Development Agreement between the Town of Chapel Hill and the Ram Development Company to build some tall buildings on the town-owned Parking lot 5 as well as a request for expedited review of the development.

Here's an open thread to share our opinions about it so we don't have to take over other topics. Have at it!


Laura, funny how Sally and Mark have referenced your wonderful photos of of the human-scale aspect of our Downtown yet still cling to this project.

My wife and I were struck once again at yesterday's Carrboro Day, as we sat under the magnificent spreading limbs of that grand old tree gracing Carrboro's Townhall's front lawn, by Chapel Hill's lack of a community commons. Sure, folks can and do gather on UNC's McCorkle place but it doesn't really have the same vibe.

Based on this year's Chapel Hill property valuation of $4,720,000,000, the Town is projected to reap $26,054,400 (or roughly $354K above last year's projected $25,713,000) at $0.522 per $100.

Considering this new request for $460K (which Council HAS TO KNOW is a low ball figure), we're talking a tax bite just shy of $0.01 per $100 valuation.

How do you think folks, who were told about a year ago the total cost of this boondoggle was going to be $500K (for both Wallace Deck and Lot $5), who were told just a few months ago that $7.45M was the total outlay and were led to believe minimal expenditures would be made prior to completion, will react when they find out that this new "unexpected" expense accounts for about $0.01 of their property tax bill?

The backroom maneuvering on this project is incredible.

Do you remember how Bill Strom said TC-3, the new 120'/double density Downtown development zone wasn't going to used expect for exceptional projects like Greenbridge? (You don't? Don't worry, the video is on the way). Well, I expect that the Planning Board will be asked to approve TC-3 for Lot $5 this Wednesday.

We're supposed to buy that Lot $5 is equivalent to Greenbridge? Come on, be honest folks!

Going to TC-3 lowers the bar (while rising the height without reapproval limit to 120' [for a supposedly 104' building]) while weakening the Town's leverage with RAM significantly. Just the kind of sly trick for easing this project forward we've seen several times.

Of course, with the Planning Board's current constituency, TC-3 over a SUP only approach will probably be the outcome.

I'll be attending Weds. meeting to see what level of debate the Planning Board invests in this particular issue.

That's Tuesday the 15th for the Planning Board (agenda hasn't been posted yet).

Maybe Tom and Ruby can weigh in on the TC-3 issue, in general, beforehand. Say, what's their thoughts on general applicability of that particular zone? How "special" (to paraphrase Bill S.) does a project need to be to merit TC-3?

From this weekend's Chapel Hill News article:

This month, the Lot 5 project will also take another step in the development review process. Ram Development Co. will appear before the Planning Board on May 15 at 7 p.m. to present plans for rezoning the property to allow a height of up to 120 feet.

The Planning Board will also review Ram's development permit application for the condo complex, projected at 104 feet and nine stories tall, including a top level for mechanical equipment. The project would tally 273,482 square feet with 138 condos and 26,687 square feet of retail space.

The Planning Board will advise the Town Council in advance of the council's public hearing on the application, scheduled for June 18 at 7 p.m.

just in case you missed it--
sunday's editorial on parking lot #5

"Cost of Lot 5 is a moving target"

The public hearing on Lot 5 is Monday night- interesting to note that all 27 members of the 4 boards that have reviewed the project (Planning, Transportation, Community Design, Parks&Rec) have recommended passage. A pretty impressive level of unanimity from those folks.

"interesting to note that all 27 members of the 4 boards that have reviewed the project have recommended passage"

Yes, it appears that the groupthink phenomenon is firmly in place in this case.

Tom, where's the metrics for Lot #5?

I asked Council to include a set of measurable benchmarks in the plan to see if the Town is getting more of a return on the $20+ million (or more) the citizens are investing than a bunch of million dollar condos (benefiting RAMs bottomline) and the mythical "eyes on the street"?

We've asked UNC to quantify the benefits of CN but in another show of "do what we say, not do what we do", the majority of Council continues to farcically (and vaguely) assert that the public good is served by this boondoggle. If Council is that confident, then why, 2 years into this process, don't we have quantifiable benchmarks?

Oh, and we know what happens to boards that don't draw within the Council's lines, don't we?

Tom, here's a little homework for you...

Look at what you call approvals. When did they happen and for what? Be specific.

Please note that the final agreement, including the revised fiscal, traffic, public space and even design impact, wasn't available for review or finalized when these folks were processing the then plan.

Since you're on the Planning Board, maybe you'd care to comment on your specific deliberations - the timing and the content. Oh, and you might want to cover how TC-3's approval was positioned to be used for Lot #5 but tagged to the more "popular" Greenbridge. Who engineered that clever bit of political gamesmanship?

Each board evaluated their piece within the context of a majority of a Council that wanted to approve the "rah rah" plan. The pieces were approved sans a final agreement. The pieces don't overlap and are far from comprehensive (for instance, review what notes are available - do you see a conscientious and deliberative evaluation of increasing the density/height at Lot #5 and the subsequent impact of that decision on nearby lots - like McFarlings, etc.?)

BTW, when I asked the DPC's Tucker, after he glowingly endorsed the project, how he could be so positive given the changing fiscal requirements, he told me he hadn't even read the new agreement.

If we polled the members of the boards you cite, how many do you think would say they have read the full agreement, reviewed the current specifications, evaluated the complete (at least as currently reported) environmental consequences?

Your inference that these boards would endorse today's deal is more than flawed, but I expect you know that.

