How to deal with density

I've been thinking a lot about the evolution of our community to a more urban mode of development. I think this is generally a good thing because it allows us to continue to grow without sprawling ever-outward, and also supports more pedestrian-oriented land uses which will build the critical mass needed to support fixed-guideway (rail or dedicated busway) transit. This continued growth (at a moderate pace, of course) is essential to maintain at least a modicum of affordable housing options. We can't just close the gate behind us now that we've got ours.

But of course this doesn't mean that anything big is automatically good. Similar to Carolina North if it's done right urbanization can revolutionize our community. But if done poorly it could ruin many of the things we love about living here. So I have a growing concern that our current planning and development review process is built to manage the suburban-style growth that we have seen for the last couple of decades.

Our difficulty in dealing with projects like Meadowmont and Rosemary Village showed how ill-equipped we are to analyze and understand projects that are attempting to utilize urban forms. In my opinion, both of these projects had a lot of room for improvement, but the Town process largely got caught up in looking at the massive scale instead of critical analysis of them in the context of our future community (which will be more dense and hopefully less auto-dependent).

In Carrboro, this is played out in the debate over limiting building heights (3-story vs. 5-story can't really be the most important issue downtown) and growing anxiety about the redevelopment of the strip mall that houses the ArtsCenter and the Cat's Cradle. In Chapel Hill there are the Shortbread Lofts and Greenbridge proposals looming, and the town's own Downtown Economic Development Initiative to put high-density mixed-use buildings on some town parking lots.

As a close neighbor of the Greenbridge and East Main proposals, I am looking forward to them making it even easier for me to live almost car-free. I really want to see this trend toward urbanization succeed, so how should we approach these proposals in a way that allows for critical analysis of a whole new mode of development?



Terri -

"what format would you suggest?"

Why not something similar to what UNC has done to get input on Carolina North? Certainly, you run the risk of more people disagreeing with you, but the process seems much more inclusive. Frankly, I think giving the town council the power to pick who gets to build what is a scary scenario. We didn't vote them into office to be developers.

"Frankly, I think giving the town council the power to pick who gets to build what is a scary scenario. We didn't vote them into office to be developers."

Where have all the so-called concerned citizens been for the last 2-3 years while this process has been vetted at numerous (I would guess >2 dozen) public meetings? And where were all these concerned citizens when only 1 out of 6 eligible voters could find the time to exercise their right to choose their leaders? Like it or not, elected officials do make decisions about what does or does not get developed - on the local, state, and national levels. If people didn't like the way this Council was headed (and they were plenty of indications of that along the way) they should have taken 5 minutes out of their oh-so-busy schedules to vote in November. I'm not saying you have to like it (just like I don't like what's happening in Washington), nor do I say you can't work to change it but don't start saying that someone isn't playing by the rules when they are. Those rules have been in place and open to public scrutiny the whole time: the fact that the public chose to not be bothered is their problem, not the Council's. But if the public (and not just a few individuals) really is concerned, the process still allows time for them to be heard. But I'm skeptical: if 5/6 voters can find 5 minutes to vote I think the likelihood they'll find 1-2 hours to attend a Council meeting are pretty low.

"if 5/6 voters can find 5 minutes " should be "if 5/6 voters can't find 5 minutes"

Don't get too excited about the cute little electric vehicles (eclectic vehicells ?) as an urban remedy. First, while they may be pollution-free at the point of use they've just outsourced the problem to the power plant. Unless you like the "nucular option"? Second, as personal transportation devices they still demand excessive street space and storage room, i.e. parking places, which have a significant environmental impact in themselves (runoff, blacktop, concrete) and take up space to push the buildings further apart. The biggest virtue of electric vehicles currently is that they don't allow you to travel very far, very fast, and unfortunately some our best minds are hard at work striving to overcome these limitations.
The hard reality is folks that even if cars ran on air they'd still be environmentally problematic in town. And much as I love the zipline idea it can't go everywhere you need to. Bikes are great urban vehicles, but at some point we need to say, enough with the vehicles already. Get out of the car, off the bus, off your bike even. Towns need to be walkable!

"what format would you suggest?”

