Pro-environment and Pro-business are not mutually exclusive

I am a graduate student in the UNC Planning Department (and the School of Law).  My Site Planning class tonight had guest lecturer Bruce Ballentine to talk about Glen Lennox.  About an hour into the lecture, a classmate of mine asked if Glen Lennox is an issue in the current municipal election.  In the discourse about his take on the municipal election that followed, Mr. Ballentine called several of the candidates "anti-growth, anti-business, anti-University, and anti-downtown."  He spared "three of the mayoral candidates" and DeHart, Pease, and Pohlman by name.  He portrayed the muncipal elections in a biased manner, one that I felt was purposefully misleading.  Regardless, it was an inapprorpriate forum for his stump speech. 

I raised my hand and identified myself as Penny Rich's campaign manager, and made the point that none of the candidates are anti-growth, anti-business, anti-University or anti-downtown.  I said that the media has portrayed candidates as either pro-business or pro-environment, but that the two are not mutually exclusive. I left as he mumbled about Penny being a very nice lady.  I didn't trust myself to sit quietly through the rest of the lecture.

Professors Godschalk and Gaddis probably wanted to crawl under the table and disappear, but I am fed up with this lumping of candidates into vague categories.  Anti-University?  Anti-downtown?  Come on. 


We've been hearing the vague charges of Chapel Hill (and Orange County) being "anti-business" and over-burdened with ridiculous hurdles for potential businesses for decades. As a builder who deals with the building code on a regular basis, I've got to tell you that I know what it feels like to waste time and money complying with some aspects of the inspection process that I consider unnecessary and onerous.However, it amazes me that so much energy has been expended by critics tossing around the "anti-business" label and grousing in general without anyone of them ever doing the one thing that could specifically advance the issue. What we need is a case study of a business proposal (or 2 or 3)that got ensnared in the perceived "anti-business" process. This case study should comprehensively and specifically address the various stages of the process that caused difficulty and the corresponding reasons why. Then we could understand the specific parts of the process, learn why some of the regulations are helpful in protecting the community, and identify parts of the process that we could do without.  Without such a study, it's just a political football. And without such a study, one is left to believe that the political football may have the most value to some.

Use the development Carol Ann Zinn wanted to put out off Barbee Chapel Road last year. As far as I was concerned, the council should have said no to the rezoning request from the very beginning. It's a horrible place to put a development and a great place for birds and water filtration. Instead, council  drug it out, costing the developer and the town a lot of wasted time and effort (which equates to money) only to say in the end what they should have said from the beginning.  

As tempting as it may be to make a quick judgment, this is a slippery slope. People deserve to have their project looked at in detail and in relation to the actual regulations. While bird habitat may be a good criteria, I doubt that it is part of the regulations.

Beyond that, it's may true that denying a initial rezoning request would have saved the developer and the town both time, money, and probably a few headaches.  But, I can't imagine, in that alternate universe where the Council denied it, that anyone would have called them "pro-business" for having done so.  For that matter, I can't recall any occurrence in which the Council has denied a developer's request and been labeled pro-business as a result.

Or even granted a developer's request and then been labeled pro-business as a result.

I don't object to the developer asking for a variance, but it seems like that's the norm these days. Due process shouldn't include the expectation that thoroughly vetted ordinances will be changed to fit the needs of each individual project. That's been the complaint against Greenbridge, Lot 5, etc. If the zoning is done right, it should stand on its own. Why can't we just put the rules in place and adhere to them? Otherwise, what's the point of having zoning ordinances if every project is going to be reviewed and granted/not granted a variance?

