November 2010


Council has been quite patient with their development partner RAM Development.

The Lot $$$5 project has seen delay after delay, the basic tenets under which is was justified shifted substantially over that time. For instance, developers apparently didn’t need the Lot $$$5 project to whet their appetite for Downtown projects as three are on-going.

Even though Council has had opportunity after opportunity to cancel the project because of RAM’s contractual breaches, they have continued to support the fiscally imprudent project – a project which neglects the changing realities Downtown.

It is a shame that our Town’s leadership didn’t take the time to rework the project – fix its many policy and practical problems – during the long hiatus. Looks like it might be too late as, according to the Town’s PR flack, the clock has started ticking again:

Town gives 140 West go-ahead
Posted Date: 11/22/2010

The Town of Chapel Hill issued a zoning compliance permit on Friday, Nov. 19, for the 140 West project consisting of condominiums, retail and parking on Town-owned Parking Lot 5 at the intersections of Franklin, Church and Rosemary streets in downtown Chapel Hill.

This is the regulatory action that is required for the project to start work.

“Our primary interest in our review of the developer’s submitted plans was safety for all users of the public rights of way, as well as the possible impact on nearby residents and businesses and the safety of the workers on the site,” said Town Manager Roger L. Stancil.

As part of the permit review, Town staff reviewed information submitted by the developer and additional information provided by residents and business owners who were interested in the project. A public meeting was held in July to solicit comments and concerns.

The project includes 140 homes (18 of which are in a trust for affordable housing), 26,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and 337 parking spaces. Ram Development Co. is the project developer, and the general contractor is John Moriarty & Associates Inc. Completion is projected in about two years.

The 140 West Franklin building will stand four stories tall along the street and steps back to eight stories tall at the center. The project includes 140 homes (18 of which will be dedicated to the Community Home Trust), 26,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and 337 parking spaces. There will be a two-level parking deck including a dedicated public parking level which will be owned and operated by the Town of
Chapel Hill. The project also will feature a large outdoor public plaza with art by landscape artist Mikyoung Kim.

The municipal parking lot at the site is expected to close on Jan. 16, 2011. The Town has anticipated a need for replacement spaces downtown and developed a plan to replace all hourly spaces being temporarily
lost due to construction. Please see attached map map.

Parking in Downtown Chapel Hill includes the following:

On-street parking spaces on West Franklin Street: The Town negotiated with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to provide 14 new on-street parking spaces on West Franklin Street.

West Rosemary Street: The West Rosemary Street Lot (formerly Lot 4) is located west of Old Town Hall. The Town has paved and striped the lot, and has installed hourly meters for 17 spaces in that lot.

West Franklin-Basnight Lot: The Town has leased 66 spaces for hourly parking in the West End behind the old University Chrysler building. (These spaces are currently being used as monthly parking. We plan to
convert them to hourly parking as need dictates.)

415 West Franklin Street: The Town has converted 8 leased spaces in this lot to hourly parking.

The developer initially proposed closing Church Street for the duration of the project, or about 24 months. They also proposed closing the sidewalk along the Franklin Street frontage of the project and installing a mid-block crosswalk on Franklin to redirect pedestrian traffic. The SUP stipulations dictated additional sidewalks for the north side of Rosemary Street and the west side of Church Street along the limits of the project. The approved SUP also includes plans that show Church Street being closed during construction.

The approved construction plan anticipates closing Church Street for about 12 to 15 months, including closing the street later and opening one lane of the street earlier than originally proposed. In addition,
the dimensions of the closed area were modified to preserve better visibility of the businesses at the corner of Franklin and Church Streets and we will provide a new, temporary loading area in front of that same building by relocating a bus stop farther west on Franklin Street.

The Franklin Street sidewalk will remain closed to allow trucks entering the site to be segregated from both vehicles and pedestrians along the street. The sidewalk on Church Street will remain open during construction so access to the offices that front on Church Street can be maintained.

The Town has created a new dedicated web page for construction information and timelines at www.townofchapelhill.org/140west

For more information, please contact:

Jon Keener, Ram Development Manager, 919-942-3381 or 888-310-1409
Jay Gibson or Mike Taylor, Town of Chapel Hill Engineering: 919-968-2833
Catherine Lazorko, Town of Chapel Hill Public Information: 919-969-5055

E-mail: 140west@townofchapelhill.org

Last month I took my concerns about the proposed recreation fee structure amendments to Council (Parks Impact Fee: How Many (More) Goodies Do High Density Developers Need?).

