August 2010


I was unable to attend the latest Civilian Review Board meeting but according to the Indy’s Joe Schwartz, the process continues to lurch forward.

One point that I thought needed answering, why wait for NC legislative approval, was dealt with. Sally Greene and Mark Kleinschmidt both seemed to endorse moving forward creating a board that had all the powers of review except that of perusing personnel records (which will require statutory approval – something already done elsewhere).

Barry Freeman, one of the protesters arrested 2 years ago at Chapel Hill’s Army recruitment office, laid out the case for not waiting:

“A review board can be set up that receives complaints doesn’t necessarily have to go call some policeman and look up his record,” Freeman said. “That might be nice, but without that you can still have 90 percent of the value of a review board. Waiting for the General Assembly to act is just putting off for longer than the two years we’ve been waiting to get this going.”

I’m still thinking through how to best deal with the issues which sparked the call for such a board.

The current Council/Mayor special review committee is too insular to qualify as an instrument of transparency and greater public overview.

Creating a new overview group, though, also runs the risk of building walls between the community and our police force. In many ways, our current force, and its management, have worked to bridge the gaps exposed by a number of recent incidents.

I participated in the recent community/police forums which was supposed to create a list of issues that the force needed to focus on. There were several problems, unfortunately, with those forums: the process was stilted and forced – crafted to avoid “hot spots”, the output of the forums was watered down substantially at the summary level (distinct critiques were lost in massaging them into more general categories) and instead of an iterative approach – taking input from the first set of forums, creating responses and then bringing the public back in to refine their critiques – the point-in-time sample was seen as complete.

Without regular community engagement, these forums cannot be seen as a substitute for a more formal review board.

There needs to be quite a bit more community discussion on how the board will function, how the membership is recruited and appointed, how the process won’t build walls but bridges between the force and the community, etc.

Oct. 11th the Council as a whole will weigh in with their opinions.

[UPDATE:] Joe had Indy comments opened.

In listing the roll of important events this coming week, I accidentally left out one that promises to be quite interesting.

Cousins Properties Inc., which is leading the redevelopment of University Square for Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc., will host a public meeting Wednesday, Aug. 18, to discuss the long-term vision for the site and the proposed initial phase of the project. Representatives of Elkus Manfredi Architects of Boston will provide an in-depth presentation of the development plans, shaped in part by a previous public meeting on Oct. 15, 2009. The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Suite 133-G of University Square, next to Ken’s Quickie Mart.

More information here.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this or most of the other events I’ve highlighted and will be relying heavily on our local media and hyper-local media (‘blogs) for updates.

The list as it now stands:

Summer in Chapel Hill can be somewhat slow as far as community initiatives. Council is on hiatus. UNC downshifts. Most folks have their hands full dealing with the heat, their jobs, kids home from school, vacations.

Summer, though, is not always a time for sluggish vigilance. For instance, I learned many years ago UNC’s favored tactic of launching potentially controversial development initiatives or making, quietly, substantial changes to existing development plans, during the summer doldrums. While UNC’s transparency has improved since the Moeser era, the record is sometimes spotty. For instance, as summer began the sharp contrast between UNC’s commitment to transparency during the Carolina North development agreement process and the quiet introduction of site proposals made June 21st to the Corps of Engineers.

While the cat is away….

UNC, of course, isn’t the only local institution to strategically start or stop potentially unpleasant, at least to the public, initiatives while most residents are off-line. The County, Town and other local groups have counted on a somewhat soporific citizenry ignoring substantial shifts in direction in the heat of the summer. While counter to the many pledges of greater transparency, the trick often works.

Mid-summer policy shifts, though, also happen as staff, freed from pesky community and elected folks intervention, make strides on the pile of work before them.

One good example, the local Municipal Planning Organization’s Hwy. 54-I40 corridor study, has moved forward at an accelerating pace. The MPO, a joint effort by Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham to manage regional growth, is formulating a set of development policies which will have wide ranging impacts on Chapel Hill’s eastern entrance (somewhat marred already by ugly East54, et. al.).