What I would have liked to have seen is several 2-page spreads in the locally dedicated newspapers letting citizens know "Hey! NOTICE! Franklin Street! We are working way out of the box here !! HEY!! We are considering a 9-story building on parking lot 5. What do YOU think?? Are we headed in the right direction?"

As I read "plans are coming along," I assumed that the plans were well within the well known CH-is-tough-on-development parameters. I trusted my council members (and, yes, I did vote) to trust me enough to give me the details- especially if they were potentially controversial - loud and clear in large print in the local papers- along with the invitation to participate in a public review of committee work- before a million dollars had been invested.

What have I read? In the fine print- parking lot 5-- "24,000 square feet of retail floor area in three buildings." Just how do I translate that into a 9-story building?

Even the March 5 CH News description of the proposed project never used the descriptor "9-story building." The picture of the development on the front looked all rosey with the proposed building hidden behind a tree (check it out for yourself). I did not take out my magnifying glass to count the floors.

That article states it has taken "countless hours and more than a million dollars of taxpayer money to get to this point." And reports how happy the developers are with their plans.

(an aside- I have felt so much more well informed and included in the Carrboro 300 East Main Street project. This group has gone significantly out of ther way to gather public comment. They have revised their plans several times based on those comments well before submitting them to the aldermen.)

"9-story building"-- I expect my elected officials to alert me to significant changes in status quo they are considering and to tell it to me in LARGE print (this is headline content) in the local papers well before getting so far down the road.

laura at butter1234flites dot com (without the numbers)


I don't remember if they were double paged spreads--but I DO remember large articles, with drawings, in the paper awhile back. Since we used to get the Herald as well as the N&O I can't tell you for certain WHICH paper, though I think I remember articles in he CHH and the CHN--as well as the N&O.

I did a quick google--and there have been a number of articles about development of parking lot 5...the earliest refernce I found was Nov. 6, 2004:

I didn't want to spend a lot of time wading through--but if you would like to-- I searched the phrase:
"parking lot 5" development Chapel Hill
and here is the url for my search:
(Don't know if that works or not...)


I will reiterate what I've already said here several times: this process is at an early stage. The first Concept Plan Review was conducted by the Community Design Commission last Wednesday (March 15th) evening and another Concept Plan Review will be conducted by the Town Council on Monday (March 20th) evening. If there was significant citizen opposition to the plan it was not very evident at the Wednesday review. After the developer (RAM Development Group) has time to digest the comments it receives it will come up with a final design and then submit a formal application.

I'm not sure whether the $1 million figure for taxpayer funds is accurate or not. In any case it would be naive to think that any property owner could themselves develop (or find a developer for, as in the Town's case) their property without spending funds to determine what could be done with the property; e.g., what are the physical constraints of the property, what will the market be for different uses, etc. I find it hard to believe that anyone thinks the best use of lot#5 is a parking lot. Not that I think we don't need the parking (which, BTW, will be maintained at current numbers in the proposed project as part of a parking garage; and that number does not include the parking allocated for the tenants of the buildings). The proposed project will bring life to the downtown not only in the fact that people will be living there but in increased retail. The Developer has already been in discussions with two grocery operations and is trying to set up talks with a third.

Like everyone else, the height concerns me. It (the tallest of the three buildings on lot#5) would be about the height of Granville Towers but it will also be the middle building and set back from both Franklin & Rosemary Streets.

Perhaps before everyone gets too lathered up they ought to attend Monday night's meeting and see for themselves what is being proposed - and take the time to comment if it doesn't suit them. After seeing (sometimes in color representations) what is being proposed you might actually think that it could be a significant improvement over a plain, often empty at night, parking lot.

I'm with George- I think it's hard to see how the Town Council could have been much more "open source" with this process.

Chapel Hill has maintained a particularly detailed and regularly updated webpage about these projects for over a year:

The CH News had this as a front page story in June 2005:

prior to a June public meeting. If you do a search on Ram Development you will find many other articles.

Catherine Lazorko published this column asking for more public input in the late fall:

Having looked at the latest iteration of the proposal, I have to say that the results are more impressive than I expected or hoped. With the problems plaguing the Raleigh convention center and hotel designs, it's easy to see how publicly-managed development can go wrong and produce expensive yet unsatisfying results, which may be the worst of all possible worlds.

That said, with the Chapel Hill plans for Lot 5 and the Wallace Deck, I have a hard time trying to envision a full private-sector model that would have more promise.

