Tue 18 Sep 2007
X-Posted from my 2007 Campaign web site.
Even though the Chamber made it clear that extended replies where not welcomed in the 2007 questionnaire ( Election 2007: The Chamber’s Yes, No, Unsure – Again!), I took the opportunity to answer each of their questions beyond the constraints of “yes, no, unsure”.
The questions are broad, open to interpretation and, on occasion, leading. How would you answer the Chamber’s questions?
In case the Director omits my business background, as he did in 2005, I worked for Northern Telecom for many years, winning a couple President’s Awards and a Chairman’s Award for Innovation (the first IT person to do so). I have been a CIO/CTO of a couple successful startups, including Reged.com which sold to FiServ for millions. As an entrepreneur I was part of the crew that guided those companies to multi-million dollar revenues. I currently work for Tibco, an enterprise application integration company, specializing in XML technology and distributed Java application architectures.
Here is the questionnaire and my extended answers. You’ll note I wasn’t unsure at all:
4. Is increasing the commercial tax base in Chapel Hill an important priority for you?
Even before my run for office in 2005 I was agitating for a Economic Development Officer to help develop strategic and tactical approaches to increasing our commercial tax base. Council finally hired an officer, now we need leadership with business acumen to make the best use of his services.
First, we need to make sure we look for economic development opportunities within the whole of Chapel Hill.
Downtown is important but some of the most exciting areas for growth continue to exist within the Eastgate/Conner Dr./University Mall/Chapel Hill North commercial centers.
Second, we need policies that embrace and plan for the future.
Carolina North is going to spur development along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Our Town has suggested various zones for higher density development with that corridor. But the game plan the Town is using doesn’t adequately anticipate a world with $4 gallon gasoline, higher use of communications technology, the proliferation of cottage industry or micro-manufacturing.
In addition, we’re not positioned to leverage the incredibly attractive amenity the Town’s municipal network will offer within that corridor or the other %85 of Town within its easy reach.
We need to rework our vision of Chapel Hill ten, twenty, thirty years out.
Third, economic development cannot be limited to commercial development but needs to incorporate improvements in our job opportunities and mix.
We need an employment ladder within Chapel Hill. Current policy is fueling the stratification of our workforce – service workers, governmental staff separated by tens of rungs from the professional class. A healthy community is one that promotes variegated opportunities and a “way up”.
Fourth, we have to be prepared to seize opportunities as they become available and facilitate appropriate commercial growth with policies that protect Chapel Hill’s values without sacrificing the charm that makes Chapel Hill unique and attractive.
Advertising the unique strengths – the striking demographics – of Chapel Hill would be a good start.
Working within those strengths, we need to make starting, maintaining and growing a business easier. That could start with a clear guide to doing business in Chapel Hill.
Some folks like to say doing business in Chapel Hill is Hell. Statistically, business in Chapel Hill continues to grow – look at the excitement over Trader Joes – yet the perception is that Chapel Hill doesn’t care if a Mom-n-Pop can’t get their foot in the door.
I understand. Over the years I’ve observed some very miserable outcomes that would explain a poor perception.
“Feel good” ordinances, like the recent call to force landlords to rent their Downtown properties within some time period, will not only fail but exacerbate the perception that Chapel Hill is unfriendly.
Instead, impediments, like the privilege tax, need to be removed.
Fifth, we need to model our economic environment, create policy to improve opportunities, set goals and regularly measure progress. The market, to a great extent, needs to guide our hand in setting our strategies.
Finally, our policy must be “ evergreen”. Measurable goals and timely monitoring must be built into whatever new policies we adopt. We should retrofit existing policy so that our approach remains flexible and adaptable.
5. Do you support shortening the time it takes to have a project approved or denied in Chapel Hill if the quality of the development and level of citizen input remained high?
Again, the Chamber is asking a rather broad question that demands a nuanced answer. Do I think we could improve our current planning process? Absolutely.
But reducing the regulatory time limits gives me pause.
Recent history informs my concern. Buried in the Greenbridge zoning hearings was the approval for a new Downtown commercial zone – TC-3 – which doubled the allowable density and increased heights %33 from 90’ to 120’. The bulk of the TC-3 approval process occurred late Fall and I’m not confident that our citizenry was well-informed.
After the fact, a number of citizens have contacted me because I was one of the lone dissenting voices. “How did this happen? Where was the public discussion?” A rapid process was no friend to our wider community.
Worse, accelerating the current arguably broken and over-taxed planning process will serve neither the developers nor our community well.
The best course of action is to correct our current process and put PREDICTABILITY back into it. The most common complaint I’ve heard about our current process is that the outcome is not PREDICTABLE.