Terri, The case you pointed out is a good example of the Council trying to work with the developer. (and, BTW, this is indeed  the only rejected application in 5 years as I noted previously).  Ms. Zinn had the right, under current zoning, to build as many as 17 single family homes on that site on NC 54 (although because of the many steep slopes she could probably, in reality, build only about 10).  She proposed a high-density development of 58 condos/townhomes which would handle stormwater runoff into adjoing areas, such as the waterfowl impoundment using high-tech equipment, etc.  From the very beginning, at the Concept Plan stage, she was asked to consider something less dense; e.g., maybe 30-40 cluster homes, etc.  She chose to stay with the 58 units in multiple buildings which would require siting buildings close to the waterfowl impoundment and would end up building on 59% of the steep slopes on the site.  Our Land Use Management Ordinances only allow for building on up to 25% of the steep slopes.  So this project, as proposed, would have required a very large variance from the current Land Use Management Ordinance and would have presented a significant threat to the waterfowl impoundment, if not in the final product, most certainly during the construction phases.  The fact that Council even asked her to consider something smaller would seem to indicate that they were at least willing to try to work something out that could benefit all parties. So why is such an approach as this considered "anti-business"?

George,If you look at my post from yesterday, I clearly stated that my "anti-business" (if there is such a thing) complaint was more in the permitting/licensing process for new businesses rather than for developers.But sticking with this example, the council has created a "tradition" over the past many years of making changes to zoning ordinances upon request by the developer. So it doesn't seem odd to me that Ms Zinn would request one and would persist in wanting what she wants. My issue is having created the climate in which such over-the-top requests are made as the norm and which use up town resources. Instead of proposing a less dense development, why didn't council simply say no to what she proposed since it didn't comply with the ordinance? Personally, I think this is a behavorial problem that the council has enabled, and it's now being used against them. But I'm a curmudgeon and would be happy to see a major slowdown in the rate of all residential growth throughout Orange County. 

Terri,Sorry.  I wasn't referring directly to anything you said regarding the "anti-business" label people are trying to pin on this Council.  I'm just trying to understand how trying to work with a developer to maximize their value on a piece of property is "anti-business".  BTW, that property that Ms. Zinn proposed for re-zoning had only been acquired a year or two before so she clearly knew (or should have) what the zoning would allow.  Perhaps you're right that the Council should have given a clear NO at the very beginning but I have no doubts that such an action would have then been quickly labeled as "anti-business".

So the present council responds to a need for for more commercial tax base and desire for density by approving the East 54 development. Before the walls were put on the steel frame, the criticism began and escalated to Matt Cz proclaiming that a majority of citizens are "shocked". Personally, it doesn't look so bad to me. There is far uglier stuff out on 15-501. It's all a work in progress, but at least good-faith efforts are being made to address the consensus needs of the community.

Mark,I think some (many?) of the complaints or criticisms that come from citizens are the result of a fear of change or a fear of the unknown.  I know that many of the people who complained to me about 54 East were totally unaware that it was more than just residential.  They weren't aware that it was going to include both office space and retail.  Last I heard they had 5 restaurants lined up for there and just the other day I noticed a dry cleaner already opened there.  Most people also told me that they were unaware that it would have a central courtyard (much like a big version of Durham's Brightleaf Square) with a stage on which there could be entertainment at night for the patrons dining outside (shielded from the road) in the very nicely designed inner courtyard.  Most people were also unaware that the planned light rail line from Raleigh/Durham runs right behind this project.  I think all those who have voiced their dislike for this project should just vow to boycott those restaurants and other retail and commercial businesses and then they can point to the lack of commercial/retail in CH.  Oh, wait a minute, that might not be such a good idea after all.  :-) I also heard someone say, just yesterday, that the 30% affordable housing units that Roger Perry offered the town for this project wouldn't be of much use because 700 square foot units are of no use to families.  Well, maybe that's by Chapel Hill's old standards.  I grew up in a family of six in a 900 SF house and, although some on this board might disagree, I think I'm reasonably well adjusted and I think I've done just fine.  700 SF might not serve a family of 5-6 but I'm not sure it can't serve a family of four.

I think there are a lot of young professionals and single moms and dads that could shoehorn their family in to 700 square feet so their kids could get into Chapel Hill Schools.My father was in a family of 7 and I don't think they ever had 1,000 square feet. I know some of the projects and slums they lived in were a lot a smaller... As for families, singles or students. It would be nice if some of the single teachers and teachers assistants could afford to live here. 

