AffordableHousing


The following letter does an excellent job summing up my reasons for delaying the July’s abbreviated community review process for the ciritical Estes Drive/MLK, Jr. intersection, the two congested transit corridors and the surrounding area which includes UNC’s Carolina North campus.

The current CH2020 proposal calls for us to plan in haste and repent in crisis.

This intersection is a bulls-eye for development activities and lies at the crossroads of competing goals: creating an appropriate gateway to UNC’s Carolina North, managing a critical transition point between Downtown and North Chapel Hill/Carrboro and East Franklin St., supporting the new transit framework for MLK, Jr. and acting as the template for the ring of development around Horace-Williams Airport.

In many ways, it is one of the most critical areas in Town and deserves a thorough, deliberative and broad-based community evaluation before moving forward.

The following letter asks Council to take the time to “get it right”.

June 23, 2012

Dear Mayor and Town Council,

We are residents of Estes Hills, Huntington-Somerset, Coker Hills, Coker Hills West, Mount Bolus and Coker Woods and would be affected if zoning changes are made to the Town’s land use map in our area.

The Estes Neighbors group strongly recommends that the CH2020 Plan expand the scope of the proposed Estes Corridor study to include all or most of the ‘MLK South future focus area’, and develop a robust, deliberative and broadly inclusive community outreach effort to build a consensus for managing development prudently within that focus area. Two hundred and eight of our neighbors have signed on to that vision.

By definition a small area plan needs to include a larger area than the small strip along Estes Drive. The Estes/MLK,Jr. intersection is a critical element of several overlapping concerns: a gateway to Carolina North, a current traffic bottleneck, and a key transition point between downtown and north Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

We recommended a focus area plan that covers Estes Drive Extension to Seawell School Road and MLK from Homestead south to Hillsborough Street, including Carolina North. Further, the focus effort must answer the following open questions:

(1) What land uses in this MLK South focus area are most compatible with the new Carolina North campus, the biggest change in our Town for decades?
(2) How will future development be effectively integrated with the Carolina North MLK transit plans to ensure continued mobility for residents, commuters, and transit access to Carolina North?
(3) How will the anticipated development affect our neighborhoods?

Summer is not the time for this critical planning effort. Many stakeholders are away on vacations, the Council is not in session, no clear process has been described, and not enough time will have passed for residents to have adequately digested the new CH2020 plan. Fall is a better time to start a robust, inclusive and sustained community process,
ensuring both strong participation and one resulting in broad community support. We anticipate several rounds of discussions and community evaluations of draft proposals extending into 2013.

Our recommendation: We request that the language making the Estes Corridor study a priority be removed. See p.45 of the Implementation Chapter in the June 25th DRAFT Comprehensive Plan.

Not only is this narrow strip of land an insufficient basis for planning, we also don’t know of any instance in the 2020 discussions where such a study emerges as a priority. We think it makes good sense to complete an integrated area plan for the MLK and Estes focus area before any changes are contemplated for Estes Drive.

In addition, we ask the Council that the final Comprehensive Plan contain a detailed process to develop area plans for all future focus areas, including:
(1) participation by citizens;
(2) adequate time to do the job;
(3) enough data to support assumptions and justifications; and finally
(4) how area plan recommendations will be turned into changes on the zoning map.

We ask that the area plan process be built in consultation with the affected neighborhoods, the University, property owners, businesses and interested residents. We envision something much more detailed and rigorous than the 15-501 south discussions, but shorter than the Glen Lennox process for all these areas. Development within each of these areas will impact not only the surrounding neighborhoods but all of Chapel Hill.

Thank you for considering these changes.

Sincerely,

David Ambaras, Mary Andersen, Stephen P. Berg, Kim and MaryEllen Biechele, Jill Blackburn, Watson Bowes M.D., Laurie Cousart, Rose Marie D’Silva, Glen H. Elder Jr, Verla Insko, Patty Krebs, Fred Lampe, Ross and Winsome Leadbetter, Emily Lees, Ronald C. and Sue Link, Julie McClintock, Sarah K. McIntee, John Morris, Priscilla Murphy, Nelson and Diane Price, Sandy Turbeville, Pat Lowry,Will Raymond, David Robinson, Steve Rogers, Gretchen Stroemer, Susan Swafford, Misako Toda, Alan Tom, Barrie Trinkle, and Cathy Walker

A couple excellent student driven articles on Northside appeared this week.

Carrboro Commons’ Megan Gassaway published this article which reviews the history of the Northside community through long time resident Ms. Keith Edwards eyes.

Too often local media focuses narrowly on the business of carving up the community rather than providing a broader context – injecting the human dimension into the story – which better informs the wider community on why folks living in Northside mourn its passing.

Courtesy ReeseNews

Reese News,UNC School of Journalism & Mass Communication’s Digital Newsroom, leverages the power of the multimedia ‘net to give voice to 10 community members’ concerns in their story The struggle for a neighborhood.

It’s no secret that Northside isn’t the neighborhood it used to be.

The change is visible in the increased diversity of its residents and the ten-story high-end condominiums that tower across from the traditionally working class neighborhood, where massive duplexes are replacing single-family homes. Change is also evident in  the growing tension and frustration of residents in a neighborhood plagued by the effects of gentrification.

The pressure for development is taking its toll on the historically black neighborhood, and the town is struggling to balance the need to grow with the needs of neighborhoods like Northside.

Since 2010, the town has been working with the Raleigh-based consultant KlingStubbins to develop a Downtown Framework and Action Plan, which could revise and redevelop parts of downtown Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas.

The downtown proposal could have significant effects on Northside. In its current draft, the framework suggests building new road connections and parking decks in areas where homes currently stand. It also underscores certain areas of Northside as prime for redevelopment.

Well done folks!

Want a bit of additional perspective on the development pressures facing Northside?

