April 2007


Two years ago I made hiring an economic development officer a central theme of my 2005 campaign. I thought we needed a professional to help create and then steer Chapel Hill’s economic policy.

From today’s N&O:

The town has hired its first economic development officer.

Dwight Bassett will relocate from Parkers Lake, Ky., to begin his new job on June 4. His annual salary will be $78,000.

Bassett has worked in economic development for the cities of Rock Hill and McCormick, S.C., Concord and Statesville, N.C., and Hinesville, Ga. “Dwight has worked to transform … underutilized properties into profit centers,” Town Manager Roger Stancil said in a news release. “[He has the] ability to find creative ways to make good things happen.”

I don’t recall the public being invited to review the candidates for this quite important position.

I hope that this was an oversight and was not because the Town Manager or Council thinks that an economic development officer is a second-tier position within our Town’s management team.

Dwight is on the ‘net. From his site Bear Oil Trading Company

Dwight Bassett is a former local government employee who worked in Economic and Downtown Development for over 18 years. He spent 15 years in the Charlotte, NC region working for three local governments and consulting to numerous others. He decided in 2005, after selling his home, to move to Parkers Lake and build a shop and become a woodsmith. He has spent much free time in his life restoring old homes and wood working.

One of those projects was managing the revitalization of Rock Hill’s “Old Town” “the original Rock Hill Town limits and includes the area within a 1.5 mile circle around Downtown.”

According to the Town’s news release Basset say:

“Chapel Hill is unique. There is a finite amount of land to grow on, which requires wise development of vacant parcels and redevelopment of existing sites like old shopping areas. I am excited to learn more about approaches that are best for Chapel Hill to improve the tax base, create job opportunities and enliven the community.”

Chapel Hill is unique, and not just because we have less area to develop commercial opportunities on. Sure, I’ve been on the forefront of those asking Council to consider revisiting/revising our Town’s vision for the Eastgate/Ramsgate/University Mall area with an eye towards greater density and better utilization, but I don’t want that to consume the new economic officer’s agenda.

We need to do more to build a solid economic base: jobs growth, increasing “cottage industry”, incubation of homegrown business, making our Town’s infrastructure – especially its technology infrastructure (municipal networking) – world-class to attract high economic/low environmental impact companies, etc.

This while we continue to work on solidifying existing initiatives.

Welcome to Chapel Hill Dwight, I look forward to meeting you and discussing innovative strategies for increasing Chapel Hill’s economic activity that don’t require paving over more of our Town.

For going on two years I’ve worked with the stalwart defenders of the Lincoln Arts Center.

The long-time, self-supporting hands-on Chapel Hill ceramics arts program is poised to die. Decades spent by staff and students alike building a strong community. Fostering creativity in the young, old, rich, poor, infirm and not. Gone because more than two years is too short for our leadership to act.

Continuity, it appears, be damned.

Incredible irony for a Town bent on satisfying a lust for arts consumption (upping developer contributions to purchasing art to %2).

This isn’t about the lone program that has kept the flame of recreational arts production alive. This is about furthering a commitment to assist the growth of our residents – body and mind. This year’s budget has $2.7+ million allocated for body, none, as of two weeks ago, for preserving this program squarely aimed at expanding the artistic mind.

An incredible shame given how long, years and years in this case, the Town has known about that tickling clock. The sands have nearly run out for this venerable, popular program. The school system has asked it to vacate Lincoln Center.

The roads must roll – the program must move or perish.

Earlier last week (Tuesday), the group met to draft a response to an April 23rd agenda item covering staff’s response to our previous petition to save the program.

These citizens pulled together their critique of the two small and unsuitable spaces. Firmed up, once again, the costs ($25-40K) of making the Community Park’s Plant Road garage a great space for ceramics. Spoke of how saving this program should serve as a catalyst for more investment in hands-on arts programs. Gathered speakers to respond – in detail – to the rather insubstantial effort the current interim head of Parks and Recreations’ so far has proffered.

Then, sometime after, the online agenda changed. Staff would now respond May 7th.

Considering the very, very, very short time left to budget and plan for the programs continuity (roughly 60 days), these supporters decided to appear before Council anyway on April 23rd to share their research and concerns.

