Chapel Hill speaks out on the Downtown Development Initiative.

The Chapel Town Council has a big meeting tonight. I meant to blog about it in advance, but since I didn't I will start this thread and hope to post live comments as it goes along.

Here's the agenda. I'll stick with this at least through the Public Forum on the Downtown Development Initiative.

  1. Ceremonies:
    1. None.
  2. Public Forums and Hearings:
    1. Public Forum: Draft Chapel Hill 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan Socio-Economic Projections. (Staff Presenter: David Bonk, Long Range and Transportation Coordinator) [Estimated Time: 15 minutes]
    2. Public Forum: To Consider a Potential Change in Cablevision Public Access Fees Paid by Cable Television Customers. (Staff Presenter: Catherine Lazorko, Town Information Officer) [Estimated Time: 10 minutes]
    3. Public Forum: Downtown Development Initiative.(Presenter: Mayor pro tem Bill Strom, Negotiating Team Chair) [Estimated Time: 30 minutes]
  3. Petitions by citizens and announcements by Council members. [Estimated Time: 10 Minutes]
    1. Petitions by citizens on items not on the agenda.
      1. Inclusionary Zoning Task Force regarding the Task Force Report.
      2. Petition from Citizens for the Preservation of Lincoln Arts Center.
      3. Petition regarding the Completion and Priority of Widening Shoulders on Particular Roads.
    2. Petitions by citizens on items on the agenda.
    3. Announcements by Council members.
  4. Consent agenda: action items (R-1). (Any item may be removed for separate discussion at the end of the Council meeting.) [Estimated Time: 5 minutes]
    1. Nominations to various boards and committees (R-2).
    2. Resolution Amending Council Calendar (R-3).
    3. Telephone Franchise for BellSouth – First Reading (O-1).
    4. Resolution to Accept SAFER Grant Award and Amendment to 2006-2007 Budget (R-4) (O-2).
    5. Adoption of Composite Countywide Plan for Parks and Trails (R-5).
    6. Report on Developing Public Information Sign Program and Improving Street Name and Directional/Information Signs (R-6) (O-3).
    7. Clarification to the 2006-2007 Community Development Program (R-7).
    8. Request for Expedited Processing of a Concept Plan Proposal and a Special Use Permit Application for the Bradley Ridge Development (R-8).
    9. *Process to Appoint Members to the Hollow Rock/Erwin Road Property Park Planning Advisory Committee (R-8.1).
  5. Information items. (Any item may be removed for separate discussion at the end of the Council meeting.) [Estimated Time: 5 minutes]
    1. Quarterly Report.
    2. Report on Budget Process.
    3. The Peoples Channel 2006-06 Annual Report.
    4. Response to Petition requesting Bicycle and Parking Overlay Zones on Several Streets in Meadowmont Area.
    5. Report on the Operations of the Street Scene Teen Center.
    6. Orange Water and Sewer Authority Quarterly Report. (Continued from November 6, 2006 Meeting)
    7. Follow-up Report on Merritt’s Pasture Maintenance. (Continued from November 6, 2006 Meeting).
    8. *Update on Wireless Initiative.

Main Discussion

  1. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. (Staff Presenter: Kay Johnson, Finance Department Director) [Estimated Time: 20 minutes]
  2. Fairway Hill Subdivision: Application for Preliminary Plat Approval (Staff Presenter: Gene Poveromo, Development Coordinator) [Estimated Time: 30 minutes]
    1. Continuation of a Public Hearing for a Preliminary Plat Approval at Fairway Hill Subdivision
      1. Swearing of persons wishing to present evidence
      2. Introduction of recommendation by the Manager
      3. Presentation of evidence by the applicant
      4. Presentation of evidence by citizens
      5. Comments and questions from the Mayor and Town Council
      6. Applicant statement regarding proposed conditions
      7. Motion to adjourn hearing.
    2. Consideration of resolution to approve a Preliminary Plat Application for Fairway Hill Subdivision (R-9a, b, c; d, e, R-9f would deny).
  3. Acceptance of Bid for Homestead Park Aquatics
    (R-10). (Staff Presenter: Bruce Heflin, Assistant Town Manager) [Estimated Time: 15 minutes]
  4. Southeast Chapel Hill/Southwest Durham Collector Plan (R-11). (Staff Presenter: David Bonk, Long Range and Transportation Coordinator) [Estimated Time: 20 minutes]
  5. Process for Revision of the Comprehensive Plan
    (R-12). (Staff Presenter: Gordon Sutherland, Principal Long Range Planner) [Estimated Time: 20 minutes]
  6. Appointments: [Estimated Time: 5 minutes]
    1. Orange Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors.
  7. Petitions:
    1. By the Mayor and Council Members.
    2. By the Manager and Attorney.
  8. Reserved for discussion of consent agenda items if necessary.
  9. Request for closed session to discuss property acquisition, personnel, and litigation



One thing that keeps getting factored out of the equation is the monetary value of lot #5 and the current cash flow from it.