IndyWeek reporter (and former Daily Tar Heel editor) Joe Schwartz put together another excellent overview last June (2010): Greenbridge: A new chapter in a tense history .

Greenbridge, as reported by the Chapel Hill News, faces its first foreclosure hearing next Tuesday. This Sunday they promise a further exploration of not only Greenbridge’s problems but other Downtown developments putting pressure on Northside, Cameron Ave. and Pine Knolls neighborhoods.

Change is going to happen. The question is how the whole of our community can benefit from that change. Articles like these help create a broader perspective, one that has been missing so far, in the discussions over development policy Downtown.

It is critical that the nearby neighborhoods play a vital role in determining their own fates. Until their voices are heard and their neighborhoods are treated like living, breathing communities rather than convenient parcels of land for future development, our development policy is as broken as Greenbridge’s financing.

Today is the final meeting in a several week series of outreach sessions seeking community input to help formulate a new Affordable Housing Strategy for Chapel Hill. Staff sought advice from a broad range of local residents – from current affordable housing residents to professionals managing a wide variety of community programs.

Council, after a bit of prodding and plans spinning awry, wisely recognized there are some structural problems with our current affordable housing approach. Beyond acknowledging the need to rebalance our selection of affordable housing options, Council, on the heels of Greenbridge’s financial difficulties, has finally started to understand some of the inherent risks with their current policy (issues they were made aware of prior to their approval of Greenbridge, East54 and West140 luxury condo projects).

BACKGROUND The Town Council has directed staff to develop an Affordable Housing Strategy. In order to develop a strategy that is inclusive and reflective of the community’s concerns, staff has been conducting focus group sessions with affordable housing stakeholders as well as groups who may not be traditionally associated with the topic.

PURPOSE The purpose of this meeting is to obtain feedback from the community about affordable housing in Chapel Hill. This focus group session is being held for anyone in the community who would like to offer their input about the topic of affordable housing. For more information about this effort, please visit to the following website: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=1657

I’ll be attending today’s meeting in order to get a sense of what lessons the Affordable Housing Technical Advisory committee has learned from our community over the last month.

Big agenda this evening. I also commented on the proposal for creating a range of housing options as a consequence of implementing the inclusionary zoning ordinance.

Other folks commenting included Anita Badrock, Operations Manager of the Community Home Trust and Rob Reda, the local director of Habitat for Humanity.

For the last 6 years, I have argued that our Town’s growing reliance on in lieu monies to sustain the affordable housing program was short-changing the community’s desire for more living space – especially family-oriented homes.

I understand the occasional need for in lieu payments but as the Council scrambled to create the missing housing maintenance fund – that need seem to drive some unhealthy compromises made in approving projects like East54. It is far past time that the Council finds a way to fund the affordable housing program in a more consistent and predictable manner.

Tonight’s proposal moves our Town one-step closer to that vision – codifying an emphasis on square footage – today’s housing – over accepting funds that rarely translates into affordable living space. I want to thank the Council tonight for making a substantive shift in policy that squarely prioritizes homes over programs. Thank you.

While tonight’s recommendations represent a distinct change in course, I believe we can improve the proposal to help us meet both the needs of our current community and diversify access further.

First, instead of expressing a preferences express priorities. What’s first, second, third when it comes to the goals the Town is trying to achieve? As far as off-site housing, please make it more acceptable than cash.

Second, while I understand Robert and Delores concerns about moving housing stock, there should be a bias towards providing a different mix of housing – housing for our workforce – housing for folks – like my wife and I – who wanted to get their foot-in-the-door and establish long term roots in the community – housing for folks who already have deep roots in Chapel Hill – many who have served our community for decades – who want to or are being forced to downsize into more modest housing but want to and deserve to stay here.

That means units larger than 1 or 2 bedrooms in the Town Center. That means housing uniquely oriented towards an aging population. You responded to the same call with the Lot #5 project and created a broader mix there….if the Town needs to invest to make that happen, let’s build in a mechanism to do that…

I was encouraged by Council member Ward’s recent call to review current utilization of the affordable units provided by developments like Greenbridge to see if we are meeting the goals our Town has set forth. As he put it – to tell if there’s a bias towards grad students over others.

Third, to create a framework for deciding when off-site housing is preferable and should be prioritized. This framework would give specific guidance to developers for determining when such provision makes sense. I believe we can agree, in retrospect., that Greenbridge’s initial offer to provide housing off-site was probably the superior choice. I understand and fully support diversity efforts but as the character of development in Chapel Hill changes I believe that off-site units represent a choice that can better meet the needs of the wider community in some circumstances.

Quick notes on this evening’s final IFC Community House public meeting prior to the IFC submitting a SUP (special use permit) to Town Council.

IFC is the Inter-Faith Council, a 501c3 non-profit, has provided a broad range of social services (list) over the last few decades, many of which, like emergency housing, are the really the responsibility of Orange County and other governmental bodies.

Our community is blessed to have such a caring and strongly supported organization as the IFC working on our behalf.

As of 7:45pm, 83 members of the public and about a dozen IFC staff, board members and support staff.

Council members attending: Laurin, Matt, Jim.

Previous attendees and other “usual suspects” : Mark Peters, Fred Black, Josh Gurlitz, Terri Buckner, Tim and Tina Coyne-Smith.

Phil Boyle, facilitator: “this is not a public meeting this is a community meeting that the public is invited to…”

Woman in front row: “What about taxes?” Phil: ” This isn’t a government meeting, you need to take taxes up with the Council.”

The process for the meeting seems a bit strained – too much overhead – too much reading of the riot act and not enough time allocated for interaction, question/answer and group responses.
(more…)

I want to quickly respond to Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s comments this evening.

First, spending $8-12M on the Lot #5 project, building luxury condos and enriching a private developer, is not the same as “protecting our Town’s infrastructure”.

The Lot #5 (West 140) project is discretionary – the push to keep it going is not based on sound economic fundamentals.