Again, if Council doesn't have the courage to measure the results of their decision, they shouldn't approved this mess in the first place. Until those metrics, independently verified, are in-place, their and their defenders credibility on Lot #5 is not very good.

...interesting to note that all 27 members of the 4 boards that have reviewed the project (Planning, Transportation, Community Design, Parks&Rec) have recommended passage. A pretty impressive level of unanimity from those folks.

Something about the statement above just strikes me as too 'rah rah'.

I have the same questions as Will.

Were these 27 members saying 'yes, this is a fantastic project that will earn back our investment and more than make up for our loss of valuable land' or were they saying 'based on the rules that we are supposed to apply for the project, this project does not appear to violate them' ? Tom's statement makes it appear as the former, when I think that it is likely the latter. What percentage of the 27 were voting on the 'business case' of the project?

Mark et al, I just reviewed all the recommendations (so I could present ours) and each board was unanimous in their vote to recommend.

As the chair of the Planning Board, I can tell you that we often have frustrations with the Council and have not been shy about saying so. We feel much more like the peanut gallery than victims of "groupthink."


Thanks for the response. I didn't doubt Tom's tally, but I still am not clear on my main question.

I am still curious about the process side of things. Please help me understand the latitude given to the 27 who voted. It is my understanding that some boards cannot vote against a project unless the plan violates some ordinance or rule. How many of the boards fall into that category?

And how many of the 27 are free to cast a vote on their opinion on the project as a whole? That is, how many are not limited in what aspects they are to consider and are free to consider the project as a whole?

I think the finances and loss of publicly owned land are sufficiently poor that I would probably vote against the project. But commenting against it at tonight's meeting would be a waste of time given the perceived political investment that the town council has made to date.


Mark, it's not the boards but certain development applications where we can only consider the technical qualities - for example when the Planning Board approves "minor subdivisions" which must not have more than 4 lots. (And even then, we have sometimes voted NO, as I did on Brookside condos recently.)

This is not one of those projects. On an item like this, boards are being asked their informed opinions on whether they recommend the project to the Council.

I think you know I am not afraid to call BS when I see it. In my 15 years of service on Chapel Hill advisory boards, I have never witnessed or even heard of pressure from the Council on an advisory vote. It would certainly be waste of any elected official's time.

Ruby, you, Tom, George were pretty vocal in your support of this project. Was there a constituency on the Planning Board (the majority, I believe, appointed by the current Council [you and Nancy being exceptions]) that disagreed on the process used or any particulars? Looking back at what few notes I can find, there doesn't seem to be much discussion on TC-3's introduction to the public. Again, was everyone like minded on the process used to slide that zoning change through?

You can ask any Planning Board member, there was very little discussion because we generally thought the plans were OK. Interestingly, there was a lot more back-and-forth over Greenbridge. I don't believe I have been "vocal" in any support of this project as I haven't even been very engaged with it since the original downtown charettes about 5 years ago.

This non-issue of Advisory Boards is a little white rabbit that I don't care to continue chasing. It's an open thread, so do whatcha like (but please be nice to each other).

Whoops, I forgot to mention Gene as a supporter. I'm interested to see what Council said to TC-3. If I get a chance I'll have to do a comparison/contrast on what Bill Strom said about TC-3's usage during Greenbridge and whatever happens tonight.

Oh, and Gene I know you think its whining but I'll be continuing to air the weasely way TC-3 was tagged to Greenbridge when it was targeted to Lot #5. We know that Lot #5's increased size and density needed TC-3 as a crutch - that the supposed returns, unlike the advertised Greenbridge, didn't justify a SUP.

Now, will the supporters of this boondoggle have the courage to count the train cars as they fall off the Lot #5 train track or will this train wreck be buried in time?

For me, if I'm wrong about Lot #5, I'll be more than happy to admit it. I hope I'm terribly wrong because the way this publicly underwritten, private profit center is already headed, to be right means tough days ahead.

I also hope I'm wrong that this, Greenbridge, Hillsborough 425 are not accelerants in the rush to a gold-plated Chapel Hill.

From the HS

The critics apparently stayed home, while four supporters spoke, including downtown resident Bernadette Keefe, regular council-meeting speaker Lynn Kane, Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership Director Liz Parham and Aaron Nelson, head of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce

Not quite sure what I could've said tonight to sway Council but Rob shouldn't of read anything into my absence (had other issues to attend to). Wonder if Liz and Aaron have read the latest agreement?

Also, in the manufactured consent realm, and no matter how much I personally respect Liz, but how much weight should the DPC's opinion carry considering its a Town organ?

Liz argued "To create a downtown that's active "24/7," it has to have more people living there" but I'm a bit at a loss identifying any Triangle area that's a 24/7 concern.

At least Cam is responding to some of my criticism

Councilman Cam Hill, a proponent of the project, pushed Ram to do something different than 21 one-bedroom units for the affordable component, to include multiple bedrooms in some of those units and end up with a total number of bedrooms in the affordable units between 21 and 41. Several council members backed that request.

Cam, nice to see a floor plan that's more family friendly (almost convinces one that the teeny affordables won't be a highly transient like Dowling thinks 54East will be). No matter, you still can't ignore that at the end of the day the Lot #5 cake is topped off with publicly underwritten million dollar condos.

And Liz, I have a feeling the millionaire owners won't be keeping their eyes on the street 24 by 7 ;-)

Thanks Ruby. Scary thought that "there was a lot more back-and-forth over Greenbridge". Seems like more oversight and discussion is called for when the Town is the partner in a development.



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