Public comment was to be cultivated during three outreach sessions but that input, at least based on my reading of the current draft, owes more to fitting public commentary to an established agenda than changing course based on valid public concerns. The clock is ticking on this initiative, which simmered during Spring and is reaching full boil now. Council will be asked to review the plan mid-September, and, as of now, hasn’t really set a schedule for Chapel Hill residents to weigh in (in other words, what is before us now might substantially be what is adopted).

While, at first glance, the Hwy 54/I-40 corridor study might seem a bit abstract, of little consequence now, its tenets will come into play quite soon when developer Carol-Ann Zinn pushes Ayden Court v2.0 this Fall. Ayden Court was a proposed development which ran afoul of fowl. Concerns about maintaining a local waterfowl conservation area played a role in v1.0′s demise.

There are many other pots simmering, some of which are beginning to emit steam.

Two meetings, the Glenn Lennox Neighborhood Conservation District which shifted from information gathering to its next phase and the presentation of the latest Campus-to-Campus Connector draft proposal, have already occurred (don’t worry, I made copious notes which I plan to turn into posts …. soon … ).

Here’s is a short list of coming events and meetings which you might want to consider attending as August speeds to an end:

  • Saturday, Aug. 14th, 11:30am-6:30pm. Rogers Road Back to School Bash. More here.
  • Saturday, Aug. 14th, 5:30pm-7:30pm. The People’s Channel Live from Carrboro’s Orange County Social Club. More here and WCHL1360 report here.
  • Monday, Aug. 16th, 5:15pm at Town Hall Council Chambers. Public Information Meeting: IFC Community House Men’s Shelter.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 17th, 5:30pm. 1st floor conference room. Civilian Review Board Council Committee. Controversial citizen review board to monitor Chapel Hill Police Department.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 17th.

    ORANGE COUNTY, NC – The Orange County Board of Commissioners will hold a Public Hearing on Tuesday, August 17, 2010 during its regularly scheduled meeting. The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. at the Department of Social Services Office, 113 Mayo Street in Hillsborough.

    The Public Hearing during the meeting will provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the potential uses for funds from a possible one-quarter cent (1/4¢) additional sales tax in Orange County, NC.

    During the 2007 legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly granted county boards of commissioners the authority to levy, subject to voter approval, an additional one-quarter cent county sales and use tax.

    On June 15, 2010, the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution calling for a special advisory referendum on November 2, 2010 on a potential one-quarter cent (1/4¢) additional sales tax in Orange County. The November 2, 2010 ballot question will ask Orange County voters to vote either for or against a local sales and use tax at the rate of one-quarter cent in addition to all other state and local sales and use tax.

    It is projected the one-quarter cent county sales and use tax would generate approximately $2,300,000 for Orange County on an annual basis. If the voters approve the referendum on November 2, 2010, implementation would not start until April 1, 2011 and generate approximately $575,000 during the remainder of current fiscal year (FY 2010-11) that ends on June 30, 2011.

  • Thursday, Aug. 19th, 5:30pm. HR conference room Town Hall.Planning Board Shelter Committee.
  • Monday, Aug. 23rd, 5:15pm. Chapel Hill Town Hall Council Chambers.Ayden Court Development review.

Let me know if I’ve missed anything!

One of the common criticisms of the Inter-Faith Council’s (IFC) proposed Community House site is that the Homestead area of Chapel Hill already hosts more than it’s fair (“a four letter word for responsible growth”) share of social services.

Is that the case?

The IFC and UNC’s School of Social Work put together this map highlighting many of the social services throughout Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

This contrasts with a more local snapshot of services prepared by the folks at A Better Site – an advocacy group asking for a more transparent siting process.

The Community House facility, as currently proposed, will serve two purposes.

The primary goal is to house men as they transition from a state of dependency to independence within a highly structured program. Entrance into this program is selective, adherence to its strictures mandatory, monitoring compliance integral.

The secondary function of the facility is to serve as an emergency men’s shelter. It is this secondary function which has caused, at least from what I can tell, concern within the wider community.