Just a note on the affordable housing units in East 54.  It's true that our marketing efforts had to target a different demographic than has been our traditional market to sell these homes.  However,  once we got the word out in the right places, we found a lot of demand for these homes.   Our homeowners at East 54 include senior citizens--couples and singles---who appreciate the safety and maintenance free living features of the development,   wheelchair dependent individuals who can live an independent life because of the location and amenities,   nurses who can now be close to work and able to respond quickly when there is an emergency; adults taking care of an elderly parent, and families with children, too.     Yes those condos are small.  Yes, perhaps you or I might not find them as desirable as what we live in now.  But I have personally seen how excited and thrilled the people who bought those condos have been and I realize that we have a diverse community with diverse housing preferences.        I remember when Southern Village was built and everyone was aghast that the lots were so small.  I remember several people saying that the SV community would never make it because "people want a yard"  and "those houses are on top of each other."  And yet,  today SV is an community in high demand and with the highest apprecation in all of Chapel Hill.   What I have found in marketing East 54 is a group of people--retired, single, couples, etc--with the same interest in homeownership as you or I.   These East 54 condos came at such a good price point that we were able to offer home ownership to people who  could not have afforded anything else in our affordable housing portfolio.    When a guy taking care of his elderly father can buy a home and pay less than he does in rent for something nicer and safer,   benefit from the tax advantages of home ownership,  and be close enough to his job that he can come home and fix dad lunch everyday---well that's pretty good in my book.   

One of my friends is in a wheelchair and it was a struggle to find a manageable unit in Chapel Hill. When you have mobility issues, a small sized apartment can be a real blessing. For him it has meant his independence.Thank you for pointing that out.

Anita, I second Steve's appreciation of your thoughtful and informative comment.  It is great to know that the affordable housing component of this project is working well and serving citizens who might not have another opportunity to get in their own home.  You did neglect to point out, however, one of the additional features of the 54 East project that is innovative and also benefits those in affordable housing.  That feature is the 1% transfer tax levied on each property sold there - the funds from which are then used by the Community Home Trust to help its clients with home maintenance so that their homes continue to remain affordable.

thank you for pointing that out.  It is a important component of the East 54 project and will be very helpful!    

Anita, you should als point out that you are the Operations Manager of the Community Home Trust, thus adding to the credibility of your comments.

I forgot to mention is that the proposal to have a transfer tax on sales of units (other than the affordable ones) to benefit maintenance of Home Trust Homes was not Council initiated - it was proposed by the developer (Roger Perry).  Very often it is assumed that because a project is designed to make a profit that it can't also be good for the community.  I'm one of those who believe that 54 East will be an excellent addition and asset to the community and that the 30% affordable housing units and transfer tax offered by Roger represent the best kind of win-win situation possible.

So can anyone summarize why Matt Cz makes the absurd claim that a majority of citizens are "shocked" by 54 East?

1st, it isn't absurd, but your sniping is.2nd, while I don't agree with the feeling, the "shock" is because it feels to most in CH that it looms over 54 in a way no other building there does.  This was unexpected, thus the "shock". 

I am pretty shocked at them going up. We don't do a good job of notifying people of imminent construction. I think the apartments are a good idea, but I don't recall a whole lot of info about them.There is a theme here. I know in Sales that people can handle bad news better if they get it sooner and you don't try to minimize it. Same may be true with development.

as an exile, I can report that when I come into town from Raleigh I am incredibly impressed with the 54East project.

Steve,I agree that the Town has not done a great job in the past notifying citizens of development projects, either anticipated or ongoing.  However, notices do go out to residents within a 1000-ft radius prior to any public hearings (Concept Plans, SUPs, Zoning Change requests, etc). but I know that many people discard these without reading them.  The Town has also begun putting all projects up on a website (see below) and that should help but only if people know to look there.  It is getting better but it could still use some improvement.  I guess the question is what to try next.

