February 2009


A couple meetings tonight that folks may want to check out.

First, a meeting on Northside and the corrosive effect burgeoning development, taxes and shrinking opportunities is having on that traditional community.

From today’s Herald-Sun:

Local activists united to address what they view as “historic discrimination, rising property taxes, and development that threaten communities of color in Chapel Hill” will share alternate visions for collaborative sustainability and social change at 6 tonight.

United with the Northside Community Now (UNC-NOW), St. Joseph C.M.E., NAACP, and EmPOWERment Inc. will host a community meeting at St. Joseph C.M.E. Church, 510 W. Rosemary St., to discuss the impact of local development on historically African American neighborhoods.

“It is important that we come together as a community to be the voice of righteousness and justice in the face of the injustice and racist environmentalism that is threatening our neighborhoods,” the Rev. Troy F. Harrison of St. Joseph C.M.E. said in a news release.

Second, at 7pm, the second Town-sponsored community outreach on the Carolina North development agreement.

A Public Input/Information Session on Carolina North will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, in the Chapel Hill Town Council Chambers of Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Carolina North is a proposed satellite campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. It is expected to be contained within about 250 acres of the Horace Williams Tract’s 1,000 acres and be built in phases over the next 50 years, as proposed. The property lies just to the north of Estes Drive adjacent to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The Thursday session will provide an update on the status of UNC-Chapel Hill’s
Carolina North plans and a description of issues being addressed by policy-makers and Town/University staffs. These issues include the following: design standards and public art; police/fire/EMS facilities and services; school site; recreation facilities; greenways, connections; historic, cultural features; stormwater management on site; water use and reclamation; energy conservation, carbon credits; Solid waste management; remediation of landfill; stream buffers; trees, landscaping; sedimentation; neighboring lands, compatibility, buffers; noise, lighting. A public comment period is scheduled.

This meeting will be aired live on Chapel Hill Government TV 18. Additional informational sessions on Carolina North have been scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. March 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. April 1.

For more information, contact the Town of Chapel Hill Planning Department at (919) 968-2728 or carolinanorth@townofchapelhill.org.

Additional material is posted online at www.townofchapelhill.org/carolinanorth.

Tonight presents an excellent opportunity to not only get information but to help steer the discussion on what should be part of the development agreement which will codify the community’s expectations.

Laurin, a sitting member of the current Council ruminates this evening on what makes a good Mayor and Councilmember.

Public service is not a right, but a privilege. Holding public office can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. Being a good mayor or a good council member certainly comes by trial and error and by experience itself. The bottom line is to never lose sight of what drew you to the position in the first place.

Laurin, a one-termer (so far), is up for re-election with Mark Kleinschmidt, Ed Harrison and recent appointee James Merritt.

With elections almost 8 months off it appears that the jockeying for position has begun.

More from Laurin here.


Today’s Chapel Hill News carries an interesting story from Jesse DeConto on concerns circulating around the misfire (not to sugarcoat it) known as East54. The story, which was as much about how the “dense/tall growth at any cost” Council majority’s vision is running up against reality, as it was the anonymous “I could be in Atlanta or Charlotte” East54.

OK, even though I wasn’t thrilled with East/West Partner’s “virtualization” of Chapel Hill, I did credit them for committing to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) standards (though Council wasn’t clear on what to do if the project didn’t meet those goals).

But does that justify such a pedestrian (to be nice) heap?

I expressed my concerns about the trade-offs – minimal setbacks, in-lieu monies instead of affordable square footage, height on Highway 54, traffic patterns, etc. – but was in the minority as the project sailed through an orchestrated “public review” (count me in as one of East/West developer Roger Perry’s “vocal minority” that unfortunately points out that the current sustainability political palaver is parading sans clothes).

Though the story tried to be balanced, it appears, as reported here to have raised the hackles of a few folks.

I understand the realities of today’s news media but I really wish the CHN had spent a bit more time using the “wayback machine” to contrast today’s political posturing from the more “veteran” of the Council folks (including those up for re-election) with what they stood for when they were more than happy to push East54 (and Woodmont) right on through based on a strange read of sustainability.

More on that later.

Bill Strom, following his usual strategy of playing to his “expertise” in transportation, said

“It’s a change in the development pattern, but the guiding principle there is that it is at a regional rail stop,” said Strom. “In order to get federal and state support for these projects, you have to have density organized in a way that promotes ridership.”

Yes, approval of that pile of nondescript architecture, looming over the Glen Lennox neighborhoods and serving as the “de facto” gateway to Chapel Hill, was justified by a rail stop coming sometime mid-century.

This is what passes nowadays for cogent analysis.

In any case, I’d rather leap off the train ala “Slumdog Millionaire” than alight on East54′s commercial doorstep.

Is there an alternative I believe is better?

Sure. Look east to Durham’s new multi-modal public transit station which will serve the Bull’s ballpark, the “white elephant” (Durham’s County jail), Downtown Durham and the American Tobacco complex. Downtown shopping, the Durham Performance Center and Theater, the Durham public library and Arts Guild is not that far away.

The glass heavy design (not sure the role environmental concerns played there) would not be fitting for Chapel Hill but every time I drive by the construction site (finishing this month) it seems like the unfolding design complements Durham’s retrofitted Downtown. Of course, like other Durham projects, the budget was blown – not unlike Chapel Hill’s Town Operations Center.

Central. Convenient. Complementary to its urban environment.

More on Durham’s multi-modal transit station backstory from the Urban Planet forums.

Orange County Voice, another Orange County organization working on the trash transfer site issue along side Preserve Rural Orange, has picked up on the Plan B options I have posted on as recently as last Fall (Trash Talk:Commissioner Gordon “No Plan B”).