Putting Lot #5 on par with filling potholes or expanding the Library is a great political speaking point – but certainly not grounded in reality – suggestions otherwise does the public a disservice.

At the same time, other probable debt-related outlays aren’t included in the analysis. Mark suggesting the lump of general obligation (G.O.) debt covers the whole gamut of obligations minimizes the challenge before us.

Beyond that bit of misdirection, Mark knows (or should know) that our Town’s current reserves are low compared to historical reserves on a percentage basis.

That $1.9M increase Mark bandied about sounds big but isn’t considering the $55M hole we’re in. No matter how hard fought the battle to get that $1.9M last year, weighed against future operational and capital demands – like trying to expand the Library – the percentage improvement in overall reserves was slightly better than negligible and doesn’t position us any better to deal with MAJOR outlays (if you use a more reasonable debt ceiling).

To use the credit card example several Council members relied on this evening, there is a qualitative difference between the following two scenarios:
(more…)

Here is what I meant to say at this evening’s Council meeting.

Like a lot of my remarks, I find myself editing on the fly, so what I managed to get out in less than 3 minutes wasn’t quite what follows but I believe I made the points I needed.

The simple summary?

We can’t do the Lot #5 (140 West) project and the Library expansion together. Lot #5 hasn’t met its goals, the cost/benefit ratio is decidedly out-of-whack, the necessity quite clearly not there anymore.

Further, the Library expansion project needs to be delayed until taxpayers can bear the total cost. Beyond that, we need to request an extension from the North Carolina Local Government Commission to allow issuing bonds beyond the current deadline so when it is fiscally prudent we can move expeditiously.

Finally, public participation, once again, is barely considered.

Tonight’s remarks:

In 2010 you will be making several key budgetary decisions whose impacts will span the next decade – the Lot #5 (West 140) and Library expansion – two examples.

Lot #5 represents the greatest and riskiest fiscal liability going forward that can be safely dispensed with.

Part of the sales pitch made by some on this Council is we needed this project to kick-start development Downtown.

With Greenbridge nearly built, University Square poised for redevelopment, approval of Grove Park – which will displace the affordable Townhouse Apts. on Hillsborough St. with luxury condos – and other Downtown projects on the way it’s clear that we don’t need that supposed stimulus Lot #5 brings anymore.

It’s time to reconsider this troubled project especially given that:

1) the cost reductions that allowed RAM to lower prices haven’t been significantly passed on to the taxpayer,

2) the number of units pre-sold hasn’t grown in-line with price reductions (33 units pre-sold so far, down from the reported 2008 commitment of 35).

3) the open-ended nature of the cost of the environmental cleanup is still being underplayed,

4) the University at University Square has already put forward a much more sound, interesting and integrative proposal (123 West Franklin) for that stretch of Franklin St. than the expensive – at least to the Chapel Hill taxpayer – Lot #5,

5) still up in the air how we will borrow the money – COPs, TIFs, etc. In any case, however we borrow the $9-10M or more it will limit the Town’s ability to prudently respond in funding core needs,

6) and from what I can see in RAM’s recent missive ( RAM Dec. 22nd, 2009 letter [PDF]) no effort has been made to involve the nearby business and residential community in discussing mitigation of the type of construction-related problems that have plagued Greenbridge or even apprise their future neighbors of current developments (let alone present a coherent and consistent story to the local press).

Three years out and no significant improvement in the proposal. Three extensions to the contract granted by Council. Lot #5 should be shelved now so that the Town can take projects that are more central to its charter.

What does this have to do with the Library?

I want to see the Library expanded but now is not the time.

The memos before you [here] paint a fairly rosy picture of the borrowing in terms of adopting new debt but they don’t do a very good job in putting that increased debt in context of our already astonishing – at least by historical Chapel Hill standards – debt load.

Memo #A, in fact, disingenuously characterizes the increase to homeowners using examples of property valuations well below ($200K) the Chapel Hill baseline.

Look at the chart in Memo #A. The rate of increase in the debt load – that rapidly increasing impact on the Town’s flexibility in borrowing – running our debt right up to the debt ceiling for our AAA bond rating – starts in late 2012 and zooms steeply from there.

Of course, besides adding new debt that and anticipated G.O. additions will account for roughly several cents on the current tax rate while the real kicker is the growth in cost of Library operations – which appears to be even more significant.

Worse, the continued structural instability and weakness of our economy gets short shrift.

Now is not the time to take on a large forward liability.

Making a decision based on these figures tonight will be guaranteeing a tax increase or steep cuts or just ignoring basic obligations two years hence.

Here are my suggestions:

1) Shelve Lot #5. We can have a Library expansion – hopefully starting next year – or we can have Lot #5 – we can’t handle both.

2) The Library borrowing should be delayed until prevailing economic conditions show signs of improvement – strengthened sales tax revenues, stable fund markets which will lend money at a more favorable rate – say less than %100 of the 20 year Treasury bond ratio.

3) Have staff prepare a request to NC Local Government Commission to extend Chapel Hill’s time limit for issuing these bonds so the Council and community have adequate time to plan.

4) Use the established public budget process which kicks off next week [2/3/2010 7:00 PM Council Chambers Townhall) to discuss the Library in light of all our Town's needs – competitive staff wages, affordable housing reserve funds, the growing retirement fund deficit (Unfunded Liabilities: Pay As You Go Not Sustainable) among many others.

Last Fall many of many on Council obligingly participated in a special “emergency” meeting to acquire Dawson Hall for police and other key Town services. That urgent need hasn't gone away – the police department's facility still needs attention - why isn't that part of the rosy projections?

Our citizens deserve a diligent evaluation of the cost of the Library expansion and operations within the context of our total budget and foreseeable needs - not wants.

They also deserve to participate - not just get an agenda item 3 days before a decision is scheduled.