I find the designs to be in many ways, quite beautiful, and the organization of the public spaces at Lot 5 to be particularly well done, with arcades reminiscent of Bologna's in function, though more modern in detail. There is a sottoportego (Italian for "pedestrian underpass") through the facade facing Franklin St that is common in larger and smaller building blocks in Venice that makes pedestrian movement particularly easy while also putting more "eyes on the street" for natural surveillance that Jane Jacobs rightfully identifies as one of the keys to maintaining public spaces that feel safe and ARE safe for all citizens, including women and children.

As for the 9-story section, the development concept recognizes that it is not the current norm on Franklin or Rosemary, and respects that by putting the higher section in the middle of the block. This slide shows how the sections facing Rosemary and Franklin are fronted by buildings in the 4-5 story range, which are more natural companions to the 2-3 story streetscape which already exists.

The full set of slides from the most recent presentation is here:

I encourage everyone to take a look.

Ruby's original question here was "how should we approach these proposals in a way that allows for critical analysis of a whole new mode of development?"

Much of the debate as I read it boils down to timing. Should infrastructure come first and then development or will development drive (and pay for) the infrastructure. In terms of the two downtowns, it seems like the elected officials are going with development first. Personally, I question that decision. I love the Wallace Deck design and concept and would like to see it move to fruition quickly. But everytime I see the plans, I have to wonder how those retail spaces are going to get deliveries. What happens to the businesses around that area during construction when there is even more congestion and less parking available?

Same for the Arts Center expansion in Carrboro. Both towns have recognized the need to revise road sizes/traffic patterns, but I haven't seen any money put toward those projects or commitment to implementing them before the construction begins. What happens to downtown business when we have the Arts Center, Greenbridge, Lot 5 and Shortbread all being constructed at the same time? Will anyone be able to (or want to) go downtown? Will our downtowns become the equivalent of the construction chaos on campus over the next couple of years if all the current proposals are approved?

In addition to timing, I'd like to have more confidence that plans will actually achieve the intended goals of bringing more economic growth. I haven't seen any kind of kind of detailed cost projections for how to pay for municipal services such as stormwater management, policing and fire protection with all this growth. I know the general assumption is that growth will pay for growth, but is there any basis for that assumption? It hasn't worked with residential growth, why should we blindly accept that more residential with a little retail will be any different?

George -

For your information I did vote. And actually took the time to check each of the candidates out in some detail. Seems to me they've pulled a switcheroo as to where they stand and what their responsibilities are. I, like Laura above, assumed they would carry on in the tradition of cautious progress, so did not pay much attention to Lot 5's progress.Big mistake.

And yes, I agree the Council should make decisions about what gets developed; I just have reservations when they take on the development mantle themselves. Any objectivity they may have had could easily go right out the window.

Steve S,

I didn't mean to suggest that you yourself didn't vote - I only meant to say that too few people in this Town are willing to get involved (or even voice an opinion) until after the process has been ongoing for some time (or even finished). I would say that this characterization is generally not applicable to most of the posters to this site.

Regarding your concern about the disregard of the tradition of "cautious progress" - doesn't the fact that these projects have been under discussion for >18 months and there isn't even a formal development application yet suggest that this tradition is still being honored?

And your concern about the Town wearing two hats: first, RAM Development Group is the developer; second, since the Town owns the property to be developed, I'm not sure how it could do other than what it is doing except to sell the property outright. Under that scenario, which might bring much less value to the Town, the Town would also have less control over how (and when) the property was developed.

James Morgan says above:
"Don't get too excited about the cute little electric vehicles (eclectic vehicells ?) as an urban remedy. First, while they may be pollution-free at the point of use they've just outsourced the problem to the power plant."

James, that argument is frequently used by EV critics -- indeed some call EVs "pollute elsewhere vehicles".
The facts however show otherwise. Without finding the sources,
for the three components of air pollution on a per-car basis,
the power plant emissions are 1/8, 1/17, and 1/24 of those
of the average running car for the amount of electricity
used to drive an EV the same number of miles. This is
because It is easier to build a clean-burning
plant that is stationary and large than one that is
car-sized and mobile.