The 3-4 years of revenue loss and the lands value (which, strangely enough might've been assessed but not published) puts our town's investment more at the $13-15M mark on a fixed return of $18.2 M over the lifetime of the deal (if you use Cam's NPV).

And that's if the $$$ don't increase. I guess I'm "once bitten, twice shy" on that score.

I'm going to continue to consume every detail the Council sees fit to publish, talk with those "in the know", continue to talk with outside experts, etc. to try to understand how such a progressive Council could calmly accept the financial turnabout of this current deal.

You expressed what I have been grappling to grasp-- that is- how the council is so accommodatingly accepting this radical shift in the deal. It is so far afield from the original proposal, it would seem we should call for a re-bid.

I also found the comments on your site helpful.

(I had not heard of Ram's interest in purchasing 12 acres on Hillsborough Street, just up from Franklin Street, and building 335 condos stacked 6 stories high and 21 townhomes. nando, july 2006

Please, carry on with your "fearless questioning!"

Laura Shmania

Thank you Laura. I'm going to spend the next week deconstructing the deal, as best I can, on

As of tonight, I've posted two clips (and a little commentary) from Don Stanford and Chris Culbreth.

Don, a long resident of Chapel Hill, spoke of the "magic bullet" syndrome that seems to infect our Town's thinking (at least to some historical extent). He argued that taking care of the "little details" will lead to greater rewards.

You might not agree with him but he definitely had some incisive observations - Granville Towers as "high rises in a sea of asphalt" - NCNB Plaza (Bank of America) giving permission, in a sense, for the awful University Square, Rosemary Square morphing into Wallace Deck, etc.

Chris, a member of the Town's Community Design Committee, was actually slated to talk on the modifications to the revision process for our Town's Comprehensive Plan, but actually spent the lions share of his time on RAM Development's Lot 5 and Hillsborough St. developments. Great commentary, kind of echoing Stanford, on setting a precedent with Lot 5 that we'll long have to live with... Nice digression on Hillsborough425 - livability and sustainability - touching upon the lost opportunities of Tommy Tucker's Rosemay Village (Tommy endorsed Lot 5).

More clips to follow plus the whole Nov. 20th Council meeting is being posted on GoogleVideo here.

They're slowly being uploaded at 24K bytes/per second (crawling).

Back to the issue of these condos becoming student housing.

(Not that there's anything wrong with students; it's just that students do not have the kind of disposable incomes to help invigorate the downtown economy.)

I mentioned two ways to help prevent this eventuality.

The second is to somehow require owner-occupancy (through the type of condo-association formed, or otherwise). This approach has been touched on above, and would require some legal research to investigate its feasibility.

The first is to carefully address the quality of construction, and really, herein lies the rub. As I suggested to the Town Council: consider the inside of these buildings as much as you consider the outside.

Let's examine the extremes: if these buildings are built with the cheapest of materials and approaches possible, then this will really help make it impossible for non-students to live there. Picture bass notes from stereo speakers next door making the walls vibrate all night long, the all-night party overhead...such will be the case if walls and floors are thin. Don't talk to me about having building noise regulations and their enforcement. I've been there. Also, HVAC equipment, if done as cheaply as possible, often is not be pretty in terms of noise levels. I've been there, too. This will all combine to keep out working folks and the idle rich alike, or it will drive them out, helping increase the number of units becoming investment properties, maxed out with students, two or three per bedroom.

Now, the other extreme: condo units independently suspended from the building frame, with no interconnections among them; concrete walls between each unit on each floor; very thick concrete floors; the best of HVAC equiepment, engineered for quiet running throughout the building; and so on. If Franklin Street were lined with units built like this, to accomodate faculty and their families, even university execs, as well as Town Council members and their families, then they would of course cost more than the cheapest of construction, but they would bring in the people who really want a down-town life and who would have the disposable incomes necessary to catalyze a vibrant downtown economy.

The reality probably lies somewhere between these extremes. Go too far in the "cheap-it-out" direction, however, and there you have it. If not for this project, then I hope these concepts will be considered for others.