5) Finally, postponing tonight will give you the opportunity to carefully consider this proposal in light of all your priorities, give you time to evaluate the rosy picture drawn by these memos against your own understanding of the economy and think about how to engage the community during this weekend's Council retreat.

In addition, it buys needed time for the public to review the current proposal, attend the budget sessions, ask their questions, get their answers and finally weigh in in a thoughtful manner.

Thank you.

[UPDATE: Council Postpones Consideration]

From tonight’s Council flash report:

Consideration of Proceeding with the Library Expansion Project: The Council considered the project schedule and associated costs for expansion of the Chapel Hill Public Library. The Council delayed action and indicated its desire to discuss the expansion costs in greater detail and in the context of the entire Town budget. The Council stated it wants to know what level of funding Orange County will provide toward Library services.

Orange County provides no capital support toward the Town’s Library expenses; this includes all past and present Library construction costs, debt service for same, equipment or special project costs. County support toward Library operating expenses has remained at $250,000 since 1995 and represents 11 percent of this year’s Library operating budget. About 12,000 of the Library’s patrons live in Orange County outside Chapel Hill limits. The number of materials borrowed by these patrons was 386,000 items last year. This represents approximately 40 percent of the Library’s annual circulation.

[X-Posted from WillRaymond.org]

After 17 formal forums, neighborhood meetings, community picnics and other organized opportunities for candidates to meet and engage with our wider community, we ended this evening in the midst of community.

Tonight I witnessed the birth Orange County Justice United, a new umbrella organization comprised of 25 local advocacy, service and faith-based groups who are working together to improve the quality of life for all our town and county residents.

As part of that process, the new organization asked each of the Council candidates that attended to pledge to meet within 90 days to discuss a breadth of issues, including remedying the problems found during a recent census of the Northside/Pine Knolls communities (Orange County Justice United Northside/Pine Knolls Census).

While I applaud the formation of an organization dedicated to community service, I wish, as I said this evening to the 450+ assembled activists, they had organized a bit earlier in the campaign cycle in order to encourage a wider discussion of the challenges facing our people.

Simply put, this year’s focus has been more on houses than homes, more on begging hands than offering a hand up.

That said, tonight’s event was the best possible way I can imagine to finish this phase of the campaign.

Thank you Justice United for inviting me to participate.

What’s left then? Organizing folks to hand out materials election day (volunteer here), raise a few more hundred dollars (contribute here) and continue to work to get the message out that a vote for Raymond is a vote for beneficial change.

According to today’s Chapel Hill News (IFC may delay new shelter), the Inter-Faith Council is looking at a delay while the questions raised by local residents over the last few weeks are resolved.

Inter-Faith Council director Chris Moran said the agency may delay its development permit application amid neighbors’ opposition to a new men’s homeless shelter on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at Homestead Road.

Despite support from United Church of Chapel Hill, which is adjacent to the site, Moran faced a throng of red-clad protesters as the Town Council reviewed IFC’s concept plan for a 50-bed shelter last week. These neighbors anticipated homeless men loitering, panhandling or causing other mischief around their homes, schools and Homestead Park — basically, the same complaint some downtown merchants and visitors have expressed about the street people downtown.

The council challenged IFC to address these concerns and explain how the agency chose the Homestead site. For example, IFC is seeking detailed crime data from the police department for its Rosemary Street shelter.

That sort of research could disrupt IFC’s initial plan to gain a permit about a year from now and open the doors in January 2012.

“We will probably delay the special-use-permit process,” said Moran. “It would be disrespectful for us to file for an SUP permit if these questions haven’t been answered.”

I asked Police Chief Curran a couple weeks ago for some of the required statistics (here).

I’ve read every email forwarded to the candidates on this issue with an eye towards publishing those questions for inspection by the wider community.

Luckily, Tina Coyne-Smith, one of the concerned citizens that has taken a lead on this issue, prepared a detailed assessment of the neighborhoods’ issues for her presentation to Council last week.

She has also graciously provided a copy (here [PDF]) so that the public, the IFC and other stakeholders can review and respond in a fact-based manner.

The three categories of concerns driving opposition are:

  1. Proximity of the shelter to a park, residential neighborhoods, and daycares, afterschool programs, and schools
  2. Unintended consequences of the shelter that raise safety concerns
  3. Inequitable distribution of human services in NW Chapel Hill incurred by placing the shelter at the proposed site

A few of the underlying issues raised have been answered by Chris Moran in the FAQ he provided earlier here (Q&A IFC Community House).

I also recently asked the Town’s Attorney Ralph Karpinos if the IFC, in cooperation with the police, could rule out who on the list of incidents was not a shelter resident. Anecdotal evidence indicates that folks report their address as the shelter even when they aren’t clients. He responded that this was a question for the IFC.

While I believe there is value in sharpening up the statistics, I also want to protect the privacy of those that IFC serves. Any method the Town uses to get a better grasp of the scope of this potential problem must honor folks right to privacy.

Whatever the outcome of the current discussion, the process used must be transparent, fact-based and use a decision-making framework that incorporates the requirements of the IFC, community-based criteria (as with the waste transfer site selection), the Town’s legal and developmental guidelines along with a strong dose of common sense.

Given the respectful tone established by Tina, Chris and many of the other folks that spoke last Monday, I believe that our community can not only reach a consensus on this particular issue without bitterness but also take this opportunity to work even harder on addressing the problems driving and accompanying homelessness in our local community.

After seeing the range of concerns and responses thoughtfully expressed during last night’s citizen presentations, I’m more confident than ever that our community can pull together, find common ground and work to settle on a permanent home for the IFC Men’s Shelter.

I’m going to continue to post as much material as I can so that there’s another resource that citizens can use to research this issue. Tina Coyne-Smith is sending me her presentation which clearly and succinctly laid out reservations about the Homestead site. I’ll post that soon.

