June 2009


Ironic that the unfulfilled assertions of two Chapel Hill mayors decades apart have caused so much concern for the Rogers Road community.

The Town released this notification earlier this afternoon:

Proposed Transfer Station Site on Millhouse Road

Mayor Kevin C. Foy has officially informed the Chair of the BOCC that the proposed transfer station site on Millhouse Road will not be considered at the upcoming Business Meeting on Monday, June 22. Given the Town Council’s agenda process there was insufficient time to add this item on the printed agenda and provide the public with an adequate and reasonable amount of time to consider the proposal.

The County has informed the Mayor that, absent official confirmation from the town during the summer, county staff would not invest additional effort or resources into further investigation of the Millhouse Road possibility. However, the County made clear that it will be important for the Town to consider the County Commissioners’ request as soon as possible in the fall, and the Mayor has agreed to add this item to the Sept. 14 business meeting.

There are many reasons, technical and otherwise, that make Millhouse a poor site for the transfer station. If Mayor Foy had spent a few moments reviewing the county’s criteria for selecting candidate sites he could easily have avoided this latest turn of events.

Quick note, the Town, this morning, has fixed the links and added the missing Carolina North material.

Obviously well less than 24 hours prior to the “public hearing”. Certainly undercuts claims of transparency and support of public review.

In any case, here is tonight’s agenda with the missing supporting material:

As some of you folks know I’ve been involved – as a citizen – fairly deeply in the attempt to create a successful agreement between UNC and the Town managing growth of the massive Carolina North project.

The Carolina North project could either contribute greatly to or severely diminish the quality of life in Chapel Hill.

To succeed we need a comprehensive agreement that we all can live with. It needs to be fair, not shifting significant costs onto local residents. It needs to manage impacts so that water, air, noise and traffic concerns don’t spill over into the wider community. It needs to meet the needs of the University while honoring the community in which it thrives. It also has to have understandable consequences, demarcated trade-offs and a compliance regimen that UNC will follow.

I’ve attended almost every forum, meeting and public hearing. Suggested improvements in both process and content, more than a few which have been incorporated into the CURRENT draft.

When Council started the final phase of the process, the creation of a binding legal contract between the Town and UNC governing some period and extent of development on the Horace-William’s Airport tract (Carolina North), I took the firm position that their schedule was too aggressive, the amount of work clearly underestimated.

Unlike a traditional development zone, once the agreement is signed the Town – which is us – will be bound not only to the agreement’s stipulations but the supplementary addenda – most notably UNC’s Carolina North Design guidelines [PDF] (which envisaged 8-story buildings lining Martin Luther King Jr./Estes).

There are many moving parts to the agreement – each serving a vital function: protecting the environment, maintaining nearby neighborhoods’ integrity, providing a flexible and transparent process to manage UNC’s growth, etc.

I argued then, as I do today, that the schedule – which has become even more arbitrary (no money to build) – would severely limit the Council’s and wider public’s ability to review and digest the final agreement.

I knew that the bulk of the work would be rushed at the finish line with the public short-changed in the end.

Many of the meetings I would start my comments by pointing out that the public was ill-served by the continuing trend of providing key documents late, incomplete or not at all. As recently as last Thursday’s “public” information event (more like window dressing) the revised development agreement was not available until nearly 6pm (for a 7pm session!).

The information session reviewed a version of the agreement, completely reorganized and extended, with folks who had no opportunity to have read it (I had my laptop and was scrambling to both read the new revision and find out if my prepared questions had any relevance anymore).

Worse, I had to guess on where to find the correct revision (it is here [PDF], not available as a markup or clean version as noted on Monday’s agenda here) [I notified staff later that evening - the problem still exists as of 4:30pm Sunday].

How can Council hold a public hearing on a development agreement that is unavailable to the public 24 hours prior?

They can’t but they will.

Unfortunately, with key underlying studies delivered nearly a year late, with the development agreement still in flux, informal public input not only not fully integrated but cut-off, my prediction of a rush to failure was all to correct.

Council is poised to adopt an agreement incorporating hundreds of pages of supplementary material that they and the Town Manager have not fully read (watch June 8th’s Council meeting) , that is not – as of June 15th – finalized and that continues to have several substantial points of contention – including major traffic issues and costs essentially amounting to a yearly fee of up to several hundreds of dollars per homeowner.

Worse, the current draft agreement is peppered – just like a lousy credit-card deal – with “to be determineds”.

Without a firm contract and the time to adequately review it, the public continues to be ill-served (heck, when you buy a house you get at least 3 business days to back out after signing – and that contract has legal boilerplate that is well-established, one house instead of 3 million square feet of development and an established legal framework to protect your rights).

Why Council is insisting on adopting an agreement that is unfinished and unread? Why not limit the term from 5 to 8 years, the scope to 800,000 to 1,000,000 square feet to protect the public’s interest in maintain our quality of life? Why the rush?

Please contact Council here and ask them to grant the public fully 60 days to review a complete and finalized agreement.

Seems like the municipal elections are officially on. Kevin bowed out as mayor. Mark bowed in. Laurin, not surprisingly, ready to go again. And now Penny.

I ran with Penny in 2007 and welcome her 2009 run.

She did her homework, was firm in her convictions, eloquent and handled some rather nasty rebukes by two of the incumbents with grace and good cheer.

I’m hoping that this year, unlike the 2007 campaign where the incumbents orchestrated an issues shut out, will be a year in which the rather substantial problems before our community get not only a fair hearing but elicit specific proposed remedies by the candidates.

Here’s Penny’s announcement:

I am proud to announce my candidacy for Chapel Hill Town Council. While running in the 2007 council race I was honored to meet many folks that live and work in Chapel Hill who share my love for this beautiful town. Chapel Hill has a bright future, and I believe I would be a positive addition to the Town Council as they guide us through the next phase of growth. As a small business owner raising a family in Chapel Hill, I represent the unique perspective of the average everyday citizen. In the coming months I look forward to talking to the people of Chapel Hill to gain an understanding of their priorities, needs, and concerns. I can best represent Chapel Hill by ensuring that everyone has the chance for their voice to be heard as we shape the future of our town.