If Tom doesn't snag one of the 21 affordable housing units, he'll have to pony up either $280K, $480K or $860K.

In the plan proposed for Lot 5, the 21 condominiums would average 640 square feet. They would share the building with 19 one-bedroom units averaging 850 square feet and selling for approximately $280,000; 85 units with two or more bedrooms averaging almost 1,500 square feet and selling for more than $480,000; and 12 penthouses averaging nearly 2,500 square feet and selling for more than $860,000.

CHN, Nov. 21st, 2006

For those sums, I would hope the internal construction would be adequate to filter out the noise. And how sure are we of no increase cost for these units?

You say

If Franklin Street were lined with units built like this, to accomodate faculty and their families, even university execs, as well as Town Council members and their families, then they would of course cost more than the cheapest of construction, but they would bring in the people who really want a down-town life and who would have the disposable incomes necessary to catalyze a vibrant downtown economy.

Town Council members on what we pay them ;-) ?

Imagine another RAM financial understatement - that three years hence these units are %20 above today's stated prices:

$336,000 for 850 sq. ft or $395/sq. ft., up from $330 sq./ft.
$576,000 for 1500 sq. ft. or $384/sq. ft., up from $320 sq./ft.
$1,032,000 for 2500 sq./ft. or $412/sq. ft. ,up from $344 sq./ft.

and then imagine who will be able to afford these units.

I know our family couldn't afford the least of these units. It looks like, though, based on a recent report of the rising number of wealthy UNC students (or at least wealthy parents ;-) ) that these units are within the reach of that population.

At some point the market , not Council, will rule and dictate, so to speak, the composition of the buildings population.

Barnes B--the development has been specified for LEED Silver status. That means that materials will have to be environmentally friendly (no off-gassing carpet/paint, products available locally, etc.). The building will have to be sited to make use of solar (passive or active), and the HVAC system will also have to meet fairly rigid standards of efficiency. However, that doesn't mean the development will be energy efficient. Which is why I called for an expectation of 40% higher efficiency than is standard for similar building types.

At the estimated sales prices (major GULP!), I assume RAM believes developing to the LEED standard means added cost, but that is not always the case. If anyone would like to learn more about high performance building options, there's a great (free) booklet available from Interface Engineering.

Maybe $45K Per Parking Space Isn't So Bad!

WRAL News had a snippet on this morning's news in which they reported that a parking space in Boston was recently sold for $250K. This was a single space, outdoors, that you have to cross over a curb (i.e., no curb cut)to get into and that has a large storm grate (key snatcher?) in the middle of it. Now that's pricey!

Yeah and you have to drive in Boston to get to it, too.

FYI anyone still following this thread, I've posted videos of individual comments here..

The raw footage of the complete meeting is available here in 4 parts.

Thanks for posting citizen input at the town council meeting all in one spot.

There's an interesting Letter to the Editor in today's Daily Tar Heel. Go to:
then go to the letter titled "Taxpayer money is wasted on proposals for Lot No. 5."

I missed the DDI meeting today and would like to hear more. I will check other the OP thread.

Laura Shmania

Doug Schworer ran for Council in 2003...

Roger Perry used Raleigh's downtown project as an example last Monday. Given today's report from WRAL, he might want to rethink his choice:

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The price of Raleigh's new convention center is going up again. WRAL has learned construction costs are expected to go over budget by at least another $10 million.

The day Raleigh and Wake County broke ground on the project, it was estimated to cost $192 million. In February, that price spiked to $215 million. Now, the price looks closer to $225 million -- more than $33 million above what was first thought.

"Hopefully this will be the last change," said Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker.

Officials said most of the blame goes to higher material costs.

With contingency funds completely wiped out, the city needs to come up with the money. Officials want to use additional dollars from taxes paid largely by visitors.

Ouch! Of course, they're already hip deep in alligators.

Here's a modest (but serious) proposal.

Why not eliminate the parking element of the project altogether and use the $7.3 million investment by the town of Chapel Hill to triple (or even quadruple) the number of affordable units administered by the Land Trust? Then we'd be getting closer to a truly progressive public/private partnership that would benefit the town in a meaningful way.

This solution would also lessen concerns about the development becoming just another expensive student dwelling place as most students would not qualify as Land Trust homeowners. In addition, those who live in the condos would have to do most of their shopping downtown since they would have to be committed to living without cars (or paying for expensive private parking elsewhere).

Thanks Cam for answering all those questions. I appreciate your participation. Chapel Hill is very lucky to have such engaged elected officials. Lots of municipalities are not so fortunate. This level of transparency is very important to democracy!



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