Bonnie Hauser, Tony Blake, Susan Walser (recent editorial) and other members have done their homework, presented their cases both for cost effectively using existing local transfer services (one of the options I proposed to the Orange County Commissioners starting several years ago) to partnering with UNC on Waste To Energy facilities [OCV research].

Feb. 11th they renewed their call as reported by Mark Schultz in the Chapel Hill News.

The report says vendors charge $40 to $50 per ton to dispose of waste using existing facilities. Two vendors run waste transfer facilities in Durham and are willing to take Orange County’s waste on a monthly or yearly basis, the report says.

By contrast, the report says Orange County estimates it would cost $47 to $62 per ton to dispose of waste using a new county transfer station. The difference comes in the county’s spending too much to buy property, spending too much to build the facility and locating it in a rural area that lacks water and sewer services, according to Orange County Voice.

The Commissioner’s have opted to research (Herald Sun, Jan. 27th, 2009) alternatives to siting and building a new facility in the particularly troublesome proposed Hwy 54 locale. The race is on to see if common sense and a keen eye towards the future will win out over the current course of events.

Watching the folks who formed PRO – Preserve Rural Orange – in response to UNC’s foray into airport building and Orange County’s crazy siting of the trash transfer station on Hwy. 54 has been encouraging. From a small group of concerned citizens, they have developed an activist organization that puts the “pro” in PRO.

These are long term issues but, so far, they’ve done a great job rallying other concerned folks from across the county to address these significant issues.

Here’s Laura Streitfeld’s report on yesterday’s visit to Greensboro’s waste transfer facility.

To read and listen to WCHL 1360 AM coverage of Orange County Commissioners’ visit to the Greensboro Waste Transfer
Station, click on the link below: WCHL report.

Visit to the Greensboro Waste Transfer Station

Yesterday morning I visited the City of Greensboro’s Waste Transfer Station, on a trip planned for new Orange County Commissioners. I rode in a van from Hillsborough with commissioners Pam Hemminger, Bernadette Pelissier and Steve Yuhasz, Orange County’s Solid Waste Director Gayle Wilson and Solid Waste Planner Blair Pollock, and reporters from the News and Observer, WCHL 1360 AM, and a student reporter and camera person from UNC. When we arrived at the station we were joined by Bonnie Hauser and Susan Walser of Orange County Voice and Forrest Covington, who is working on a video project with Bonnie Hauser. While at the site I took photos and video, and attached are two photos, one of a truck dumping trash inside the building and the other of trailers parked outside, with petroleum tanks in the background. Steve Yuhasz speaks with Jeri Covington in the second photo.

City of Greensboro Environmental Services Director Jeri Covington talked with us and answered questions about the city’s landfill and waste management history and the transfer station’s financing, construction and operations, then took us for a tour inside on the floor, where operations were slowed down for us to walk around. Like the proposed Orange County station, the two-story Greensboro station is entirely enclosed. Inside there was a thick dust in the air that clouded some of my photos, stirred up by the wind blowing in and by the constant motion of trucks and earthmoving equipment driving in and out, dumping and pushing trash across the floor. The smell was not as strong as I anticipated, but walking through the dusty interior I did get a vivid picture of how traffic, noise and airborne particles from an entire county’s waste would affect the ecosystem and watershed in southwest Orange County.

In selecting a site, Jeri Covington noted that they looked for property close to the interstate and near rail lines in an industrial zone. As we saw on our drive in, the station is close to an I-40 exit and and surrounded in all directions by petroleum tanks which Covington called “tank fields.” When it was built in 2005, the Greensboro facility’s cost of construction was $9 million, and the cost of the ten acre property, which Covington said was too small, was over $800,000. She described the station’s funding as a “hybrid,” explaining that they receive funds from city taxes and from tipping fees for taking trash from outside municipalities and companies. At the Greensboro station, garbage is dropped from the upper floor into tractor-trailers below and hauled to the Uwharrie Regional Landfill in Mt. Gilead, North Carolina.

The visit and the van ride were both informative. On the way to Greensboro I spoke with Pam Hemminger, and learned about her background, school board experience and new role as a commissioner. Riding back, Gayle Wilson and Blair Pollock shared their expertise on a broad array of waste management and recycling issues, answering Steve Yuhasz’s and my questions. Wilson discussed the future of the county’s collection centers on Bradshaw Quarry Road and Ferguson Road, one or both of which could close if a collection center were built on the Howell property near the proposed transfer station.

My purpose in visiting the station with the commissioners was to bring back information that would be useful to county residents. Photos, video and a description of the Greensboro station visit will be posted soon on the Preserve Rural Orange website. At our upcoming meeting on March 1st, I look forward to sharing more with you about recent developments in the waste transfer issue. Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments at: info@preserveruralorange.org

While it has been some time since I posted new content it doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped working those issues – the future of Orange County’s waste management, the Carolina North development agreement, 2009′s Town budget, living within our community’s means, etc. – I believe will have significant forward impacts – good or bad – on the quality of our community’s life.

As usual, I’ve read a ton of development related documents flowing out of Townhall and the University, argued for improvements and changes in policy before Council, attended a variety of meetings, as part of what has become the usual routine.

What I haven’t done is keep those folks that read my ‘blog up to date.

I know you are out there, still checking in, thank you for that. Like many folks these days, carving out time for family, work, civic and social responsibilities – what has to be done – requires more and more effort to balance against what we want to do.

That said, in an effort to provide background for local public policy discussions, an occasional counterpoint to other sites take on local issues and another platform for local groups to get their message out, I’m going to try to be a little more consistent and timely with the updates.