Tonight, Council revisits the proposal for possibly the last time.

Unfortunately, the issues I raised Oct. 18th were ignored by staff.

The reason I petition Council at their meetings is too make it more difficult to push problems with policy out of sight. I know that there are not that many folks watching but a public plea is harder to reject directly. It is easier, though,to blithely claim that the issues brought forth were dealt with in a memo – few folks beyond Council really read through the agendas supporting documentation – fewer spend the time to analyze the claims.

I expect that Town Manager Roger Stancil will make some generic statement this evening to the effect that “there’s nothing to worry about, move the ordinance forward” even though his staff has not addressed the concerns I raised.

I won’t be able to make this evening’s meeting so I submitted the following to Council via email (another easy to ignore avenue for public access, when are we going to get a Town sponsored ‘blog?).

Mayor and Town Council,

I’m concerned that the staff did not address some of the comments I made Oct. 18th on the proposed amendment to Section 5.5 (Recreation) of the LUMO.

I raised several broad issues and made three specific critiques, none of which were directly addressed in the staff memo before you.

From a broad perspective, I argued that the new proposed formula would not be equitable, that the majority of cost that should be borne by a developer are shifted onto the community and that delaying implementation for some zones means the Town will miss the best opportunities for equalizing funding of services between the developers and the community.

The staff memo doesn’t directly address these broad concerns.

You might recall that I asked that two contentions, that developers would not pay the fee at parity or that the delay was necessary, be supported by factual detail. A month later, staff has still offered NO SUPPORTING EVIDENCE that a higher fee – say %75 – or immediate implementation will impact proposed or ongoing projects.

This really bothers me. I hope you share my concern and, considering that the recommendations staff has made are based on these key assertions, will ask for documentation supporting their belief.

As far as an equitable allocation of costs for services, I suggest you look at the proposed fee schedule in light of the %1 Arts fee and the requests for %15 affordable housing.

At %80, the Lot #5 project would yield roughly the same amount as the %1 Arts requirement. If we use RAM Development’s figures for the costs of affordable housing (including parking), even at %100, the recreation fee is a fraction of the affordable housing cost.

Council must recognize that the cost of providing recreational opportunities in the TC zones is substantially higher than providing them elsewhere. Council has pledged to increase the number of residents Downtown and has even created the new TC-3 zone to promote higher density development to accommodate those new residents. Beyond creating a new zone, Council continues to be quite generous in stretching existing and new zones to accommodate developers and increase their profit margins, East54 and Greenbridge both being notable examples.

Unless the Council plans to siphon off funds from these zones to subsidize services elsewhere, leaving those new residents high-and-dry, the fees collected from the developers should match to some degree the costs of providing these services within Downtown. Shifting those costs off onto residents, some who are still waiting for new recreational opportunities, is not fair.

Again, there has been no direct evidence – no documented conversations, etc. – that asking developers to pay at a rate comparable to the Arts fee is a show stopper.

As far as delaying the implementation for a select few projects, the Town will miss an opportunity, as with the fee reduction, to equalize funding of needed services between the developers and the community. Projects like the University Square redevelopment are rare. There has to be a firm, factual justification for delay.

Please wait to make a final decision on this amendment until: one, staff documents their underlying assertions; two, a comparison is made between other fees/requirements Council levies on developers and a higher recreation fee allocation; three, an analysis is made to show how much revenue is lost by delaying implementation of the ordinances for projects in the pipeline.

Thank you.

I’ve been highlighting the importance of treating the Bolin Creek watershed as a regional resource suffering from our piecemeal approach establishing adequate policies for its protection.

The whole basin requires, and deserves, a greater level of cooperation between Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Orange County, Orange Water and Sewer Authority(OWASA), the State’s Divisions of Water Quality (DENR-DWQ) and the Corps of Engineers to maintain and enhance its value as natural and vital resource.

Bolin Creek, though impaired from Carrboro to Lake Jordan, still retains many charms.

Andrew Vanderveer has documented a few in the following film (hat tip to The Friends of Bolin Creek).

YouTube Preview Image

I admire Senator Russ Feingold’s tenacious defense of our basic civil liberties and Rights.

This evening Russ, a progressive visionary with backbone and real moxy, lost his seat as the flood gates he help build to control the untraceable torrent of money into our election process fell before the onslaught unleashed by the Supreme Courts ruling in “Citizens United”.