I contacted the Town Manager’s office to make sure they knew these folks were on the way – no problem.

Our five speakers gathered this evening to find out the Mayor would not allow them to speak on this issue.

No comment allowed, even during the 3 minutes every one – citizen and not – has traditionally had to air any issues whether they’re on the agenda or not.

In all the years I’ve participated in Town politics, I don’t recall anyone, even some North Raleigh visitors upset with the way our Town won’t discriminate against folks, not being allowed to use their 3 minutes before Council.

The Town had notice these Lincoln Center activists would appear. the Mayor knows a timely resolution is necessary – that we’ve come to those last critical weeks before the budget is finalized – that circumstances are threatening to overwhelm any desire they may have to save the program. It was “Sorry, no comment.”

The group took their dismissal in stride – in good spirits prepared to return May 7th.

They’ll be back then present their research and concerns to the Mayor and Council. To me, it’s another two weeks gone in a process dragging on more than two years. Another two weeks staff fails to tap into the creativity of our citizenry. Another two weeks for a poor result to be set in the bureaucratic concrete.

Sorry guys, to me, the dismissal is an uncalled usurpation of the citizen’s right to redress – an uncharacteristic and unfortunate turn of events for a Council that’s so far held to the great Chapel Hill tradition of letting folks say their piece.

How I miss seeing the Milky Way from within Chapel Hill!

It’s kind of appropriate during National Dark Sky Week, a call to folks “in the United States are encouraged to turn out their unnecessary outdoor lights in order to temporarily reduce light pollution” that a recent comment by Craig O. on my post “Raleigh LEDs the Way” reminded me that this weekend – especially April 22nd between 1am and dawn – we’re going to experience the Lyrid Meteor showers.

How did a post on Raleigh’s deployment of LED-based lighting systems remind me of a meteor shower?

Well, if you read my first campaign letter in 2005 or saw one of my first appearances before Council (February, 2002) you might recall that I got more directly involved in Chapel Hill politics because of light pollution.

Starting just prior to the turn of the millennium, I tried numerous times to get the street light flooding the front yard and upper stories of our house with light pollution “fixed”. After years of foot dragging by a particular town manager, and well after my offer to purchase and pay for the installation of a proper fixture, I finally approached the “highest law in the land” – the Council – for redress.

Seven years later, more than five after that first meeting with the Council, not only is that light still shining brightly into our night time world, the Town has added more.

I learned a lot from that experience. How much a Town staff can set public policy and mangle the Council’s agenda. How dysfunctional the balance of responsibility and authority between a Council and a Town Manager can be. How the temperament of our leadership can create a “mountain out of the mole hill” when it comes to fixing even smallest of issues – like a streetlight disrupting a citizen’s night time viewing pleasure.

On the plus side, I also learned one hell of a lot about proper municipal lighting, “green” strategies for safe illumination, the fabulous International Dark Skies initiative (whose recommendations on municipal lighting ordinances I tried at one point to get Council to adopt) and, incidentally, how to fight Town Hall on behalf of far more important issues (our 4th and 5th Constitutional rights, for instance).

As I was prepping our Celestron for this weekend’s light show, I thought about how I it’s been a few years since I made a run at getting that darn light fixed.

Maybe it’s time to throw it back on the stack?

Why stop there, though, maybe I should take a run at Town sponsorship of an annual celebration of the night time sky?

One city that recently celebrated darkness was Sydney, Australia. Government officials and environmental groups there spearheaded a citywide “Earth Hour” on the evening of March 31st, during which some 50,000 households and 2,000 businesses voluntarily dimmed their lights. “It’s an hour of active, thoughtful darkness,” noted Australian actor Cate Blanchett, who was on hand for the dramatic demonstration. Organizers hope that Earth Hour will be observed throughout Australia next year.

Sky Tonight, Apr. 20th, 2007

Laurin, you beat me to the punch!

About a year ago, with some encouragement from RobertP (CountryCrats), I started a few posts on my experience running for Chapel Hill Town Council in 2005.