Two long stalwarts of the IFC program, Pastors Robert Seymour (Robert Seymour: UNC HealthCare Ombudsman?) and Richard Edens, both gave compelling and compassionate reasons for siting Community House on Homestead.

Below are Richard’s remarks to Council:

Mayor Foy, Council Members and Fellow Citizens,

I am Richard Edens. For thirty years, I have served with my wife Jill, as co-pastor of United Church of Chapel Hill which is the adjacent property to the proposed location for Community House. We live in the North Forest Hills community on Stateside Drive. I am an almost-daily, early morning, runner through Homestead Park and the Parkside neighborhood. I am also a member of the Inter-Faith Council Board of Directors.

First, I would like to invite fellow supporters of the plan to relocate Community House to stand: colleagues in the clergy and congregational leaders (Mark Acuff – Gathering Church, Bob Dunham – University Presbyterian Church, Jill Edens – United Church of Chapel Hill, Stephen Elkins-Williams – Chapel of the Cross, Rebecca McCulloh – Chapel Hill Christian Church, Robert Seymour – Pastor Emertius, Binkley Baptist, Susan Steinberg — United Church of Chapel Hill, Isaac Villegas – Chapel Hill Mennonite Church; Peter Carman of Binkley and Carl King from University UMC send their regrets) , supportive congregational members, IFC supporters. We rise in support of the partnership of the Town of Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina and the Inter-Faith Council which resolved a five-year process initiated by the Mayor’s Taskforce to find a new location for the shelter.**

The good news is that we are not here to discuss whether Community House should exist or the need for safe space as people undertake the transformation from homelessness to independence.

We do not believe that having a safe space for children to grow up or for the public to use the park is mutually exclusive with having a safe space for people at a vulnerable time in life engage in this transformation from homelessness to independence. The movement towards independent living whether it is that of a child or any person having to refashion a life requires safe space, sheltered space, for that transformation to occur.

Many of us who have gotten to know the people in the Community House program know them as persons, not statistics or numbers or probabilities or projections. Thus our familiarity with them makes them like family and we are seeking a safe place for our family to grow from a state of dependence to independence.

Community House is a way station on the journey from homelessness to health and independence. It is not a place that shelters the homeless as they remain homeless and neither is it a place to call home where as Robert Frost reminds us, *“when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”* Upon entering the Community House program, a resident is no longer homeless. Their stay, however, at Community House is contingent – contingent on health, on effort, on contributing towards the movement from homelessness to independence.

The journey from being homeless to being at home is fraught with *“many dangers, toils and snares,”* to quote an old hymn. Few people find themselves homeless for one reason alone so it can be a long journey home. As anyone who has ever dieted or tried to stop smoking, it is rarely achieved the first time you try.

Bob Seymour and I ran into each other last week and could not help reminiscing that we were before Town Council almost 25 years ago locating Community House downtown. I always looked upon its location in the center of our community as an indication of this community’s heart – the original safe space. Twenty-five years later, the Town of Chapel Hill has expanded and the downtown is no longer the only center of our community. We move easily from downtown to Southern Village to University Mall to Meadowmont to Carolina North. As Chapel Hill has expanded so has our heart – and the safe spaces our community requires for the health and transformation of all its citizens.

We, clergy and congregational leaders from participating IFC congregations, encourage you to continue the work you initiated through your partnership with the University of North Carolina and the Inter-Faith Council to provide a place in our community for the transformation of all our citizens towards as independent and abundant a life as possible.

I am also here as one of the pastors of the closest property to the proposed location of Community House. We are a community of some 850 adults and several hundred youth and children. On weekdays we have 60 preschoolers in our education space. United Church of Chapel Hill welcomes the relocation of Community House because:

(1) Community House is in alignment with our faith that welcomes the stranger and sojourner, that seeks to increase the love of neighbor and love of God. Or as book of Proverbs instructs, *Remember what your mother taught you: “speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

(2) United Church of Chapel Hill is in covenant with 50 some other congregations seeking the community’s good through the Inter-Faith Council and its programs.

(3) The 24 year history of Community House is time-tested and is positive.

(4) When United Church was located on Cameron Ave, the Inter-Faith Council operated out of a house on Wilson Street which backed up to the playground of our church school and that of the Chapel Hill Daycare Center. Community House had its origin on the floor of the Fellowship Hall prior to the move into the Old Municipal Building. We lived together with people and families seeking assistance over 25 years without incident in a downtown historic district neighborhood.

Our familiarity with the IFC, Community House and those seeking assistance through Community House has not made us fearful. Our hope and prayer is that Community House will continue to restore people to health, to independence and to life in community. Our hope and prayer for our community is that we find that creating spaces for growth and change of differing populations are not mutually exclusive but the goal of healthy communities.

Chapel Hill’s best self has always acted with a generous and expansive heart. As Olympia Snowe said recently, “History is calling.” History is calling. Continue the tradition of living into our best self. Expand the heart of Chapel Hill. Thank you.

Richard Edens,
United Church of Chapel Hill

There are a lot of questions (and comments) about the potential relocation of the IFC Men’s Shelter to the corner of Homestead Rd. [MAP].

At last night’s WCHL 1360 candidate forum [MP3] I talked about how, if elected to Council, I would use an approach like the one I helped develop for siting the new Orange County trash transfer station; in conjunction with the community, staff, the IFC and technical experts develop objective, measurable, community and technically based criteria to apply to site approval that complements the Town’s existing planning process.

Using a facts based approach should help the community focus on the relevant issues, create a framework for discussion of issues that by their nature are necessarily subjective and reduce some of the tension that has arisen from misinformation (some of which continues to be promulgated).

Along those lines, I have requested crime statistics for the Homestead area for the last year, as many of the emails candidates and Council are receiving refer to incidents I wasn’t aware of (not reported in the press, by staff to Council, etc.). Based on these citizen emails, it appears that this area is already having difficulties that are not being adequately addressed.