While Orange County is responsible for housing folks in emergencies, that responsibility has been IFC’s to shoulder the last few decades. The IFC currently operates a shelter along with a soup kitchen (and other similar immediate services) in the old Chapel Hill Town Hall on the corner of Rosemary and Columbia streets. The long term plan was to move the soup kitchen down to Carrboro and move the emergency shelter out of the old Town Hall.

As I’ve commented before, while I support the mission of the IFC, find the goals of Community House more than laudable, it is the emergency shelter component of the IFC proposal I find most difficult to accept. The logistical issues surrounding moving folks back and forth from the shelter, managing the access to the shelter, etc. seem to make this site unsustainable. I’d like to see IFC rethink this part of the plan and possibly consider combining, as it is now, the new food service facility in Carrboro with an emergency shelter component. If not that, at least split the emergency shelter out of the current plan.

Of course, meeting the needs of those struggling the most is not and never was the obligation of the IFC. It’s incredible that Chapel Hill has such a caring, committed organization that stepped into the vacuum created by a dearth of governmental attention.

In fact, both Carrboro’s and the County’s elected folks continue to sit on the sidelines, quietly keeping out of these discussions, showing little or no political leadership in meeting this joint community obligation.

We are poised to hear more of folks concerns as the Community House initiative starts to move forward.

Monday, Aug. 16th, 5:15pm at Town Hall, the Town will host a Public Information Meeting: IFC Community House Men’s Shelter followed by a meeting by the Planning Board Shelter Committee Aug. 19th, 5:30pm, HR conference room Town Hall.

The first meeting will provide a current overview of where the Community House proposal is within the Town’s development review process.

The second meeting, which on the face of it, appears tangential to the approval of various stipulations influencing the construction of Community House, might actually be the more important of the two.

The Council, loathe to adopt specific siting criteria prior to the IFC’s request for a special use permit (SUP) asked the Planning Board to create general criteria for siting shelters within Chapel Hill. This bit of maneuvering created a bit of smokescreen which lent nothing to greater transparency (given the rocky start of this project, it’s troubling, even to supporters, that Council missed an opportunity to provide clarity). The Planning Board initially kicked the request back to Council citing the “vagueness” of what they were being asked to do. Tossing the shelter hot potato back, Council suggested a few exploratory paths of consideration.

The sub-text of the discussions between this Planning Board sub-committee and the public, and quite possibly their work product, will influence further the direction the Community House project takes, which makes Aug. 19th the more interesting of the two public meetings to me.

The next couple weeks are going to be quite busy with events and community meetings coming fast and furious.

Our neighbors, the Rogers Road community, is having their annual back-to-school bash this Saturday (Aug. 14th) at the Faith Tabernacle Oasis Church from 11:30am to 6:30pm. Oasis is located at 8005 Rogers Road (MAP).

The annual bash helps get folks back into school days along with providing free school materials to local kids. While the event is free, I’m sure that any spare school materials you bring for redistribution would be appreciated.
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I ended up talking about the troubling aspects of both East54 and the Lot $5 with a native Chapel Hillian after a recent community meeting. While introducing myself they exclaimed “you’re Will Raymond? I saw you speak several years ago about the Town’s Downtown project” but, they went on, I “looked different”, even younger than they recalled.

During the recent WCHL1360 “Who’s Talking” interview (140West: RAM Development’s Money Tree, Chapel Hill Taxpayers Moneypit), I had commented to Fred Black that I was a bit older and a bit grayer but still flogging the same old issues of sustainability, diversity, fiscal responsibility, community input, etc. I started with nearly a decade ago.

Turns out, though, while I might be a bit older (and heavier), I don’t look as gray without the huge beard.

Here’s a sample from Feb. 12th, 2007, the night that version of our Town Council decided to plunge ahead with the broken Lot $5 deal.



Elaine and Lee are my next door neighbors. I’m usually hesitant to participate in these corporate campaigns but….the need is there and Elaine and Lee are working hard to address the growing demand for recreational opportunities for special needs folks in this community. That was enough to get me beyond my initial trepidation.