I wanted

  • to cover the mechanics – signs, fund-raising, forums, endorsements, election day management – of running for local office
  • to touch upon my considerations and justifications for running
  • to give, from my outside perspective, a sense of the hours and effort within Council I thought it would take to do justice to by our citizenry
  • to suggest strategies for dealing with the awesome power of incumbency
  • to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of various “endorsing” organizations
  • to pass on what I learned about interacting with the media and getting wider exposure via neighborhood/organizational meetings
  • to highlight my campaign failures (I did lose!)
  • and modest successes.

All with an eye towards encouraging a new generation of Council leadership.

What happened to that series? Well, besides being a bit premature, I got bogged down with a few other projects.

Today, Councilmember Laurin Easthom (Easthom Page) has posted (“Tis’ the Season”) some excellent advice on getting started on the campaign trail:

There hasn’t been much talk around town yet, but election season is coming, or is in fact here. I am talking about my area of course, Chapel Hill Town Council. For those of you that would be interested in running, I have some advice and perspective.

Thanks Laurin for the kick-in-the-pants.

You’re absolutely right. For a non-incumbent with little current political exposure – now is the time to start thinking about running. I’m going to dust-off those old posts and publish my comments in an attempt to help generate some interest, broaden the field and do my bit to increase the participation in what De’Tocqueville thought was the finest aspect of our American participatory democracy – local government.

Via Jon Ham at the infamous Locke Foundation’s Right Angles:

I just heard a rumor that the Paxton Media folks are going to kill The Chapel Hill Herald. If that’s true, then I guess I can cancel my plans to attend the 20th anniversary of the starting of that paper. I was the first editor of the CHH and I remember the six months leading up to our first issue (on June 6, 1988) as the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. A lot of good people worked on that project. Sadly, most of them no longer work at The Herald-Sun.

Last Fall I wrote (“Herald-Sun Editor Robert Ashley gets an earful from CitizenWill…”) that the Herald-Sun’s online policiy of

“cutting the community off from their historical narrative is not only selfish, it is bad business. Robert disputed my “bad business” assertion, telling me the HS makes plenty from their archival content.”

I challenge Ashley to incorporate and cultivate more community involvement. Instead, as the N&O’s local outlet, the Chapel Hill News improved, the CHH failed to take my challenge and has become less and less relevant to our community’s discourse.

Paxton might’ve been angling to kill off the CHH from the beginning, maybe we’ll find out soon. Running a daily is a daunting task, as Jon recalls from an early meeting:

“Remember,” I told all the young reporters and copy editors (most of them right out of school or close to it), “when this starts, it will never end.” From the looks on their faces I don’t think they had ever thought of the CHH project in those terms. A daily is, after all, put out DAILY, 365 day a year, no breaks. It scared us all.

In any case, it is a sad day when we lose another venue – even if it has been severely diminished in quality and increasingly biased in content – for local coverage. At least we now have the Carrboro Citizen.

I wish Rob, Emily, Beth, Jamie and the rest of the great reporting staff (who I think have been hobbled in their desire to provide excellent service to our community by Paxton’s policies) good fortune.

May you land on your feet.

Over the last six years, I’ve learned more than a tad about how our local political sausage is ground. The manufacturing of poor public policy for political gain adds a distinctively bitter taste to that meaty melange.

Yes, at times, pettiness, spite, gamesmanship and ego overwhelm good sense and reasonable public policy. For a few of these “powerful” folks, public disagreement at any level, is a line-crossed forever – a sin never to be forgotten.

Fortunately, at least as I’ve discovered, most of the local “movers-n-shakers” operate using a different calculus – follow their own internal compass – center their arguments more on solving problems – than working to belittle those philosophically opposed. Sure, sometimes the waves of disagreement toss the boat of local discourse about. Maybe a few intemperate barbs about “tone” are thrown around. Debate can and sometimes does devolve into vileness.

In the end, though, whether at OrangePolitics (OP) or SqueezeThePulp (STP) or the Chapel Hill New’s OrangeChat or BlueNC or even on a WCOM radio show, valuable signal seems to punch through the noise of mean-spirited divisiveness.

I don’t buy all the hype about “the wisdom of crowds” but I do know that the folks participating on these forums – whether I agree with them or not – have provided me a new perspective and an invaluable education on local, state and national issues.

