Would Charterwood have saved Chapel Hill?

After reading the article 'No' vote frustrates critics" in the Chapel Hill News I felt compelled to correct the record. When Council viewed a video showing a representation of Charterwood, presented by the Charterwood applicant, only the Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd side was shown.  Similarly, the lead article Jan. 30 in the CH News presented one flawed side of a decision, repeating applicant claims, without ever turning the corner to see the other views.
 
On July 8th, 2008, BEFORE the Altemueller property was purchased, I met with current owner of the property, Bill Christian, at his request, to discuss his pending purchase.  At that time, I pointed out the Northern Area Task Force recommendations for this specific property. (Note: the article refers to a development submission in 2007.)  The Task Force looked at 367 acres of development potential and felt that it was important enough to single out ONLY the approximately 14 acres of Altemueller property for special consideration.  This singular recommendation was trivialized by referring to it as "a line from page 20 of the plan" (minor point: it was seven lines). For Mr. Christian to ever say that he went into this not knowing the situation is untruthful.
 
That Northern Area Task Force report (NATF), adopted as part of the Comprehensive Plan, had more relevant comments to make, such as: "The intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Weaver Dairy Rd is a significant visual and functional crossroads,"  and "Goal 1: A landmark gateway that "announces" Chapel Hill at the intersection of MLK and WDR."  The applicant's solution?  A non-descript 4 1/2 story apartment building. (Note:  at the council presentation this was described as a 3 story building over parking even though the graphics clearly show 4 stories and all the written data describe it as such.)  Quite frankly, if one reviews the NATF reports Goals (7) and Objectives (58), Charterwood would have satisfied 25% of the guidelines.
 
Neighborhood protection is disparaged in this article.  That topic will be a decision for the Council to make when they view a new Comprehensive Plan and I would suggest that if neighborhood protection is a very low priority, it be stated so clearly. But, for now, we are still operating under the only Comprehensive Plan we have and Neighborhood Protection  is a significant theme.  Having 3 and 4 story buildings well under 100' from single family homes is not protection.  Nor could having the meager buffer between homes and the Fire Dept training burn building clear cut be considered as contributing to neighborhood well-being.  Add to that the noise and light of a dense development, and the fact that the parcel lies as much as 50' above the neighborhood, and quality of life is further degraded.
 
But there are more "global" issues as well and these were every bit as important to citizens, even though those comments and handouts were not reported.  Despite George Cianciolos's (note: despite the article description of George as a current Planning Board member, he was last on the Board in June of 2011) comments that "neighborhoods shouldn't be protected at the expense of the entire community," I would like to offer the following.
 
Charterwood would have provided Chapel Hill with 154 rental units that were well above workforce housing price ($1250-$1750/2 bedrooms).  It would have provided NO affordable housing. The applicant claimed to know that 14 children would be added to the school district, by comparing Charterwood to developments (with no other details about them given) in Charlotte, Durham, and Raleigh.  People move to Chapel Hill FOR the schools. This crystal ball is murky.  The spin almost seems to indicate that Charterwood could have balanced the Chapel Hill budget, but reality shows that is far, far from the truth.  The proposal calls for 18,000-27,000 worth of retail.  Dwight Bassett estimates retail sales per square foot as $75-$250.  The retail market analysis pair for by Chapel Hill recommends using $200 as a retail sales per sq ft. figure.  Ken Pennoyer, CH Budget Management director, estimates that sales tax revenue at $3.81/$1,000 worth of sales (yes one thousand) so the most optimistic total would seem to be $22,384.  But, Ben Collins, Regional Director of Crescent Resources, who is partnering with WCA Partners, described the envisioned retail as "ancillary." The most likely scenario then,  is that any sales at Charterwood retail would be lost by the many surrounding stores at Chapel Hill North and Timberlyne.  Additionally, property tax revenue calculated by the applicant does not indicate the current valuation placed on the property, so it is hard to assume any numbers at all.  And, it does not reflect any of the costs TO the Town for residential property.  As has been stated by the Town innumerable times, residential development is revenue negative, or revenue neutral at best.  Lastly, without counting Carolina North, Chapel Hill already has 18 years worth of office space-if you want my calculations, let me know.  Therefore, financially, it is questionable whether this development as proposed, would produce any measurable revenue to the town.  Denying Charterwood cost our community nothing.
 
However, there would be an expense to the community due to the paving over of the Booker Creek headwaters and potential loss of an unknown number or rare and specimen trees.  Fifty nine rare trees with girths up to 49" live on this property, in addition to 125 specimen trees.  The critical root zones of many of them will be encroached upon by impervious surfaces.  They will not survive.  Period.  That  IS a cost to a Town that is proud to call itself a "Tree City" and environmentally aware.
 
The Booker Creek headwaters situation will also be an expense to the community.  Booker Creek is Chapel Hill's most impaired creek and part of the Jordan Lake Watershed.  Retention ponds will hold storm water for discharge into the creek.  As explained to me, the retention pond water will heat up in the summer and the dissolved oxygen content of the storm water will be reduced.  This will further affect downstream water quality and aquatic life.  During times of little rain, small amounts of precipitation will prevent natural infiltration and starve the headwaters, furthering the degradation.  Both Carrboro and Chatham County protect ephemeral streams like the ones around the Booker Creek headwaters.  Chapel Hill does not. Why? Yes, there will be an expense to the community: the remediation of Booker Creek.
 
At the council meetings, Councilmembers discussed the problems connected to Charterwood.  There was talk of the fate of the trees, the impacts of stormwater, its similarity in appearance to East 54, lack of affordable housing, inadequate buffers, and lack of congruity with the NATF-Comprehensive Plan.  Not one Councilmember said anything positive about Charterwood. Yet, without a valid protest petition, this proposal would have passed.  Luckily for Chapel Hill, it didn't.
 
The article’s tone intimates that unless the Council votes for a development, they are failing Chapel Hill.  Every Advisory Board does its best, but at the end of the day, the final decision is up to our elected officials.  I don’t know any Board member who thinks that their decisions should supplant those of Council.  A quick glance at the Town website will show that in past 57 votes, 55 have been in the affirmative.  This is hardly an alarming “trend.”
 
I have written in such great detail in order to present a more balanced view and to add facts that were absent in the referenced CH News article.   

Issues: 

Total votes: 83
 

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