Please consider participating in their call to action and help fund recreational programming for special needs individuals in our community.

Hi Neighbors,

Lee and I have spearheaded an effort to develop social and recreational programming for special needs individuals in our community through our local Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Center. We have applied for a grant for $25,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Challenge. We have one month to get as many votes as possible in order to be one of 10 winners in our category. Like American Idol, we need to spread the word and have people vote daily. Below is information about the project and how to vote. You can vote once a day between now and August 31. We are currently in 87th place, having climbed from 348th in 3 days, so we know that mass voting makes a difference.

Thanks for you help,

Lee and Elaine Marcus

BRIDGES is a local, non-profit, recreational program that helps people with special needs have fun and learn new skills.

If you and all your friends vote for our proposal, BRIDGES can win a $25 thousand grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project.

How to Vote

  1. www.refresheverything.com/bridgesdch (click) on the web.
  2. Click on Vote for This Idea.
  3. Follow the sign-in steps. (You will be asked to create a password the first time you log in.)
  4. Scroll to the Vote button (bottom) and click. (The vote counter will change from 10 to 9))
  5. Remind your friends to vote daily.

You can vote once a day every day from August 1 to August 31 2010.

Thanks for your support.

Learn about BRIDGES: www.shalomdch.org, click on the BRIDGES logo.

If you don’t want to use a “real” email address, take a look at Mailinator. It’s an online service that provides “disposable” email addresses to avoid spam.

Local commentator and involved citizen Fred Black invited me to do a WCHL1360 Who’s Talking segment last week.

It airs this evening (Tues. Aug. 3rd, 2010) at 6PM.

While the subject was supposed to be the Lot #5/140 West project, which is slated to finally get started later this month, Fred used this opportunity to talk about development Downtown, public engagement, and Council.

As I said then and before, I believe Lot #5 presented an excellent opportunity for redevelopment.

I and others argued for a fiscally prudent, environmentally sustainable, community-oriented development that had workforce housing, affordable commercial opportunities, an integrative tenant – like a grocery store – and real public space.

Instead of getting a signature development that met those goals from the RAM Development/Chapel Hill collaboration we got a $10M+ taxpayer funded luxury condo development with little public utility. Architecturally, the project’s look fits the Atlanta beltway more than Chapel Hill – it says little, if anything, significant about our community.

Not only was the business model flawed but so was the underlying commitment to adhere to measurable energy and environmental targets (the Council, unlike what they’ve pushed UNC to do, did not adopt and has no plan to evaluate energy usage, for instance, using ASHRAE or other quantifiable standards).

Of course, I thought that the scale of this development (which you can get a sense of from the site models I created 4 years ago) didn’t fit the human-scale dimensions of our current Downtown. That human-scale is part of Chapel Hill’s ‘brand’ – evidenced by the Town’s own logo – and shouldn’t have been casually tossed without at least a proper attempt to educate our residents and some informed buy-in from the community.

What now?

The Council had many chances to walk away from the project over the last few years as RAM Development missed contractual obligation after obligation. The majority didn’t.

The Council had 2 years to work with local businesses to minimize the impact of the next 2 years of construction. That collaboration just started and already there is some significant friction between the Town and the Franklin St. commercial district.

The public financial burden begins immediately as the environmental remediation begins though the Town’s finances are stretched to the maximum by the majority of this Council’s decision to issue $20+ M in bonds for the Library expansion among others capital improvements. There’s no plan in place to publish those costs as they mount.

Is it too late to do anything? No.

This is OUR project. WE are investing $30-40M in cash and property and have every right to expect that nearby businesses can still function, that questions of public access be finally laid to rest, that every dollar invested by our residents is accounted for and that we have a solid commitment to measuring the success or failure – in terms of tax and parking revenues, energy efficiency, growth of commercial activity – of the project

I did a quick review of my posts on the Lot $5/140 West project and have collected those from 2006 to 2010 below for further background:
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