There is wisdom in yond hills.

It’s a shame, then, when a healthy dose of disagreement descends into the provinces of puerile, petty vindictiveness (or worse).

Heck, I don’t want to see a group hug or a chorus of Kumbaya but maybe, in these, our country’s current troubled days, just a small crumb of Rodney Kings “can’t we all just get along”.

That’s why I’m happy to see this Geoff Gilson post over on STP:

People, we are lucky that we live in a community that cares enough to be as active as it is. And we are all of us intelligent enough that we should be able to engage in that activity without needless vitriole.

Now, I’m as guilty as anyone of getting a few cheap laughs out of a local politico’s discomfort. But the events of yesterday have got me thinking.

So. Let me start the ball rolling. Dan Coleman, I apologize. I know you are a good and decent man. What happened on ESP was cheap. I’m sorry. On my new show, I will ask you tough questions. But the histrionics will be…well, history.

That bit of radio theatre was a hard listen.

I know Dan. I had listened to and read Gilson’s work. My (quite extensive) stomach sank as the show unrolled. I knew these two had significant disagreements on policy. They had an opportunity to publicly sharpen their cases for and against. Maybe even a better than good chance to shed a little light on the local scene.

All lost in the noise.

Sure, Geoff is working on a new show for WCHL 1360.

Cynically one might presume that this fence-mending is more about dissipating potential guest’s concerns than an honest attempt at rapprochement.

I’m taking Geoff’s bridge building on face value. I think he wants to restart a conversation and not a shouting match.

Good for us. We all win when our local “movers and shakers” expound and sharpen their arguments over local policy in the arena of public debate.

[UPDATE]

I just called in to challenge the Chamber’s Aaron Nelson’s “triple bottom line” bull (the idea that the Town has greatly ignored economic development in deference to social and environmental justice) and to ask how we keep Chapel Hill affordable for existing residents. I’m afraid they’re not quite setup to take questions. I spoke with Christy Dixon who is working the problem. This is a great opportunity to get direct responses from some of our key local leaders – I hope folks are willing to slog through and call to comment.

[ORIGINAL]

It’s time again for WCHL 1360′s

2007 Chapel Hill- Carrboro-Orange County Forum: Growing, Learning, and Living Together. The forum will be held on Wednesday, April 18th and broadcast LIVE on WCHL from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm.

What an interesting group of local talent WCHL has assembled – elected folks, University leaders, the distinguished and even some old-school rabble rousers.

If you have an issue you’re particularly interested in, I suggest you call [ 919.929.WCHL (9245) ] during the forum. It’s also a great opportunity to solicit “clarifications” on local public policy from both our elected leaders and the University..

The all-day forum features five panels and ten hours of discussion. Panelists include Town and University officials, local business owners, representatives from civic organizations, as well as local residents.

8:00 am Town & Gown Relations: Growing Together

Moderator: Walter Sturdivant

  • Dick Baddour, Director of Athletics, UNC-CH
  • Ken Broun, Chair, Leadership Advisory Committee on Carolina North/Former Mayor, Town of Chapel Hill
  • James Carnahan, Chair, Carrboro Planning Board
  • Mark Chilton, Mayor, Town of Carrboro
  • Dan Coleman, member, Carrboro Board of Aldermen
  • Mike Collins, Co-Chair, Neighbors for Responsible Growth
  • Laurin Easthom, member, Chapel Hill Town Council
  • Kevin Foy, Mayor, Chapel Hill
  • Jonathan Howes, Vice Chancellor of University Advancement, UNC-CH
  • Richard Mann, Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, UNC-CH
  • Gene Pease, Gimghoul Neighborhood Resident
  • Roger Perry, member, UNC-CH Board of Trustees
  • Roger Stancil, Town Manager, Town of Chapel Hill
  • Bill Strom, Mayor Pro Tem, Chapel Hill Town Council
  • TBD