The lesson this year is “cash is king”, the easiest way to undermine progressive policy is to whip out the corporate Visa and run a tab.

Courtesy of the US Chamber of Commerce and corporate cut-outs like the American Action Network, not only has Wisconsin lost a champion of the working man but we all have lost a vigilant defender of our Constitutional freedoms.

[UPDATE 2]

The referendum is shelved with a margin of over 1,000 votes. Next up, the transit tax referendum.

[UPDATE 3]

Just listened to a really inept analysis of the sales tax referendum problems on WCHL. WCHL is usually ridiculously deferential to Aaron Nelson of the local Chamber of Commerce – rarely calls him out on his BS – and tonight was no exception. They left unchallenged his contention that many local folks are too stupid to understand the consequences of voting against the tax or that it was a knee-jerk reaction (disregarding the likelihood that people knew that the BOCC DID NOT promise to keep property taxes down if the referendum passed).

Further, no one, including OrangePolitic’s Ruby S. questioned the difficulty of selling the necessity of increasing the local tax bite when the BOCC was able to find $610,000 to buy a new Library site in Carrboro last week or the BOCC’s lack of political will to redirect a one-time $4.6M windfall to projects outside those outlined in the referendum.

I like the crew at WCHL but tonight’s review of the referendum – their inability to probe the supporters contentions, not entertaining any contrary viewpoints – was a FAIL.

[UPDATE 4]

10:15pm and the crew at WCHL continues to suggest that the failure of the referendum was a knee-jerk reaction “my daddy voted against taxes and so will I”. OUCH!

Elizabeth Friend, thankfully, did make a great point about needs vs. wants – we want more technology in the schools, we need to improve EMS. That the next round of discussions should center on what absolutely needs to be addressed vs. what is a nice to have that can be postponed for better times.

Finally, Fred Black made the point that the school boards haven’t set aside sufficient funds for maintenance, that the lottery contributions can’t cover the expected costs and that money will have to be found. Unfortunately, he still suggests that we need to raise additional monies instead of finding it within the current budget.

[ORIGINAL]

As of 8:25pm, 36 of 44 Orange County precincts reporting, the sales tax referendum looks to be in trouble.

Of 38,980 votes, 48.18% (18,780) are for the incremental increase and 51.82% (20,200) are against it.

I’ve been discussing the issue with folks the last few weeks and had a sense that in spite of a concerted effort by the Chamber sponsored PAC (which was running interference for the NC Realtor association), the referendum could be defeated.

I thought this version of the referendum was flawed for a variety of reasons: not using the revenue in a focused manner for economic development, not dedicating the lions share of the allocation to human services (which includes EMS), sugar-coating the measure by sending a chunk to the schools, etc. (read more here, here [ChapelHillWatch], here [CHW] and here [CHW]).

What happens if it goes down?

If the County plans to reintroduce the measure it should reassess the purposes it will be put towards – folks are looking for maximum impact not a diffuse flow of new monies.

The Board of Commissioners (BOCC) should also calibrate their rhetoric more carefully – avoiding claims like those by Barry Jacobs this evening that passing the tax would keep property taxes down – an unsupported contention.

If the Chamber or some other local entity sponsors a new PAC to sell the measure, I hope that the local media will probe the reasons why a group like the NC Realtor association threw so much money behind this year’s PAC – was it a cheap way to keep the land transfer tax off the table?

Finally, the BOCC should understand that if you plan to ask folks for more money to address critical needs because the budget cupboard is bare, they can’t turn around and plunk down $610,000 on a new piece of property or funnel $4.6M in debt savings to other purposes.

[UPDATE]

As of 8:43pm, 40 of 44 precincts reporting, 48.27% (19,576) FOR and 51.73% (20,977) AGAINST – 40,553 votes total.

As of 6pm Lincoln Center was at 241 voters, a better than expected turnout for this year’s mid-term.

As of 6:35pm the Library weighed in at 647 voters, lagging Caldwell. Considering that Estes Hills precinct had a large early voting contingent, the numbers on the ground there are not necessarily indicative of voter disinterest. I expect a very robust final number.

Quick update on Caldwell precinct located in north Orange County near Rougemont.

I handed out Democratic party voter guides from 9:30am until 4:00pm to a steady and heavy stream of voters. With over 680 voters clocking in by 4pm, the precinct was trending towards a very healthy showing – a possible total for today of over 900+ folks. Add in the nearly 30% of early voters and the totals will be approaching 2008′s general election.