The best news is that there are now some incredibly
clean gasoline cars now, however most are not, and it will
take years to turn over the entire American fleet.

Fair point, Joe, and I applaud your personal commitment to emission reduction. However, I hold to my central point that the environmental impact of car-sized personal vehicles in an urban context is much greater than just their tailpipe emissions. And while I think the local permitting of short-range electric vehicles in Chapel Hill/Carrboro could be an experiment well worth trying, I would wish us to be alert to the potential for unintended consequences, and be honest with ourselves about the actual benefits, at least as far as urban vitality is concerned.
Here's an example of a possible negative scenario: commuters driving their regular gasoline vehicles to work and using a workplace-provided electric vehicle during the day for intown errands. Parking demand actually increases as a result. There are currently nine parking spaces for every automobile in the USA (up from seven per vehicle twenty years ago). We could end up just adding more. And our towns and cities will continue to lose density and vitality.

James Morgan wrote:

"Bikes are great urban vehicles, but at some point we need to say, enough with the vehicles already. Get out of the car, off the bus, off your bike even. Towns need to be walkable!"

CH and Carrboro already are walkable in spite of the protestations of some people. Sure, there are a few missing sidewalks. Big deal. And, a few intersections could have pedestrian ammenities. If they don't exist, one crosses with the light if there is one. These are not deal breakers.

Little (75 lbs?) Nancy Milio (age 70?), for one, walks everywhere, proving that if one really wants to walk one can. A bike is a tool that enhances human output by a factor of at least 4, but I can argue its more like 10 in actual practice for many trips.

It takes a certain number of watts or BTUs (choose your energy unit) to transport your body and cargo somewhere. Heavy motorized vehicles (no matter the fuel source) greatly contribute to this number, while a bicycle greatly reduces it.

That said, bicycling and walking take effort, particularly in hilly areas where it is either cold and windy or hot and humid (like here!), and most people shun this level of effort.

Be The Engine

At the CH Town Council meeting tonight - the review of the concept plan for parking lot 5 and Wallace Parking Deck- the Mayor opened by saying that until now, the town has been very involved in the design, as a partner and land owner. From this point on, the town switches its role to one of a regulatory body.

Council members asked specific design clarifying questions to applicant- how wide will the back stairs be, do the retail shop doors open to Church Street, give a current landmark perspective on the height of the buildings for me as a lay person, etc.

Liz Parham reported that the CH Downtown Partnership is pleased with the design and said that downtown residents will be the key to the future of downtown.

A representative from the Community Design Commission
listed design concerns from the group including- its non-pedestrian scale, shadowed areas, air and light movement concerns, appearance of alley areas, confusion from combination of resident and public spaces, combination of pedestrian and vehicular areas, too much density, loading docks, dark and uninviting spaces, 3 structures too close to each other, cavernous space created by 9-story side facing an interor courtyard, etc.

Comments from citizens addressed larger contextual and basic assumption questions- do we want to move from a "village" to urbanization, safety issues, is the mix of residential/retail the correct combination, student housing, a need for more office space, a concern that we be "intellectually honest" with ourselves in this discussion (this in regard to an allocation of 1.3 cars per condo), a need to create spaces that will complement the future potentials of the UNC Arts Common, hard urban concerns- police protection, additional traffic hazards, parking needs.

From my perspective, we can build multi million dollar complexes with wide 14 feet sidewalks and art deco plazas, but until we reckon directly with our panhandling and transitory street population, the safety of our new business owners and residents will be at risk.

laura at butter1234flites dot com (no numbers)

Looks like a grocery store is being considered for lot #5.

Until last night I hadn't focused on the energy profile of the Wallace Deck building. It faces north. Is there anyway to make a north facing condo energy efficient? (per LEEDS) What about those work/live studios? Is there anyway they will get any kind of natural light?

Wayne, to call Chapel Hill/Carrboro walkable is to admit how low our standards have fallen. There's a five lane highway running right through the middle of Chapel Hill's downtown for goodness sake! Carrboro and Chapel Hill, though blessed with significant downtown resources, are pitiful in the walkability department, unless you're comparing them to , I don't know, Houston. They both illustrate the maxim: if you design for cars, you get cars. If you design for people, you get people.