10:00 am Keeping it in Orange: The Price of an Unsustainable Economy

Moderator: TBD

  • Delores Bailey, Executive Director, EmPOWERment, Inc.
  • Creighton Blackwell, Chapel Hill Market Executice, RBC Centura
  • Robert Dowling, Executive Director, Orange Community Housing and Land Trust
  • Barbara Jessie-Black, Executive Director, PTA Thrift Stores
  • Scott Maitland, Owner, Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery
  • Chris Moran, Executive Director, Inter-faith Council
  • Aaron Nelson, Executive Director, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce
  • Greg Overbeck, Owner, Chapel Hill Restaurant Group
  • Ruffin Slater, Owner, Weaver Street Market
  • Steve Stewart, Town Manager, Town of Carrboro
  • Tim Toben, Vice Chairman, Board of Visitors at the UNC-CH Environmental Program
  • TBD

12:00 pm Crime & Safety: Its Not Mayberry Anymore

Moderator: Walter Sturdivant

  • Allen Baddour, Orange/Chatham Superior Court Judge
  • Margaret Barrett, Executive Director, Orange County Rape Crisis Center
  • Charles Blackwood, Captain, Orange County Sheriff Department
  • Joel Booker, Captain, Carrboro Police Department
  • Joe Buckner, District Court Judge 15B
  • Brian Currin, Interim Chief, Chapel Hill Police Department
  • Carl Fox, Orange/Chatham Superior Court Judge
  • Kevin Gunter, Lieutenant, Chapel Hill Police Department Community Services
  • Carolyn Hutchinson, Chief, Carrboro Police Department
  • Dan Jones, Chief, Fire Department of Chapel Hill
  • Joyce Kuhn, Executive Director, Orange Chatham Alternative Sentencing, Inc.
  • Steven Moore, Chapel Hill resident
  • Lindy Pendergrass, Sheriff, Orange County Sheriff Department
  • Donna Kay Smith, Executive Director, Family Violence Prevention Center
  • Tom Tucker, Chairman, Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership
  • TBD

2:00 pm Education: Think Globally, Teach Locally

Moderator: Ron Stutts

  • Mosey Carey, Orange County Commissioner
  • Mike Hanas, Principal, Carolina Friends School
  • Kim Hoke, Director, Public Schools Foundation
  • Graig Meyer, Coordinator, Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate
  • Denise Morton, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum Instruction, Orange County Schools
  • Neil Pedersen, Superintendent, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
  • Sharon Ritchie, Co-Director (First School), Frank Porter Graham Development Institute
  • Lisa Stuckey, Chair, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board
  • Jeff Thomas, Principal, Carrboro High School
  • Steven Weber, Director of Secondary Education, Orange County Schools
  • TBD

4:00 pm The Arts: Too Important to Leave to Professionals

Moderator: Jon Wilner

  • Steve Balcom, The Splinter Group
  • Glenn Booth, owner, Local 506
  • Joseph Haj, Producing Artistic Director, Playmakers Repertory Company
  • Randee Haven-ODonnell, member, Carrboro Board of Aldermen
  • Emil Kang, Executive Director of the Arts, Carolina Performing Arts
  • Michael Maher, owner, Wootini
  • Tess Mangum-Ocana, Concerts and Facility Director, The ArtsCenter
  • Mac McCaughan, Co-Founder, Merge Records
  • John Plymale, Producer, Sixty-Five Roses
  • Derek Powers, Manager, Cats Cradle
  • Mike Roig, artist
  • Kirk Ross, local musician
  • Alex Zaffron, member, Carrboro Board of Aldermen

Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical novelist who captured the absurdity of war and questioned the advances of science in darkly humorous works such as “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Cat’s Cradle,” died Wednesday.

CNN Apr. 12th, 2007

A little off track for Citizen Will but I consumed more than my generation’s share of Vonnegut at quite an early age.

“Welcome to the Monkey House”, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater”, “Cat’s Cradle”, “Slaughterhouse Five”, “Breakfast of Champions” (!!! for this 10 year-old reader), Kilgore Trout and so much more demonstrated a perverse and subversive twist, at least to someone raised on a steady diet of Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Pohl, Le Guin, Silverberg, McCaffrey, Lovecraft, Burroughs (the John Carter of Mars one), Kornbluth, Zelazny, Simak, L’Engle, Norton, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Herbert, Clement, etc. on my beloved sci-fi genre.

