Robbing Peter to pay Paul?

So I was catching up on the Chapel Hill News yesterday and I noticed some eery similarity in two stories about new downtown developments in both Carrboro and Chapel Hill. In one article, questions are raised about how the developers of Greenbridge qualified for the gigantic loan that they are currently unable to repay. It should surprise no-one to learn that the 15% of the condos that were mandated to be affordable by the Town sold first.  It turns out that when the bank looked at pre-sales to determine demand, they counted the number, rather than the value, of the units. In fact, the News goes so far as to ask whether the affordable housing policy itself is somehow at fault for Greenbidge's current financial problems. I think that's a stretch, but it does make you think twice about the process by which banks decide to make commercial loans. (Housing bubble anyone?)

In another story, the News talks about the recently restarted mixed-use project at 300 East Main Street in Carrboro, which will bring 5 stories of retail, housing offices, a hotel, and parking to the current run-down strip mall that houses the ArtsCenter and the Cat's Cradle. (VisArt, RIP.)  One key element that helped Main Street Partners to secure their financing for this was the Town of Carrboro agreeing to lease a large number of parking spaces for the first few years after construction.

Atma Hotel Group, which will own and manage the Hampton Inn & Suites Hotel on the eastern side of the property, has advanced its plans since the town signed a parking lease in March for 150 daytime and 250 nighttime spaces in the new parking deck, she said. The deal was struck in part to help jumpstart the project, which has been stalled by the economy, town leaders said.

The town will pay an amount equal to 3 percent of the hotel's annual gross receipts up to $90,000 annually for five years to secure the free public parking. After that, the spaces will be metered. Drivers will access the parking deck via a road from the intersection of Lloyd and Main streets and later from an extension of Boyd Street. It will be built in two phases for a final total of 850 spaces. 

- 300 East Main project coming soon to Carrboro

I can certainly see why the Town of Carrboro wants to see this project completed, and agreeing to buy some parking seems like a pretty innocent and understandable way to help while also meeting the Town's need for free public parking. But when read in the context of Greenbridge blaming the early sales that they had previous lauded as a consequence of Town-mandated affordability, I have to wonder if this policy might also have some unintended consequences.



Minor correction: If I recall correctly, the 300 East Main project will not include a residential component.

Thanks, I was doing that bit from memory and rushing a bit. Will correct.

Probably didn't help that the Chapel Hill News got it wrong.The town's parking agreement with the 300 East Main Street developers came up during the WCHL Community Forum as an example of a creative collaboration that will move a big downtown redevelopment project ahead in spite of the banks continuing to find reasons not to loosen their grip on lending. I thought this was an interesting take on local economic development, but as you said, it's not clear it has much in common with the difficulties at Greenbridge.

The fact that all of the affordable units sold is a testament to the success, and NEED, for affordable housing rules.

Greenbridge failed because the developers do not know anything about housing needs in Chaple Hill.

And we might be calling 300 East Main "Carrboro's Folly" before long for the same reason. Where are all the working class people going to live?

300 East Main is not a residential development. No one, working or otherwise, is going to live there.

My point is, where are all the people who are supposed to work there actually live?

It is another project aimed at a fictional wealthy class that does not exist in this town.

Good point. But that's a different scenario than the one facing Greenbridge. Also, it's not clear to me that the 300 East Main Street redevelopment will be "aimed at a fictional wealthy class" any more than the commercial space located there now.(By the way, you should consider registering on OP so your comments will be published automatically.) 

Here's an even better question.  Where are all the people that work at the large and growing UNC supposed to live?  Remember, this area would be nothing more than a far flung RTP suburb were it not for UNC, except that RTP wouldn't be called RTP in that case Chapel Hill / Carrboro without UNC wouldn't be worthy of being a corner of a Triangle that included Durham and Raleigh.