I have sat in a window table in Spanky's and watched a family trying to cross the street through three whole light cycles, including two cycles of pedestrian walk lights, beaten by the simultaneous green to turning traffic. I read with impatience the bleating in the newspaper about what's wrong with CH downtown, usually about wanting more parking to "compete" with Southpoint, while the elephant in the living room - high-speed multi-lane traffic through the downtown - is generally ignored. If you are seeking economic vitality in the downtowns, just remember that cars don't spend money. Bikes (sorry Wayne) don't spend money. It's people that spend money, and it's people who have gotten out of the buses and out of their cars and off their bikes and walked into the stores and restaurants and theatres and doctors' and lawyers' and architects' offices that spend money and keep a downtown alive. And if they can't do this safely, comfortably and pleasurably in downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro they'll do it someplace else.

At the risk of boring y'all here's just a brief sampling of how our downtowns fail us miserably in their walkability standards:
The five lanes of speeding traffic on West Franklin (what a gorgeous boulevard that could be!)
The four/five lanes of speeding traffic on East Franklin.
The five lanes of speeding traffic on N. Columbia/MLK
Piss Alley (the connection between the Rosemary Street lot and Franklin Street, for the uninitiated).
The signals at Franklin & Columbia
The four lanes of speeding traffic on Main Street near Carrboro ArtsCenter
The sidewalks on Weaver Street too narrow for even two to walk together, so close to the curb that you get drenched in wet weather by passing vehicles, and bisected by innumerable sloppy curb cuts
The hundred-foot take-your-life-in your-hands-say-three-hail-Marys-and check-your-life-insurance crosswalk from W. Weaver Street to Carrboro Town Hall
Etc. Etc.

All of these problems, and the many others like them, are capable of being fixed in ways that would make things better for everyone, including the folks in cars and on bikes. Absent (currently) is the will. And that's where raising density helps, because (amongst many other benefits) it cranks up the pressure on walkability.

At last night's Town Council meeting, Scott Maitland asked for “intellectual honesty” with regard to the allotment of 1.3 cars per condo- i.e., will there in reality be parking for retail businesses and evening events at the UNC Arts Common?

I ask for intellectual honesty with regard to public safety. The recent upgrades to Franklin Street's benches have created a welcome spot for panhandlers and transient people. There is commonly a group of loiterers in front of parking lot 5. What is to be different when we spend millions of dollars creating “arcades” and underground parking areas? How will safety be created and maintained? Two courtyards for the proposed condos on Wallace Deck are designed open out to the alley behind the deck. I don't walk that alley now during the middle of the day.

CH is on a bus line. We are a destination for folks coming out of prison with “$5 and a bus ticket.” We have very real problem with addiction among the transient population and convicted felons panhandling on Franklin Street.

What spaces will be private and what will be public? There is a stated excitement for new development residents to be “eyes and ears.” Are we asking them to act as police? How can private citizens control their space in the face of public policies allowing loitering? Business owners now call 911 to have police ask loiterers to move on.

What public resources and policies need to be reviewed and revised to ensure public safety? How does the Town Council create an openness to explore with honesty these and other environmental/contextual concerns?

More intellectual honesty- what are additional unintended consequences for our race to “urbanize?”
Building heights create dark and unwelcoming spaces and open the door for private developers to raze current buildings to put in hi-rises. I have seen it happen in San Jose, California.
More public space creates an even more hospitable environment for transient population and hostile environment for young folks.
Underground parking lots become crime ridden.
Condos become student housing.
Increased traffic.
Congestion during construction puts businesses at risk.

And still, the papers have not used the words, “9-story building.”

Laura at butter1234flites dot com

Laura states: 'CH is on a bus line. We are a destination for folks coming out of prison with “$5 and a bus ticket.” We have very real problem with addiction among the transient population and convicted felons panhandling on Franklin Street.'

I find these comments to be inflammatory and potentially without substantiation. What study has shown that Chapel Hill is a destination for people released from prison with $5 and a bus ticket? What study has shown that we have any more of a real problem with addition among the transient population than among the general population, whether affluent or low income? And what study has shown that the panhandlers on franklin Street are convicted felons as opposed to just homeless persons down on their luck?

Such fear-mongering and lack of compassion scares me a lot more than what goes on down on Franklin Street.