If a project can’t be approved because it cannot be reworked to satisfy our community’s standards we should quickly and decisively tell a developer so.
6. Would you support creating a set of criteria for desirable development projects and then expediting the approval process for projects that meet those established objectives?
It will take some time to create a predictable process that incorporates enough specifics that the Council can be confident that a developer has met the community’s expectations.
We are way behind in creating this predictable process. Once implemented, we need to continue Town Manager Roger Stancil’s work on improving the reporting process so that folks dealing with our Town’s approval procedures can easily track their progress end-to-end.
7. Will you vote to set a lease expiration date or a deadline for the Homeless Shelter to vacate the old municipal building downtown?
Forcing the issue by pulling the lease is not an appropriate solution. Moving the homeless shelter has illuminated problems with high level communications and cooperation between our County and our Town. We need to meet often and more effectively so that issues like the homeless shelter can be equitably resolved.
8. Do you support land use regulations and regulatory practices that promote the construction of office, retail and workforce housing along transportation corridors?
I’m not averse to development within our transit corridors but I am concerned that the corridors will become over-saturated, especially as transit policy and funding struggle to keep up.
Further, there is a limit to growth, no matter what corridors we develop along. The measure of our community’s “carrying capacity” is an issue that should dominate our near term discussions on sustainability.
9. Do you generally support the concept of developing the Horace Williams Tract into a mixed use research park (Carolina North)?
If by mixed-use the Chamber is describing development along the lines of that discussed with UNC’s Leadership Advisory Council – guided by the principles set for by the Horace-Williams Citizens Committee (of which I’m a former member) – and built to a master concept plan within a zoning and development agreement process that allows our Town and the University to chart a winning course? Then yes.
An incremental build-out will not serve our University, our community or our State well.
I believe Carolina North could be the spur for incredible improvement within our community.
10. Do you think a healthy growing economy is an equally important component of community sustainability as environmental protection and social equity?
What is more important, your left hand or your right foot? A healthy economy, which I don’t think is necessarily a rapidly growing economy, impacts our ability to work effectively on social equity and environmental issues.
What is a “healthy” economy though? Is it a local economy based on local businesses supporting the local community or is it a simple game of escalating sums?
Of course, the Chamber is trying to measure apples to oranges.
Would policies that ignore racist or sexist conditions – create or exacerbate societal iniquities – be acceptable as long as they promote a “healthy” economy?
Do we shave well-crafted regulations governing resource conservation and creek protection to encourage a big bucks out-of-Town retailer to relocate?
Is it acceptable to radically grow the mound of trash we plop down in the backyards of the Rogers Road community because a businesses profit profile will benefit highly?
I want to modify policy that acts as to dissuade business growth but I’m not willing to sacrifice the charm (soul?) of Chapel Hill to reap a whirlwind of a supposed economic windfall.
One last comment on “healthy”.
Chapel Hill is NOT an oasis. No matter how rich our community grows (current Council policy is definitely growing that demographic), macro-economic events are catching up with us.
The current Council’s spending is predicated on a growing property tax base. Forward projections are based on churn in the market that has rapidly diminished. Revenue inflows will not meet our Town’s inflating expenditures and the Council cannot continue to borrow from the reserves to keep our tax rate down.
We’ve waited way to long making structural changes in the way our Town spends it our money. Our Town has to learn to live within its means.
So, back to a healthy economy, we need policy to promote a sustainable local economy built and maintained by local folks that produce and buy within the community.
The modest, but sustained, healthy growth encouraged by those policies will keep Chapel Hill afloat, our community diverse and creative, during these already evolving nationally troubling economic times.
11. Will you vote to implement the additional recommendations made by the Chapel Hill Parking Committee within the first six months of your term?
As a member of the Parking Task Force I will invert the Council’s current approach and work to implement the low/no cost practical and pragmatic recommendations made in their report.
Beyond that, I will continue to work to make parking cheap and attractive to both our citizens and visitors.
Increasing the cost – even by “two units” as one current Council member suggested – makes no sense especially when dozens of other recommendations languish.
I’m quite disappointed in the way this Task Force’s efforts were used by Council. The Task Force was quite clear on the suggested order of tasks – the consensus was that increasing costs was to be avoided yet that is not what one of our Task Force’s Council member liaisons advertised.
Finally, though it was not incorporated in the Task Force recommendations, I will be bringing forward – as I did within the Task Force – the issue of predatory towing practices.
From what I’ve seen and heard, the windfall from towing folks – whether they’re visiting or not – has become so attractive that towing has become a booming business. I imagine not many folks will want to return to a community that tacitly supports $150 shakedowns.