Until I get the statistics, here’s a great tool that the Daily Tar Heel’s Sara Gregory developed for visualizing incidents.

In addition to the questions and answers the IFC’s Chris Moran provided earlier, Chris has also provided the following time-line, including proposed expansion and relocation of needed services, to the community to set the context for discussion:

  1. The Inter-Faith Council (IFC) has enjoyed a strong partnership with the Town of Chapel Hill for 24 years through the use of the Old Municipal Building (OMB) to house current Community House operations (residential facility and the Community Kitchen);
  2. Project Homestart, a HUD/Orange County sponsored transitional housing program for homeless families, officially opened in April 1998 on the Southern Human Services Center campus in Chapel Hill;
  3. In 1999, Chapel Hill Mayor, Rosemary Waldorf organized an IFC Relocation Taskforce;
  4. Since 1999, the IFC, the Town of Chapel Hill and partner agencies have been searching for a permanent location for our men’s facility without success;
  5. In 2003, HUD funding ended for Project Homestart; a community planning group announced a reorganized HomeStart plan for homeless women and children; and single women residents moved from the OMB to HomeStart campus;
  6. In January 2004, the Mayor of Chapel Hill and the President of the IFC co-convened a community process to address homelessness and new facilities;
  7. IFC/Town 2004 goals included:

    • creating a comprehensive food program in the IFC’s Carrboro building to offer a wide range of support services in partnership with other agencies for hungry persons and those at risk of homelessness
    • identifying a new site for Community House and moving to a more suitable facility
  8. Another IFC/Inter-Governmental Work Group was formed in 2006 to find new locations for IFC facilities including a request for county land at the Southern Human Services Center;
  9. On May 5, 2008 former Chancellor James Moeser and Mayor Kevin Foy announced a new partnership and gift of land for relocating Community House to MLK Blvd.;
  10. Moving forward, the partnership will be even stronger as it includes UNC participation and support;
  11. The land (50-year lease for Community House operations) will allow IFC to have a facility that will be better suited to meet resident needs;
  12. While close to the Orange County Southern Human Services Center and accessible to a major bus line, the location also provides a private setting where 50 men can enlist in a program that will restore health, well-being, learning skills, confidence and opportunities for independence;
  13. This new program will allow formerly homeless men to become productive members of the community;
  14. In the absence of finding a suitable location for the Community Kitchen, the IFC intends to consolidate its food programs (named FoodFirst) for member households at its 110 West Main Street facility in Carrboro unless a more desirable location is found;
  15. The IFC, local congregations and our various partners request that the Chapel Hill Town Council move forward with the Special Use Permit process and next steps to make Community House’s relocation a reality for the men that look to the IFC for support and new opportunities for regaining their independence. They’ve waited long enough!

There are a lot of questions about the IFC’s plans to site the new men’s homeless shelter on Homestead Road. As a candidate for Town Council, I have been reading concerned citizens emails and letters – almost 100 or so – on this project.

Executive Chris Moran has prepared the following Q & A based on a number of questions the nearby neighborhoods raised. I’ve converted the first section of the document to HTML and will work to finish that conversion soon. Until then, here is the complete response as a PDF.

AUGUST 14, 2009 RESIDENT QUESTIONS AND RESPONSES ABOUT COMMUNITY HOUSE

  1. It is our understanding that the Town is involved with the development of the IFC Community House project. We know that the community Design Commission met about this issue on June 17, 2009 and that the Town council is scheduled to meet about this matter on September 21, 2009. We also know that there is a file about this project at the Town’s Planning Department. The full extent of the Town’s involvement, however, remains unclear.

    • What has been the formal planning and development process for the IFC Community House project relocation?

    • The Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) developed a formal partnership with the Town of Chapel Hill in 1985 when the Town Council offered the IFC a no-cost lease in the Old Municipal Building (OMB) to house homeless persons. The program began in congregations, then moved into the basement of the OMB and eventually expanded to the entire OMB after Council members approved a task force recommendation that the OMB be used as a homeless facility.

      The IFC formed another partnership with the Orange County Board of Commissioners in 1994 to plan and develop a new facility for homeless women and children initially called Project Homestart. The Board of Commissioners provided a no-cost 25-year three acre parcel on Homestead Road to the IFC at the Southern Human Services Center. Since HomeStart’s opening there has been no adverse or negative impact on neighboring areas. In fact, new neighborhoods have developed near and around our HomeStart campus. The Church of the Advocate will soon be building a new church in our vicinity.

      Here is some additional information about IFC’s history with shelter facilities:

      • In 1990, after a year-long renovation of the OMB, the IFC co-located the Community Kitchen and Community Shelter at the OMB officially known as Community House;
      • The IFC opened its HomeStart facility, originally known as Project Homestart, on Homestead Road in 1998 for homeless families;
      • After HUD funding ended for HomeStart in 2003, the IFC Board of Directors reorganized the HomeStart program for homeless women and children;
      • The new Homestart—whose model is based on the vision of the Planning Committee—has the mission of “providing a safe, structured home for homeless women and children, helping them to access community resources and offering everyone on-going support to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness” ;
      • And the IFC relocated single women guests from the downtown Community House facility to HomeStart during the same year.
    • There have been myriad community meetings and task forces appointed by Chapel Hill mayors since the year 2000 to find a permanent location for Community House. A formal agreement and special task force was created by Mayor Kevin Foy and IFC’s Board President in 2004 “to address homelessness and new facilities”. The Board of Directors came to three major conclusions based on task force recommendations during this process.