Like the twisted worlds of Philip K. Dick, Vonnegut’s works exposed me to the 60′s counter-revolution from a non-authoritative, outside the mainstream media, perspective.

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

I still vividly recall the Mar. 13th, 1972 PBS showing of Prometheus 5, a truly bizarre, disturbing and, at points, scary pastiche of Vonnegut’s earlier works. Particularly upsetting were the worlds of “Harrison Bergeron” and “Welcome to the Monkey House”.

The world of “Harrison Bergeron” features a shotgun-toting Handicapper General enforcing the law of the lowest common denominator – a false equality regulated by equipping all citizens with artificial “handicaps”.

In the over-populated world of “Welcome to the Monkey House”, the chemically sexually numbed citizenry is encouraged to visit their local Federal Ethical Suicide Parlors and “ethically” remove their small burden on the teetering ecology. Provocative, and in some ways, visionary.

Hard to believe PBS ever showed such strongly dystopian material.

With Vonnegut’s passing, we also lose one of the few remaining iconoclastic American writers who served in World War II. Vonnegut, as a close observer of the Dresden fire bombing, knew the literal heat of war. The Vietnam mess sharpened his dystopian outlook. I wonder if our current mess in Iraq will sharpen the dystopian pens of writers yet to come?

It’s been nearly a year since the General Assembly’s 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission released their 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Report.

Tonight, NPR’s Laura Leslie, over on Isaac Hunter’s Tavern reports:

State lawmakers made history today by unanimously (both chambers!) passing a resolution apologizing for their predecessors’ role in promulgating slavery in North Carolina.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle spent two and a half hours speaking in support of the apology…about their personal experiences with discrimination, about the bigger social issues at play in this apology, and about the hostile feedback they’ve received from some constituents who see the apology as a waste of time or worse.

House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman delivered a simple but jaw-dropping history lesson — three minutes on what the state should apologize for. You can hear it here.  It’s well worth the download time. 

One of the follow ups was from our eloquent North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber:

…repentance doesn’t mean much unless you’re willing to back it up. 

You can read the NAACP’s full reaction here.

One of the State’s more powerful media outlets, the News and Observer, began to experience the “power of sorry” more than a year ago when they started to unravel former editor Josephus Daniels complicity (“1898 riot designed to disfranchise blacks”) in Wilmington’s terrible tragedy.

The paper’s Nov. 17th, 2006 coverage,The Ghosts of 1898 ,helmed by Oxford native Tim Tyson ( “Blood Done Sign My Name”) extended the amends.

In a week with several reminders of how far we’ve yet to go, the legislature’s unanimous “mea culpa” for their predecessors’ actions (or inactions) is more than welcomed.

[CLARIFICATION]

Everyone gets two (2) guesses – their “real” guess and an outlandish assessment (please, keep it clean. Yes, skeletons are welcomed).

[UPDATE:]

Over on SqueezeThePulp former (and soon to be?) Carrboro Board of Alderman candidate, Orange County Democrat Women President, local businessperson and activist Katrina Ryan has offered a delicious La Rez meal for the grand prize winner and guest.

Thanks Katrina for stirring the pot!

[ORIGINAL:]

(click to expand)

I’ve covered the devolving fortunes of our Town’s Downtown Development Initiative (DDI) since last Fall.

Throughout, I’ve referred to the Lot #5 development as an expensive boondoggle, a miserable mistake, poor public policy, a looming Behometh, a monument to the triumph of political ego over the public good.

I’ve also called it a potentially vast money pit.

Our elected folks might argue with most of my characterizations but not, it appears, my claim that Lot #5 is a money pit.

According to the recent environmental assay, Lot #5 contains

An unknown feature located at position A was identified as a potential metal vault approximately 8ft by 10 in area.

Former Councilmember, NC legislative bill drafter and longtime Chapel Hill observer Gerry Cohen speculates on the vaults contents:

I’m going to assume that Ross Norwood abandoned the vault when his lease was terminated around 1970 and he was kicked off the site. I will offer advance speculation that it is filled with cash. I’m being serious about this. I think I posted earlier about the swindle with his dollar bill machines, and there was a post in another thread on OP from a former employee at Ross Norwood Esso about “questionable ethics”.