12. Will you make economic development and redevelopment efforts a priority for you during your term in office?
In 2005, on a similar Chamber survey, I said
As Chapel Hill transitions from Town to City we need to cultivate economic activity throughout Town. That starts with a creating a new EDC, doing a real survey of all business activity and creating a strategic plan for economic development that looks 5,10,20 years out.
We need to get creative and realize we can support innovative economic activity by supporting a municipally-sponsored broadband service. Besides advertising Chapel Hill as a Town on the (technology) rise, it attracts low impact businesses that employ our next generation of consumers.
Finally, we need to revisit some traditional amenities that have all but disappeared in Chapel Hill. Drinking fountains and attractive public restrooms are a good start. And to make Downtown family friendlier, I’m calling for a state-of-the-art, world-class, “mom, do we have to leave” play structure in a prominent Downtown location.
We have hired an Economic Development Officer who is busy creating an economic profile for our Town. He has suggested we invest in a true survey, conducted by specialists in local and regional economies, to get a better read on our Town’s prospects. I will support that effort and ask our staff to co-ordinate with University on both the assay and policy proposals.
The Town has ear-marked some monies to tag-along with the NC-DOT fiber networking project. This was the culmination of nearly 5 years of banging the drum to secure this investment in our Town’s future. I will press to create a community-based effort to plan for the economic, educational and social utilization of what has become a competitive asset for local municipalities.
Unfortunately, my proposal for “pocket parks” Downtown and throughout our community has languished. I will once again take up this issue and press to make our commercial sectors, whether Downtown or elsewhere, more family friendly.
13. Do you believe the town should provide incentives for its employees not to drive to work?
More than incentives, the Town should continue its efforts to help employees car pool or take public transit.
Beyond that, we need to set measurable goals for Town-related trip miles and fuel usage. For the last few years, including making it a plank of my 2005 run for Council platform, I have asked our Council to set targets for miles and fuel usage. I’ve suggested using various incentives to promote staff innovation to wring the most from our fleet use. Instead the Town is still stuck at the platitude stage – CRED (carbon reduction) is good – not, let’s reduce fuel usage this year by %5.
Finally, we need to think strategically when approaching environmental sustainability issues like transit. The day of $4 a gallon gasoline is on the horizon, why have we not planned for this anticipated event?
14. Do you support modifying the Town’s panhandling ordinance to be more restrictive of the locations where people may panhandle in the downtown?
Punitory measures alone will not solve either the panhandling or the abusive loitering problems Downtown. Community-based policing, outreach and other practical measures should help reduce the problem.
This question, I imagine, is another Madison-like approach to a Chapel Hill issue. Madison’s “Reach Out” approach is attractive, helping to focus directly on the problem, using an appropriate tool-set to address the multi-dimensional problems of a diverse Downtown population.
Adopting a 50’ limit around ATMs, though, is not appropriate. As others have noted, enforcing “aggressive panhandling” ordinances involves a subjective analysis. Blocking off hundreds of feet of Downtown’s sidewalks to activity that might or might not be actionable, even trying to determine the radius of actionable offenses, is problematic.
We need to police specific behaviors. The unruliness that goes on in-front of Ben & Jerry’s, for instance, rises to the level where policing seems appropriate.
Moving the bench, though, would better serve the end goal, reducing nuisance, than creating another ordinance which would be difficult to enforce equitably and, even if adequately enforceable, would just send folks through the County jail’s revolving door to end up back on our doorstep.
15. Do you think the Town needs to do more to make sure its committees and taskforces include more representation from the business community where there is currently very little?
Both the Town and the Council need to make serving attractive. I have met citizens who wish to contribute to shaping policy and practice within our community who are dissuaded by the steep learning curve, the family unfriendly meeting times, difficulty in determining the charter and scope of our advisory boards. And then there is the reasonable concern, given recent history, that contributing dissenting opinions is a waste of time.
We need to mediate or remove some of the practical impediments to service. We need to use modern tools – email, web services, etc. – to broaden participation.
As I called for 5 years ago – worked for on the now defunct Technology Advisory Board – eventually approved of but not implemented by this current Council, the use of these tools can facilitate participation, increase transparency, capture the historical debate and welcome broader interaction with very little cost or effort on behalf of the Town.
And, as a Council member I will encourage dissent. We must know when our policy is creating problems.
16. List up to three specific things you would do to make Chapel Hill a better place to do business? (Please limit your response to 50 words or less. Responses over 50 words will not be published.)
- Remove structural impediments – like the privilege tax – while improving the process, especially leveraging the Internet, for starting and maintaining a business within our community.
- Make licensing and developing commercial opportunities predictable, manageable and appropriate.
- Use a market-based approach in developing a new, measurable, goal-based strategy for economic development.