With all due respect to Greenbridge,I feel they fundamentally misunderstood the local and regional housing market. They also fell prey to the over abundance of loans/cash available to developers in the late 2000s. Unfortunately, they introduced a luxury niche product to asaturated market at the worst possible time. I’m also not overly impressed with the final product. William McDonough, of Cradle to Cradle, is a brilliant architect... but while developing this eco-friendly building, I think someone lost sight of two key elements: The design simply doesn’t fit with the Chapel Hill or Carrboro area:Greenbridge looks to be a cookie-cutter “Anywhere USA” design. It doesn’t take design cues/elements from the local area nor does it really add anything new to the local architecture. In a phrase, it’s forgettable in the worst way. I do not look at that building and think, "gee, I wish I lived there." I rent in the area, and would rather stay where I am.Theprices are simply ridiculous:$300,000 for a one bedroom <900 sq/ft condo? $559,000 for a two bedroomapartment? Wait, I moved AWAY from DC because of high prices! I realize the market has changed considerably since 2007 and thatthis is an uber-green building, but this place is expensive in 2007 dollars in a major city. I don’t write this post to pile on to Greenbridge, but rather to warn future developers that this just isn’t selling in 2011. 140 West Franklin and 300 East Main Street look to follow the same flawed game plan Greenbridge used... but with a complete disregard for what has happened over the past 3-4 years. At least Greenbridge can say, "we had no idea the market would collapse." Chapel Hill is still acharming town, but these big box, mixed use development projects (300 East Main is commercial, but it is retail and office, so a bit of a mix) are simply taking away from the downtown area. I find myself asking, “I wonder where these developers live that they think this is what Chapel Hill/Carrboro needs or wants.” I’m reminded of the Bank of America Center eyesore in the middle of Chapel Hill. I’m guessing someone thought that it was a good thing when it was originally conceived. 

I agree with CarrboroKid that these kinds of buildings simply don't fit here. I'm no housing expert, but I think Greenbridge could have been a hit in Raleigh, although the prices would probably still would have to have been lowered. This is not a big city, so there is no need for big city kind of housing. In fact, some people live here because of the lack of these big buildings. Is the demand for these places actually and truly there? Does Carrboro need that much more retail space? Why not build smaller, more street-friendly projects that we actually *need*? Or are the towns that desperate for the tax revenue?Well, I'll stop throwing out rhetorical questions and say that to some degree, I do support new retail and residential spaces in these areas. In place of the giant parking lot in front of the ArtsCenter/Cat's Cradle strip mall, I'd much rather have, say, a two-to-three story building that sits close to the street (keeping the trees of course) that has mixed affordable residential and retail spaces. I also think there is a place for a more inexpensive hotel in downtown Carrboro/Chapel Hill, preferably non-chain. But more than anything, we just need more affordable housing. (Build homes and rental units that UNC workers can actually afford, for example, and I'm willing to bet that our traffic headaches will decrease dramatically.)

I know of two buildings like Greenbridge, but not green, that have suffered the same fate in Raleigh.

So no, it does not work anywhere because that type of housing has no underlying support in the area yet.

Build low cost housing for the workers and you will have a vibrant economy.

It's the campaign issue that keeps on giving, decade after decade after decade.A few quick points (not meant to be comprehensive).1) In general, people can't afford houses because they don't make enough money, not because houses can easily be built less expensively. If the Chamber of Commerce truly wanted to support affordable housing, they would support a substantial living wage.2) Cooperative housing needs to be part of the solution. Mini McMansions are probably not the most effective model.3) Very small homes can work. Zoning & building code changes will be necessary for this. If they are built in conjunction with shared laundry facilities, garden, tools, etc., they would be very effective.

Well, people can't afford houses "because they don't make enough money" or "because houses are too expensive" are two different sides of the same coin.  How much housing costs relative to how much people make is the issue. People in places surrounding CH/C have a lot easier time with "affordable housing" than do people in CH/C and at the same time thouse towns are the ones that people in CH/C look down on, so go figure.   You can have your cake or you can eat it but you can't have both.  Do we want CH/C, where we have a lot of physical green and higher property taxes (which are less affordable to regular folk but more affordable to the wealthy) and stores that average folk can't afford to shop at?  Or do we want some of the towns surrounding CH/C, where we have less physical green and lower property taxes and stores average folk can afford to shop at?Not that it's an easy choice, but it is a choice.  Making things more "affordable" in one sense simultaneously makes them less "affordable" in another sense.


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