Your questions are good and perhaps worthy of a study. My comments are not meant to be inflammatory, nor based on any studies. My comments are from my own perceptions and observations while walking on Franklin Street.

I abhor homelessness and the plight of these folks devastates me. I am naming what I see in order to bring light to darkness and to work toward addressing the issues- however that may best be for all concerned.



That's fine but my point is that, as you stated, "from my own perceptions and observations while walking on Franklin Street" you cannot possibly know that these persons are convicted felons as opposed to someone down on their luck. When we stop erring on the side of compassion I think we've lost the right to ask for or expect more from from our less fortunate citizens.

George, I completely agree with your statements and I couldn't disagree more with Laura's view of downtown's problems.

While everyone's public safety is something that can be improved upon, especially in the existing downtown neighborhoods, I would hate to base our future visions for downtown on fear and loathing.

I am not coming from a place of fear and loathing. I apologize for my generalization. I also suggest that convicted felons are worthy of my compassion. I will take this concern to a different forum for consideration.



If this area is not walkable, then why are people doing it? If people like Nancy Milio want to walk, they walk. My wife and I walked the 3.5 miles from my house in a neighborhood off Piney Mt Rd up to campus on sidewalks the whole way. We've walked from CH to Carrboro on both sides of Franklin many times, crossing as appropriate, never with much difficulty. Sometimes you have to wait a spell. Sometimes you have to be assertive. It's not impossible. Could it be better? Sure. But if people want to walk they can.


Wayne, your comments smack of what the British would call an "I'm alright, Jack" attitude. I don't know you personally but I'm guessing from your bike posts that you are a fairly fit adult in full posession of your faculties. You could probably cross I-40 safely in rush hour. The family I saw trying to cross Franklin had two small kids in tow. On their own the adults would probably have made it across sooner and with less anxiety. I don't know what their purpose being downtown was but you could see their frustration and there's a good chance that next time they decided to find what they were looking for elsewere - Timberlyne, Southpoint, wherever. Anywhere safer and less stressful. Same goes for anyone walking with a cane, or a stroller, or with some disability, or anyone who just gets distracted for the instant it takes to become a mortality statistic. Hit by a car at 45 mph, your chances of survival are about 5%. Hit by the same vehicle travelling at 25 mph and your survival chances goes up to 95%. Most of the vehicles travelling on most of the downtown parts of Franklin Street are travelling at a minimum of 35 and many at 45 mph and above, whatever the posted speed limits. The reason they do so is not because the drivers are bad people (well mostly not anyhow) but because the design of the roads encourages it. We can change this. We should change this. In the downtown the streets cannot be just designed for vehicles.

But this is getting way off topic. The connection with density and Ruby's original post is that all of the projects listed will be scrutinized very closely in terms of parking supply and traffic impact, and walkability of the neighborhood in which the projects are set will figure very highly in whether the developers projections are realistic. In the absence of community support of downtown walkability the mixed-use higher density proposals will fail to achieve their full potential in community sustainability. If you can't walk safely, comfortably and conveniently from the parking lot 5 development across Franklin Street to University Square and beyond, then what's the point?

Does anyone besides me find it hypocritical that the town council is contemplating increasing the minimum lot size of some R-1 neighborhoods to as much as an acre!? Out of one side of their mouth council members talk about increasing density within the town core in order to provide an environment for more affordable housing. But out of the other side, they talk of preserving the oldtime (wealthy) neighborhoods in order to keep the flavor of the good old days.

I'd like to point out to the council that once you try to do it in one neighborhood but not another, that's downright favoritism. If the Mason Farm community gets to increase their minimum lot size to one acre, why shouldn't every other part of CH do the same - including Northside?

Steve, the reason that the Mason Farm community wishes
that increase in lot size is quite bona fide. There is a developer, Zalman Joffe, who has a history in town of
building high density UNC student housing of the worst kind.
Please visit the western end of Coolidge Street and take a
look. In Mason Farm, he bought a one-acre lot, and wants to
subdivide it into three lots, and on each one, build a
large house to rent to eight students.
Voila! 24 students with 24 cars on a one-acre tract of
land right smack in the middle of an established residential
neighborhood. The neighbors there should be alarmed by what Mr. Joffe does.