      • The Old Municipal Building was no longer adequate for IFC needs
      • The Town of Chapel Hill decided that the OMB was needed for other town offices
      • New facilities would consist of a men’s shelter and a separate building/location for combining IFC food programs (Community Kitchen and Food Pantry)
    • In May of 2008, after a long search for a permanent location for Community House, the UNC Chancellor, Chapel Hill Mayor and IFC Executive Director announced a new partnership and property location near the United Church of Chapel Hill on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. The Chancellor announced that the University would lease 1.66 acres to the Town on a long-term basis. “The Town would then make the site available to the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) for the construction and operation of a new men’s residential facility.”

    • When will a final determination (i.e., approval or disapproval) be made on this project?

    • The IFC will be applying for a special use permit (SUP) for the Community House project sometime this fall. Final Town approval is expected in the spring or summer of 2010. Timing is dependent on the Town’s planning process.

I was appointed as one of the “at large” members of the Town’s Sustainability Task Force several months ago.

One of the first issues we took up was representation on the task force itself. Essentially, did the task force membership represent the reasonably broadest possible diversity of viewpoints and experience we needed to craft a sustainable game plan covering Chapel Hill’s growth these next 10 years?

Along with most of the task force, I agreed it didn’t so we asked the Council to grant us permission to broaden our membership and renew the call for volunteers. I’ve been calling folks I know, sending emails, talking to various organizations that might otherwise be disinclined from participating to try to get new members who will broaden our task forces’ perspective.

As of July 20th I’m pleased to say we’ve had an increase in interest – amounting to 10 new applicants:

  • Anne Eshleman (24, student, new resident)
  • Stacia Cooper (47, insurance regulator, 7+ years)
  • J. Patterson Calhoun (31, business manager, newly returned resident [in Triangle 8 years prior])
  • Lister Delgado (40, investor, 5 years in-town/5 years just outside )
  • Donna Bell (38, social worker, 7 years – Northside resident)
  • Kevin Hicks (44, product engineer, 4 years)
  • Christopher Senior (53, green builder, new resident)
  • Daniel Outen (22, student at Kenan Flagler, 3 1/2 years)
  • Todd Woerner (53, chemist/teacher/lab manager, 18 years)
  • Brian Paulson (23, city management, 11 years)

The task force will resume its work mid-August by adding 6 of these 10 (or more I hope) applicants to the position.

I will be reviewing these and any other applications with an eye towards choosing folks that have a distinctly different vision of where Chapel Hill should be in 10 years. By maximizing diversity of considered opinion we should not only end up with a stronger set of recommendations but also a message that is widely acceptable.

The Chapel Hill News’ Jesse DeConto’s posts over on OrangeChat a discussion of tonight’s request by Orange Community Housing and Land Trust Executive Director Robert Dowling’s renewed request to take in lieu payments over affordable housing stock.

I’ve been troubled by his and others calls to take money over square footage for some time. Whatever problems the Town faces financing, managing or maintaining the program, sacrificing square footage of actual housing doesn’t make sense. If the kind of housing stock offered by a developer falls outside the Town’s desired mix, we need to put more flexibility into the program not rigidly insist on “it’s cash or nothing”.

At the end of the day, housing built now is less costly and will be available sooner than units that might (money is fungible) be built in the future.

And, of course, you can’t live “in lieu”.

Here’s the staff recommendation from tonight’s agenda.

Below is my comment left on OrangeChat.

For the last 4 years, during two election cycles, I’ve said that our escalating acceptance of in lieu payments over building actual square footage is a problem with our affordable housing process.

If we can’t fund the affordable housing program adequately without large infusions of in lieu monies, we have to reform the program, the way we underwrite it. If we can’t manage a larger portfolio of housing stock, we have to, again, look at reforming management of the program. If we think that the character of the housing, condos (of which the Town itself is investing in at Lot #5) is inappropriate for the population, we have to rework our approach to be more flexible.

I’m struck by Delores Bailey’s statement “”Everbody doesn’t want to live in a condo. Imagine the homes we could build for $500,000″ for two reasons. One, the developers of Greenbridge floated an idea to build affordable units off-site – a plan that was rejected. And, two, she subsequently endorsed the creation of more affordable housing units – all condos – at Lot #5.

At the time, I asked Council to consider more flexibility in the kind of housing offered by the Greenbridge developers. All the supporters of the project based their endorsements, to some extent, on the extraordinary qualities this project offered. The Council even created a special Downtown development zone, allowing the projects looming height and increased density, by justifying the unusual public good the project presented. Yet, when it came to having the flexibility to accept off-site housing – housing built now instead of possibly later, as was the case in the in lieu monies argument – they couldn’t bridge the ideological gap.

Clearly it is time to rethink our approach to affordable housing. Inclusionary zoning will only increase the need to deal with the “in lieu” versus “square footage” dilemma.

To me, it’s pretty straight forward. Housing built now is less costly. A program that can’t manage a larger, more diverse portfolio of housing stock is not acceptable. Financing of the maintenance and management of the affordable housing program has to shift from in lieu monies.

The Chapel Hill News’ ‘blog OrangeChat first alerted me to the Town’s completion of the Lot #5 negotiations with RAM Development (more to come in the N&O).

The Town’s April 3rd news release celebrates what I believe will eventually be seen to be a rushed decision foisting a counter-productive, fiscally irresponsible obligation to construct expensive rental properties for out-of-town landlords on our citizen’s dime:

04/03/07 — The $75 million residential and retail complex to be constructed on Town-owned Parking Lot 5 in downtown Chapel Hill moves a step closer to reality. Town Manager Roger L. Stancil today concluded final negotiations and executed the development agreement with Ram Development Co.

April 3rd, 2007, a regrettable day in our Town’s history.

Why? According to our Town’s legal counsel, the only way now to back out of this troubled deal is to default. Default means difficult to defend lawsuits against our Town. Default means probable expensive judgments against our community. Default, after today, puts all our residents firmly on the hook for millions of dollars of expenditures.

The Council last month authorized the Manager to finalize negotiations and execute the agreement. The project will now follow the Town’s normal regulatory process for a Special Use Permit, including review by the Town’s advisory boards and commissions and a public hearing before the Council.