The buildings are closer to the road so that cars could be parked out of view. Would you rather have a food store type parking lot there?

The shopping center that is diagonally across the the intersection is what is ugly, not 54East.

I just spoke to a business person who lives in CH and currently has an office in Durham. He will be moving to East 54 into one of the new office suites. He is grateful to have an office in CH... no shock there.

That means something that is "Pro-Business" is also "Pro-Environment" because it saves a car trip and "Pro-Economy" because his lunch and shopping will also be done in Chapel Hill... 

It has already been very helpful in subsidizing the HOA dues for those homeowners.  Thanks, George for pointing this out. 


Something for Mark and I to agree on.  I guess that still makes me the only person IN Chapel Hill to think East 54 is not all that bad, but good to know I'm not the only one in the county.

In fact, I voted for East 54 when I was on the Planing Board and I would do it again. I thought it was a pretty good plan - it seemed to show that Roger Perry had learned a lot from Meadowmont and put that knowledge to work here.  (Athough I still hate the name! Could it be less descriptive?)I don't get all these candidates who say they are pro-business but don't articulate reasons they oppose East 54 except that it's big or something.  It's exactly the type of thing the Town wants in a transportation corridor and future rail station. It might not be gorgeous, but the Town can't legislate or require that. I think once folks get to actually visit the place they will find it's not so bad, and it won't be long before those buildings don't seem relatively tall either.

 From March, 2007:Gateway Bank and Trust of Elizabeth City approached the council Monday
night with a concept for a new bank at the southwest corner of Barbee
Chapel Road and N.C. 54, across from Meadowmont Village. The plan by Chapel Hill architect Richard Gurlitz calls for a modern building with large windows and a green metal roof. "I hate it," Town Council member Mark Kleinschmidt said

I live in a modern house with large windows and a metal roof, so this one was personal for me.

From what I've heard, the opposition to 54 is its height and it's lack of setback from the road, similar to some of the complaints about Greenbridge. If I lived in Glen Lennox, I would hate the 54 development for the radical change it brings to that neighborhood, which went from a large open space to high density with no transition. That design may achieve council's goal for dense development along a transit corridor, but it shouldn't surprise anyone that its going to take a while for the people who have to live with it daily to adjust to.What strikes me is the disconnect between council's efforts to protect neighborhoods on one hand (NCDs) and then the radical changes they approve with developments like 54 and Greenbridge on the other hand. Whether those decisions are right or not is up to each individual voter, but the mixed message is something I think the planning board, council members, etc. should focus on. This is the same challenge as dealing with the new IFC Community House on Homestead. How do existing residents get the opportunity to learn more about the future vision, the scale of the development, and the impact it will have on them? Public hearings are insufficient as a change management strategy.

I think Glen Lennox is a great example of why these things seem confusing. Developers presented ideas about developing the area pretty much in accord with denser mixed-use guidelines set for by the town and the project was ditched. Just an example. Not arguing for or against.

Like Ruby, I have also scratched my head over the concerns about East 54 "looming" over highway 54 into town.  When did a six-lane arterial with mind-numbing traffic that is brutally indifferent to pedestrians become a cherished community asset to "preserve?"  Yes, the buildings are four stories tall and cast shadows onto the road in the darker times of year.  As a commuter who drives (and rides the bus) in this corridor, this actually may improve safety for westbound travelers and pedestrians in the fall and spring, when it can be hard to see peds in the glare just before dusk.  Yet the discussion of building shadows suggests that prior to East 54, you could take a folding chair out into the middle of 54 on a sunny afternoon, and curl up with a good book on the non-existent median strip.  The community has lost no such opportunities. As someone who works all over the Triangle region, I can tell you that despite the lackluster name, East 54 may be the most forward-looking and best-executed new development project in the Triangle.  Why?  Here are a few reasons:

  • It is located on a current and future transit corridor.  Over 4,000 people ride the bus past East 5 each day.  It is within a short walk to a grocery store, and numerous other services within the East 54 buildings, Glen Lennox shopping center, and Meadowmont.  Residents will have great opportunities to reduce their VMT or not drive at all for many trips.  Hotel guests may not need to rent cars when visiting Chapel Hill.  The research literature of the last few years has been quite conclusive that compact, mixed-use walkable development reduces VMT and greenhouse gases from transportation.
  • The buildings are vertically mixed-use and DENSE.  Many "mixed-use" projects wind up being half-baked or quarter-baked failures by separating their retail and living components, and making their density low, which often means surrounding the various elements with a sea of parking.  East 54's density allows the elements to be close together, vertically integrates them, and provides structured parking to help minimize distances among the buildings.  Which provides...
  • Benefits to pedestrians.  The on-the-ground layout is extremely pedestrian-friendly, with numerous traffic calming features.  If your mixed-use component is strong but your pedestrian circulation is poor, peopole will drive from building to building to feel safe.  To see failures on either this point or the previous one, visit Brier Creek in Raleigh.  
  • New public gathering spaces.  Despite the big lawn at the University Inn, other than the barbecue of the ill-fated Edwards campaign, I never saw a large gathering on that site that was open to the public in the years I have lived here.  East 54 maintains a nice park-like space with more natural amenities, while also bringing an urban plaza (that is protected from the noise of traffic on 54 by one of the buildings) with a stage/bandstand and an area that can be quickly made carfree to support all sorts of events.  
  • The buildings are LEED certified as green buildings.  Silver or Gold level, if I remember correctly.  
  • The transfer tax mechanism George C mentioned.  Obviously, East 54 will have economic and environmental benefits.  But on the social justice side, I am not sure why this has not gotten more attention, as it may be one of the best innovations in keeping the OCHLT program fiscally sustainable, while adding many affordable housing units to the OCHLT rolls.

This is the type of development we should be doing in town.   

Hi there. I'm new here, first post, Chapel Hill resident (for 16 months), just wanted to chime in on this. I do like East 54, in general. I admit to liking it more conceptually more than in practice -- in particular, I think the main building overlooking 54 lacks the sort of careful attention to detail that a building serving as a gateway into Chapel Hill should have. But hopefully over time the hard edges will soften, and it's got a lot of going for it. Patrick M. hits the high points in his comment, but I'll just add that the smaller size of the residences (versus your typical new single-family monstrosity) means reduced energy expenditure, and the easy access to interesting places both by foot and by public transit are big environmental benefits.Thanks -- hope to keep contributing to this great forum. 

The Council and the public spend lots of time developing and approving the Town rules and ordinances in an orderly and democratic way.  I think many would agree with me that exceptions should be made only in the rarest of cases,  as is allowed by the Town ordinance for an important public purpose.  This "shopping for zones" is a very new phenomenon and one that should be stopped by the Council.  I also agree with the comment that the Town could save developers a lot of time and money by not allowing them to go through the review process developers unless a zone is in place. --Julie

George, whether you were in favor of or opposed to Aydan Court, you should not leave false impressions nor be factually incorrect in your comments. The Aydan Court property was identified for high density development as part of the land use/employment/population documents adopted by the Town Council in 2007 and used by the town council to support other properties included in the Transit Plan and Long Range Transportation Plan.  In fact those policy documents proposed residential density in the range of 25 dwelling units per acre.  This would have been 145 dwelling units for the Aydan Court site.  The applicant in the Concept plan phase proposed 85 units -  59% of the units that the Transit/Long Range Transportation plans proposed.  I believe you were an active member of the advisory bodies that worked on this plan. Several CDC and Council members did suggest that they thought less development would be better.  The applicant responded by reducing the proposed amount from 85 to 58 units. (33% reduction) Regarding disturbance on steep slopes.  You casually throw around the 59% disturbance figure without any context - something you know is slanting the impression.  The town permits 25% of the steep slopes to be disturbed with no questions asked in the LUMO.  The LUMO also gives the Council and the Bd. of Adjustment the authority to go beyond 25% when justified for public purposes.  The application documented the need for the extra disturbance to place the entry drive, sanitary sewer lines and roadway connections to UNC in location requested by the town staff, OWASA, NCDOT and the Town Council.  The total amount of extra SF was 6,897 SF - less than 2/10ths of an acre - an extremely small area. The Council had every right to make the decision not to rezone this property for almost any reason it wanted - and it used procedural machinations by the Mayor to prohibit the applicant the opportunity to answer in a public hearing the substantive questions that the Council had asked the staff and applicant to research and present.  Overall your comments do not correspond to the public hearing records or the public record of the CDC or Council on the Concept Plan and misrepresent both what was requested by the applicant and the information submitted to the staff that was determined by them to be accurate.  [Note: Carol Ann had trouble logging in, but confirmed that she did post this comment so I have changed it to reflect that. =Ruby]