Like Geraldo Rivera’s Al Capone’s mystery vault stunt, the over-hyped Lot #5 project is already fated to disappoint.

Whether the vault exists, has cash in it or not, I thought the mystery was worth some speculative fun and a community reward.

To that end, I’m sponsoring a contest to reward two local community organizations with cash donations.

Post a comment on this thread detailing your ideas about:

  • the most outlandish, Chapel Hill related, treasure this vault might contain (Dean Smith’s bronzed baby shoes?) and
  • the most accurate description you can summon on the vaults contents (a $100,000 in singles as per Gerry) or what “the vault” might actually be (Jerry Garcia’s missing VW Bus?)

Rules:

  • Please keep entries clean and “family friendly”.
  • Winners will be selected based on accuracy and creativity.
  • I will contribute $150 to each winning person’s local charity/organization of choice.
  • Though the awards will stay within our local community, local residency is not required.
  • Sorry, no one working for the construction or excavation firms can participate.
  • Contest closes one hour before the vault is revealed.
  • Finally, while I’ll be the sole judge on both criteria, please feel free to influence the outcome by voting for what you think is the most outlandish, creative idea.

So, some good – and a bit of socially redeeming revenue – will come from building on Lot #5.

I invite other organizations more PR savvy (Liz, maybe the Downtown Partnership?) to build an “event” around this vaults unveiling – it might be the most “rewarding” aspect of this project for years to come.

The Chapel Hill News’ ‘blog OrangeChat first alerted me to the Town’s completion of the Lot #5 negotiations with RAM Development (more to come in the N&O).

The Town’s April 3rd news release celebrates what I believe will eventually be seen to be a rushed decision foisting a counter-productive, fiscally irresponsible obligation to construct expensive rental properties for out-of-town landlords on our citizen’s dime:

04/03/07 — The $75 million residential and retail complex to be constructed on Town-owned Parking Lot 5 in downtown Chapel Hill moves a step closer to reality. Town Manager Roger L. Stancil today concluded final negotiations and executed the development agreement with Ram Development Co.

April 3rd, 2007, a regrettable day in our Town’s history.

Why? According to our Town’s legal counsel, the only way now to back out of this troubled deal is to default. Default means difficult to defend lawsuits against our Town. Default means probable expensive judgments against our community. Default, after today, puts all our residents firmly on the hook for millions of dollars of expenditures.

The Council last month authorized the Manager to finalize negotiations and execute the agreement. The project will now follow the Town’s normal regulatory process for a Special Use Permit, including review by the Town’s advisory boards and commissions and a public hearing before the Council.

While they did authorize the Town Manager to proceed with negotiations, the Council also directed Roger Stancil to achieve certain goals – like a firm commitment to improve energy efficiency as per ASHRAE 90.1 20% efficiency standards and an increase on-site affordable housing parking.

Without the final modified agreement (not available this evening), it is not clear our Town Manager achieved these goals. Further, for the partial success reported – 5 additional on-site parking – the trade-offs required by RAM to get those spaces remains unknown.

Final negotiations centered on energy efficiency construction. Recognizing the importance of reducing the energy demand of buildings and dependence on energy from fossil fuels, the Council directed that the agreement require the design and construction of the project to meet a minimum 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency (as measured against standards established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers – ASHRAE).

Again, the language of the announcement leaves it somewhat unclear, at least to me, if the commitment to the ASHRAE 90.1 %20 energy efficiency standard is measurably firm.

[UPDATE] From today’s N&O

As part of the final contract, Ram agreed to achieve an energy efficiency level 20 percent better than standards established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

It appears the LEEDs trade-off discussed here was the key to ASHRAE acceptance. Of course, without the final contract before us it’s difficult to ascertain how compliance with ASHRAE or LEEDs will be measured.

The project will incorporate sustainable, “green” features that will result in at least 26 points under Leadership in Environment and Energy Design (LEED) standards, the equivalent minimum number of points for basic certification under the LEED system. The Council has established a Town-wide goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent by 2050 through the Carbon Reduction Program.

