Will Chapel Hill get it right?

Crossposted from BlueNC

Despite whatever impressions many may have about Chapel Hill being a bastion of progressive government, the truth sometimes is less encouraging.  Sure we get lots of things right, but we also get plenty of things wrong.

This week our Town Council will be voting on a proposed new development called Charterwood. In concept, it's an interesting project that offers dense development in an area (our northern transit corridor) where dense development makes sense.  But when you look into the details, the project is a sketchy mess that has no business even being considered, let alone approved.

For starters, the corporation behind the proposal doesn't actually exist. Sure it's a paperwork oversight, but shouldn't we expect multimillion dollar projects to be backed by companies that have their shit together?

Beyond that, the project is located squarely in the watershed of two small lakes (I live beside one of them) and there is a 100% guarantee that runoff and silt from the development will end up in the lakes.  Downstream neighbors have asked the town council to require an insurance bond from the developer to cover his liability for damage to the lakes.  The town's staff and attorney are basically ignoring the request in favor of business as usual.

Any honest person, conservative or progressive, should want individuals and companies to be held responsible for whatever damage they inflict on those around them.  For too long, we in America have allowed businesses and their owners to profit at the expense of the broader community.  That has to stop.

You'd think Chapel Hill would have an enlightened point of view on this issue - which is one of fundamental fairness.  You'd think our elected officials would understand the importance of making developers clean up their messes.  But town council members are people just like any other elected officials. And all too often, people tend to take whatever easy way out they can find. Voting to approve this project is easy. All you have to do is say "aye" and then it's someone else's problem.

It's a lot more challenging to do the hard work and put this project on hold, where it belongs, until an equitable solution can be reached.

I guess we'll see soon enough.




As soon as I started writing about this, I got a flurry of emails from people accusing me of hypocrisy.  After all, some said, I voted for both Meadowmont and Lowes when I was on the town council.I still stand by both of those votes, and respectfully suggest that the issue with Charterwood is fundamentally different.  The developer's legal status is suspect, as are the procedural gymnastics involved in getting the proposed development in front of the council.But more important, the Charterwood project presents an opportunity to hold developers financially liable for off-site damage they may do.  Without town council action, homeowners in the Lake Ellen and Eastwood Lake neighborhoods will have to pay to clean up Charterwood's mess ... because without a doubt, much of the land currently located at the Charterwood site is going to end up in these lakes.

  "You'd think Chapel Hill would have an enlightened point of view on this issue of fundamental fairness."You would think that, wouldn't you? However, the valid protest petition presented to Council is a case in point. In 1923, The State give citizens the right to file a protest petition because "they suffer the greatest consequences of adjacent development." All eligible homeowners signed this petition, requiring a super majority to approve. A super majority was not obtained, and somehow, the Town logic is that it means that Charterwood was neither approved or denied! Additionally, the applicant then, legally, redrew lot lines (recombination)in order to circumvent any protest petition from being filed. The applicant's attorney stated "This type of configuartion of a zoning case in a manner to avoid the filing of a protest petition is entirely legal." It is. But, is it ethical? It violates the spirit of the law by moving lot lines by 5 feet. Years from now, case law may cite this as a precedent.Charterwood is about the concepts of neighborhood protection (for all neighborhoods), ethics, and fairness. Density on transit corridors is fine...but every parcel on a transit corridor is not equal and may not be appropriate for density. Charterwood is on such a property. A residential neighborhood sits up to 50 feet below, and 100 feet from multi-story buildings. Two major groves of 100-200 year old majestic white oaks will die. The Booker Creek headwater streams (the Town's most impaired creek) will be paved over, impacting immediate and downstream areas. Pushed as workforce housing, something we desparately need, it has morphed into a luxury apartment complex. The applicant has literally ignored all Council recommendations. And this isn't even all of the list!Chapel Hill citizens from the south to the east and north and west will be watching the vote tonight and think of how focused the Council will be on protecting their neighborhoods as well. 

And for some reason thinks he needs support from the Chamber.  One speaker said the process and the application were fraught with "loose ends."  That may be the understatement of the year. Mark's comments were also baffling - and I paraphrase:  "We're going to approve this and the result will be a mess for downstream neighbors.  Once that mess is made, those neighbors can sue somebody if they want. Not our problem."Sheesh.

Everything about this is baffling, isn't it?  The spin is out there making the CWood proposal into something it just isn't and councilmembers are putting a lot on the line supporting it.  I just can't figure out why!  I'd like to know one positive about the proposal other than than it's been lingering around stalling a vote for 4 years.Del Snow


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