Mr. Joffe exploits a loophole
in the development ordinance that allows him to build,
in effect, an apartment house without going through
the special use permit process, that would require
protection against its off-site impacts. The best defense
the neighbors have today is to ask for a rezoning, until
the loophoole can be changed.

Thanks for clarifying, Joe. But wouldn't it make more sense to simply restrict street parking in the area if too many vehicles is what residents are complaining about? It still sounds to me like the town is trying to keep denser and lower-cost housing out of some of the more established (and pricier) neighborhoods (like Greenwood, Coker Hills, etc.) who have members with enough resources to effectively lobby for their cause.

I just want to know where the town expects construction of affordable housing to take place if it discourages its developmment anywhere within town limits. Let's face it - we can't have it both ways.

Having lived in "suburban sprawl" in Chapel Hill (Ridgefied/Briar Cliff area) for 40 some years and recently moved to one of the newest "mixed-use" communities in town (Meadowmont Village) for 3 years, I tend to think that Chapel Hill has a great deal of work to do in dealing with the practicalities sustainable community management. Try, for example, calling one of the Town's departments and asking about their standards and policies related to "mixed-use" communities. I think that you will get an answer much like I have, "We have no such category. Do you mean residential or commercial?" The idea of a "walkable and sustainable community" appealed to me a good deal and it still does, but my "affinity" is weakening increasingly over time.

I realize that this thread is intended to deal with ideal views of density alternatives, but effective macro planning like most other forms of planning depends upon the details.

Try waking to 77 decibels of bus idling (often 10-15 minutes) rather than birds singing; try walking over restaurant garbage to discard your own garbage; check out the dark color of the "dust bunnies" in your living space (and wonder about where all that black color comes from); try really thinking about the increased air pollution and carcinogenic particles you are exposed to in a more dense environment; enjoy the fire alarms and the fire trucks circling outside because they cannot find the source locations; try finding a place to park near your own home in the rain. But, to be fair, it is nice to walk to the store, dentist, pharmacy, and gym. The question is, just how much are these benefits worth the continuing hassle of living in a community where the official agencies tend to categorize your problems in the manner most convenient to their programs - "Residential or Commercial."

One last comment for those authors in the forum who express concern over the lack of citizen participation in public forums. Take a look at the following article.It was appropriate in the contentious days of the late 60's and early 70's and it is appropriate now.

One common complaint about community action programs in those days is reflected several times in this thread, the fact that many, maybe the majority, of citizens tend not to get involved until the last moment ,when they see immediate impact on their lives. Sherry Arnstein's views had relevance to this then as they do now.

Bill H

Steve S.

You ask where the town expects to build afforable housing if all of the established (wealthier) neighborhoods already have prohibitive zoning rules and minimum lot sizes that prohibit any possibility of infill construction.

I have the answer! Why not let the RE developer pay for it by forcing him to use up his land (and profits) in order to build more and more government-controlled, low end housing! That way, we can assuage our community's collective guilt and at the same time punish the bad guys.

After all - isn't the Developer the Prince of Darkness anyway?

Housing Grousing

SEATTLE - Last week, Real Change and the Seattle Alliance for Good Jobs and Housing for Everyone (SAGE) sponsored a community forum provocatively titled "Zoned Out: Who Wins and Loses in the New Downtown Plan." ....

Currently, two plans are on the table: Nickels's, which requires developers who build above current height restrictions to pay $10 a square foot into an affordable-housing fund and requires no new downtown amenities; and Council Member Peter Steinbrueck's, which doubles the affordable-housing requirement and mandates extensive green-building standards, historic preservation, and other downtown amenities. Critics, including many downtown developers, have assailed Steinbrueck's proposal, arguing that it would make developing downtown prohibitively expensive.

But Steinbrueck's $20 figure, far from being arbitrary, is based on a little-known 2005 study that analyzed the link between downtown housing development and low-income households in Seattle. The study, commissioned by the city's office of housing, looked at the number of low-income jobs created by new downtown residents' demand for services, and quantified how much downtown developers would need to pay toward affordable housing to make up the "affordability gap" between market-rate housing and what low-income workers could afford. The answer: between $22.25 and $27.68 a square foot-higher even than Steinbrueck's proposal, and more than twice what the mayor has suggested. "I even gave them a $2.25 discount," Steinbrueck jokes. . . (see link for full article)



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