Well done Caldwell!

I’m headed to Lincoln Center in Chapel Hill for the 5-6pm shift After that it is a quick stop at the Library to vote.

If you haven’t voted yet there is still plenty of time Get out and make a difference.

In case there’s any confusion, Morgan Freeman had nothing to do with this post!

I’ll be helping the Orange County Democratic Party over at the Caldwell precinct in northern Orange County from 9:30am to 4:00pm. Drop by if you’re in the area.

Over the last week I’ve received emails asking my recommendations for the judicial races. Here’s who I’m voting for:

US SenateElaine Marshall

I know, Elaine isn’t running for the bench but since I have your attention….

A lot has been made of the apparent Democratic electorate malaise this year. We are still involved in the longest war of our country’s history. We still haven’t punished the use of torture or kidnapping as tools of war. Affronts to our Constitution, to basic human rights continue to be promulgated. Backroom deals derail chances of improving our populaces health and welfare. Billions are bilked and the public coffers milked. Spying and lying are now commonplace insults to our country’s democratic well-being. So much of the same old, same old with nary a peep from so many Democratic “yes we can change” Congress folks.

I understand that immense lethargic unease the folks that turned out in 2008 must feel. Does that mean we need to suffer with a Burr under our saddles another 4 years? Hell no.

Elaine is more than the anti-Burr choice. She wasn’t supported by the torpor inducing national Democratic apparatchik, a real win in my book. She will work to bring real change on behalf of all North Carolinians if elected. Do your part today to make that happen.

Supreme Court – Bob Hunter

Both candidates have a strong record on governmental transparency, solid experience and track records of reasonable judicial advocacy. While Jackson served as counsel under Labor Secretary Cherrie Berry during a period of time when that office was less than proactive on a slate of labor related issues, it’s not clear to me if her role allowed her to advocate for better outcomes. Hunter has the edge in experience, great endorsements and, as a Democrat, the background to work towards an equitable decision on Congressional redistricting should it land in the Court’s hands.

Court of Appeals – Gray,Elmore,Geer.

Gray and Geer, Democrats, have solid reputations, been unequivocal that politics will play no role in their courts. Elmore is a solid choice.

Court of Appeals – Instant Runoff version: Thigpen – 1st. Hammer – 2nd. Payne or Middleton or Vesper -3rd.

In other races:

Board of Commissioners – Earl McKee.

I’ve been watching Earl as he has taken on a few County issues these last 18 months. He spent 6 months attending BOCC meetings to get a feel of the office before ever standing up and speaking his piece. His first issue, challenging the expensive remodeling of an office space to serve as a Commissioners chamber, demonstrated the type of leadership he plans to bring to the Commission: he did his research, spoke sincerely and directly to the issue, stood firm on his principles while pursuing the best policy for both his rural district (District 2) and the County as a whole.

Sales Tax Referendum – AGAINST

This is a lousy year to raise any taxes – no matter how small the bite – but that is not the main reason I stand so firmly opposed to this referendum.

Poverty is on a steep uptick in Orange County. Demand for health and welfare services is at an all time high. Long needed structural shifts – from fully staffing our community health system to shifting the emergency homeless shelter burden off the IFC – are not occurring supposedly due to fiscal difficulties at the County level. Yet, when presented with $2.3M from a sales tax or $4.6M windfall from refinancing the County’s debt, the BOCC chose areas outside those vital needs.

I lobbied them to put the lions share towards addressing the needs of those struggling the most – for the 1 in 5 Orange County residents in poverty and other residents who are just treading water. $2+ M new revenue targeted effectively represents more than a life jacket – it would lift folks out of the deep end of the pool and move them on to firm ground.

Again, I appreciate the BOCC making a somewhat firm commitment to spending priorities – I just don’t support the same set of priorities.

The BOCC has been clear, as they should be, that this revenue sharing plan is a firm commitment over the next 5 years and will not change – period. The BOCC has also reaffirmed their stance that this new revenue will not replace existing revenue or cover existing expenses – it is new money for a new purpose )funds will not be freed up elsewhere that could be redirected to human services).

Given that, tomorrow, I’m voting NO for the sales tax in hopes that we will get another chance to set the priorities for that spending, that the new priority will be waited heavily towards addressing human service needs and that core needs – like improved emergency medical services(EMS) and required school facility repairs – be paid out of core budget.

More of my reasoning on voting against the sales tax below:
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