Councilmember Sally Greene suggested trading the potentially expensive formal LEEDs review for simple compliance with the LEEDs basic certification goals. Councilmember Jim Ward countered that RAM Development’s assertion of compliance was insufficient – that the review process was a necessary element to achieving those goals. I lean more towards Sally on this with the proviso that a specific, standards-based methodology for measuring compliance outside of the LEEDs process be agreed upon prior to a final commitment (would’ve been nice to also pursue some of the AIA’s 2030 sustainability goals). Again, sans the modified agreement, it’s unclear whether any process for measuring LEEDs compliance is in place.

To the Town’s credit, the environmental reports I asked for in my Mar. 27 petition were provided as part of the announcement.

The completed environmental assessment report will be on the Town’s website.  The assessment detected no underground gasoline tanks, only limited sections of petroleum-impacted soil that will require remediation.

Timed too late for our talented citizens with expertise in geology and environmental remediation to influence Stancil’s decision, this coincident release demonstrates, once again, the ascendancy of clever political gamesmanship over good public policy.

This bit of Town PR vastly downplays the caveats and disclaimers the authors used:

The report’s findings are based on conditions that existed on the dates of ECS’s site visits and should not be relied upon to precisely represent conditions at any other time. ECS did not assess areas other than those discussed in the report.

The conclusions included in this report are based on: ECS’s observation of existing site conditions; our interpretation of site history and site usage information; and the results of a limited program of subsurface assessment, sample screening, and chemical testing. The concentration of contaminants ECS measured may not be representative of conditions between locations sampled. Be aware that conditions may change at any sampled or unsampled location as a function of time in response to natural conditions, chemical reactions, and/or other events.

Conclusions about site conditions under no circumstances comprise a warranty that conditions in all areas within the site and beneath structures are of the same quality as those sampled. Recognize, too, that contamination might exist in forms not indicated by the assessment ECS conducted.

April 2nd’s letter from ECS Carolinas, LLP concerning the “Phase II ESA and Limited Soil Delineation Report”, p. 2

Based on approximate measurements of the property boundary and sample locations, ECS estimates that approximately 8,600 cubic yards (~13,000 tons assuming 1.5 tons per cubic yard) of petroleum-impacted soil may be present at the site. This is a preliminary estimate only; the actual quantity of potentially impacted soils may vary based on conditions observed during soil excavation. [CW: EMPHASIS by ECS]

April 2nd’s letter from ECS Carolinas, LLP concerning the “Phase II ESA and Limited Soil Delineation Report”, p. 6

The concerns of the report’s authors are clear. What is left unsupported is the Town’s cost estimate.

The estimated cost of the clean-up will be $232,000. The Town will assume the costs for remediation, and the developer will fund the excavation.

So, RAM Development will pick up the tab for excavating 13,000 tons/8600 cubic yards of hazardous material and the Town will pay, I assume, to haul it safely off-site and dispose of it in an acceptable manner. Given the author’s caveats and the lack of discussion of hazardous material intrusions into the underlying bedrock, I’d like to see the analysis behind the $232,000 cost estimate.

Is it as solid as RAM Development’s Spring 2006 claim of a total $500,000 in public outlays? I hope not since a 15-fold increase in the environmental costs, similar to the 10 month increase from $500,000 to $7,425,000 for those 161 buried parking spaces, would be in the neighborhood of $3.5 million!

One notable improvement in our Town’s communications is a savvy ability to propagandize, making a gold-filled silk purse out of the hazardous waste sows ear by now trumpeting development on “brownfields”.

“Developing a project in downtown reflects Chapel Hill’s commitment to build on brownfields rather than greenfields in order to preserve our environment,” said Manager Roger L. Stancil. “Brownfields are properties where redevelopment or reuse can be complicated by the presence or potential presence of pollutants or contaminants from past use. Developing on greenfields is to build on undeveloped properties on the urban fringe, often farmland. Chapel Hill intends to keep the greenfields green.”

A month ago we weren’t supposed to worry about hazardous waste on Lot #5. Today it’s an asset.

There’s a lot of fertile “brown” in the “fields” lay bare by this announcement. Once again, the liabilities are down-played, the potential fiscal “surprises” ignored, the value of the project over-stated while the obligations continue to be heaped upon our citizens.

April 3rd, 2007, a regrettable day in Chapel Hill’s history.