While they did authorize the Town Manager to proceed with negotiations, the Council also directed Roger Stancil to achieve certain goals – like a firm commitment to improve energy efficiency as per ASHRAE 90.1 20% efficiency standards and an increase on-site affordable housing parking.

Without the final modified agreement (not available this evening), it is not clear our Town Manager achieved these goals. Further, for the partial success reported – 5 additional on-site parking – the trade-offs required by RAM to get those spaces remains unknown.

Final negotiations centered on energy efficiency construction. Recognizing the importance of reducing the energy demand of buildings and dependence on energy from fossil fuels, the Council directed that the agreement require the design and construction of the project to meet a minimum 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency (as measured against standards established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers – ASHRAE).

Again, the language of the announcement leaves it somewhat unclear, at least to me, if the commitment to the ASHRAE 90.1 %20 energy efficiency standard is measurably firm.

[UPDATE] From today’s N&O

As part of the final contract, Ram agreed to achieve an energy efficiency level 20 percent better than standards established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

It appears the LEEDs trade-off discussed here was the key to ASHRAE acceptance. Of course, without the final contract before us it’s difficult to ascertain how compliance with ASHRAE or LEEDs will be measured.

The project will incorporate sustainable, “green” features that will result in at least 26 points under Leadership in Environment and Energy Design (LEED) standards, the equivalent minimum number of points for basic certification under the LEED system. The Council has established a Town-wide goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent by 2050 through the Carbon Reduction Program.

Councilmember Sally Greene suggested trading the potentially expensive formal LEEDs review for simple compliance with the LEEDs basic certification goals. Councilmember Jim Ward countered that RAM Development’s assertion of compliance was insufficient – that the review process was a necessary element to achieving those goals. I lean more towards Sally on this with the proviso that a specific, standards-based methodology for measuring compliance outside of the LEEDs process be agreed upon prior to a final commitment (would’ve been nice to also pursue some of the AIA’s 2030 sustainability goals). Again, sans the modified agreement, it’s unclear whether any process for measuring LEEDs compliance is in place.

To the Town’s credit, the environmental reports I asked for in my Mar. 27 petition were provided as part of the announcement.

The completed environmental assessment report will be on the Town’s website.  The assessment detected no underground gasoline tanks, only limited sections of petroleum-impacted soil that will require remediation.

Timed too late for our talented citizens with expertise in geology and environmental remediation to influence Stancil’s decision, this coincident release demonstrates, once again, the ascendancy of clever political gamesmanship over good public policy.

This bit of Town PR vastly downplays the caveats and disclaimers the authors used:

The report’s findings are based on conditions that existed on the dates of ECS’s site visits and should not be relied upon to precisely represent conditions at any other time. ECS did not assess areas other than those discussed in the report.

The conclusions included in this report are based on: ECS’s observation of existing site conditions; our interpretation of site history and site usage information; and the results of a limited program of subsurface assessment, sample screening, and chemical testing. The concentration of contaminants ECS measured may not be representative of conditions between locations sampled. Be aware that conditions may change at any sampled or unsampled location as a function of time in response to natural conditions, chemical reactions, and/or other events.

Conclusions about site conditions under no circumstances comprise a warranty that conditions in all areas within the site and beneath structures are of the same quality as those sampled. Recognize, too, that contamination might exist in forms not indicated by the assessment ECS conducted.

April 2nd’s letter from ECS Carolinas, LLP concerning the “Phase II ESA and Limited Soil Delineation Report”, p. 2

Based on approximate measurements of the property boundary and sample locations, ECS estimates that approximately 8,600 cubic yards (~13,000 tons assuming 1.5 tons per cubic yard) of petroleum-impacted soil may be present at the site. This is a preliminary estimate only; the actual quantity of potentially impacted soils may vary based on conditions observed during soil excavation. [CW: EMPHASIS by ECS]

April 2nd’s letter from ECS Carolinas, LLP concerning the “Phase II ESA and Limited Soil Delineation Report”, p. 6

The concerns of the report’s authors are clear. What is left unsupported is the Town’s cost estimate.

The estimated cost of the clean-up will be $232,000. The Town will assume the costs for remediation, and the developer will fund the excavation.

So, RAM Development will pick up the tab for excavating 13,000 tons/8600 cubic yards of hazardous material and the Town will pay, I assume, to haul it safely off-site and dispose of it in an acceptable manner. Given the author’s caveats and the lack of discussion of hazardous material intrusions into the underlying bedrock, I’d like to see the analysis behind the $232,000 cost estimate.

Is it as solid as RAM Development’s Spring 2006 claim of a total $500,000 in public outlays? I hope not since a 15-fold increase in the environmental costs, similar to the 10 month increase from $500,000 to $7,425,000 for those 161 buried parking spaces, would be in the neighborhood of $3.5 million!

One notable improvement in our Town’s communications is a savvy ability to propagandize, making a gold-filled silk purse out of the hazardous waste sows ear by now trumpeting development on “brownfields”.

“Developing a project in downtown reflects Chapel Hill’s commitment to build on brownfields rather than greenfields in order to preserve our environment,” said Manager Roger L. Stancil. “Brownfields are properties where redevelopment or reuse can be complicated by the presence or potential presence of pollutants or contaminants from past use. Developing on greenfields is to build on undeveloped properties on the urban fringe, often farmland. Chapel Hill intends to keep the greenfields green.”

A month ago we weren’t supposed to worry about hazardous waste on Lot #5. Today it’s an asset.

There’s a lot of fertile “brown” in the “fields” lay bare by this announcement. Once again, the liabilities are down-played, the potential fiscal “surprises” ignored, the value of the project over-stated while the obligations continue to be heaped upon our citizens.

April 3rd, 2007, a regrettable day in Chapel Hill’s history.

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