Several Council members had indicated that if Aydan Court was better for the environment than large lot single family – and it was, with groundbreaking stormwater management that would have set a high bar for future developments in the 13,000 Chapel Hill and Carrboro acres draining into the Impoundment – they would be inclined to approve it.

First of all. Everyone knows that the development process is in need of some work. Some work has been done. Last month I received a ZCP on a small project the day after I submitted the application. I maintain that it never should have taken any longer than this but in the past it did as long as two weeks. Roger Stancil and the planning department are working to improve the process and they will.As far as partisan discussions in a non partisan race, I think they have relevance. Given the realities of politics in this country today one's affiliation means something. If you are registered Republican your sympathies and ideals are aligned with Dick Cheney and his ilk. The democrats are far from perfect, lacking backbone being one of their major deficiencies; but their agenda is the closest thing out there to my values. Being unaffiliated is, to my mind, just a wimpy way of being a republican. nyah, nyah. My point is that party affiliation says something and it matters to me.Universal health care would be the most pro-business move this country could make. Moving health care benefits from the ever escalating costly privately supplied benefit to a FUTA or FICA like deduction would be an immense improvement for all businesses-just like in every other industrialized country.Cam

In Virginia they didn't register us with a party - It violated some
of the basic Jeffersonian principles. Frankly, as a Virginian by birth
(and Southerners generally "stay" places, but "home" remains the same even after 10 years)
I don't understand why party is anyone's business.That said, you
hit the nail on the head. Let's support business by taking the health
care costs off of them. This would encourage small, sustainable
business in a way that nothing else will.Of course, why not look
at it at a Town/County level. What if, we as a progressive county,
offer an option for local businesses to join a County plan. Clearly, we
would need Ellie Kinnard and our local folks to check into what
statutes may have to change to allow this, but think about it:1) Opt-in plan for all businesses.2) Centralized administration - funded by a fee, surcharge or whatever3) Community-wide incentives/programs for health and wellness - integrated with our Rec and Parks folks4) Ultimately, lower premiums for all workers, because the pool goes from just the towns/County to everyone.5) Lower stress on UNC's Emergency Room facility.I realize this may seem radical, but we always say Think Globally. Act Locally. Orange
County has always been a leader and Chapel Hill/Carrboro have been at
the vanguard of many things Progressive. Let's start taking the steps
necessary to make Orange County a leader in providing Healthcare for
its citizens.I know some very nice, hardworking people, who lack healthcare (mostly small-business owners). This would bring relatively young, healthy, people into the town pool. We could even partner with the University, since they are requiring Health Insurance for students in the near future. I don't see any losers if we offer universal coverage here. Perhaps, we could get some Federal money as a test in the conference bill - in case David Price is listening....

As I have said: when 54 east came to the council there was not one citizen who spoke about it-pro or con, NOT ONE. We were all shocked. Roger gave the town exactly what they said they wanted-high density on transit corridor, mixed use, an unprecedented % of affordable units. I was against the new stoplights (as always) but I now want many more on that road. The problem with that part of town is not the development; its the road-way to fast for any sense of street life, just like Martin Luther King Blvd. There are things I personally object to (the brick is too varied) but this is what the town said they wanted.Cam



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